Thank you to the School Nutrition Association for sponsoring this post about our school lunch tray. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Red and I both survived the first full week of school! Scarlett didn’t make it past Thursday without a double ear infection that left her whimpering on Friday, but the other members of our family were just plain worn out! Since Red is new to his school, the bus, and everything else that is First Grade, we started out slowly on the association train. Sneak-a-Peek left him knowing where his classroom was in the new-to-him building, who his teacher was and how to ride the bus. I didn’t want to completely overwhelm him with new to-dos, so we brought his lunch from home in a new lunch box for the first day or so. After getting used to his surroundings, it was time to tackle the cafeteria and learn how to create his school lunch tray.
Go Over Procedure
The first thing I did was to explain to Red the insides of the cafeteria that he’s been eating in for the last week. We went over where the lunch line exits and entrances were, and who he could ask for help if he got confused. Thankfully, Red’s teacher groups those who “need a tray and those who have lunch boxes” and takes the school lunch tray kids through the line. I got a run down of lunch prices, including guests prices, but what really struck me was that lunch has only increased THIRTY-FIVE cents since I was in high school in the 90s (crazy steady prices). School Lunch Trays are also regulated now with a cap on calories, sugars, salts and a marked increase in whole grains.
Modern tech means that our county has an online payment system where students can “bank” school lunch money and debit the system based on how many lunches they buy, which is kind of neat! If only they would apply an electronic menu in the cafeterias, too!
Review the School Lunch Menu
Figuring out what’s on our school lunch menu was helpful in allowing Red to decide which days he wants to buy lunch at school. Having him eat at school every day in Kindergarten really opened up his palate to trying different foods and new presentations, but the kid is so darned fond of PB&J that I’m giving him some wiggle room. With a quick printout and a magnet, the monthly menu is now on the fridge. I’m helping Red go over the available options pretend to create his school lunch tray. He chooses the main entree, a veggie, a fruit and a drink. This is not only helping to ease his anxiety in line but coaching him on good choices!
School Lunch Tray Visual Aids
Sometimes, you can’t beat visual aids. When I attended the 2017 School Nutrition Association (SNA) Annual National Conference (ANC), I learned an AMAZING amount about what school lunch officials are up against, including (some schools) having no kitchen, limited funds, parent pressure, nutritional innovation and mixing it up enough to gain continued interest. My friend Meghan wrote about some schools not having the resources for reusable trays and resort to recyclable or throw-away items. These printed trays were created by a company (and made of recycled materials) to assist with young children creating their school lunch tray. It gives them an option to pick up items, place them on the tray and realize what they are missing. For my First Grader, this is awesome. In fact, I had even asked if these were for sale for the public (sadly, no) because Red often forgets items apart from the entree and beverage.
I took a cue from these trays and had Red start to understand the components of his plate and to use the School Lunch Menu to create a balanced meal if items he’d actually eat. Because what good is a lunch if my kid won’t eat it?!
What Is Your Kid Eating?
I encourage you to visit your school and have lunch with your child. Get your boots on the ground and see what options they have as well as what choices your kids are making. Becoming involved with the SNA charged me up to take an advocate position with my kids and school lunches to not only continue a healthier menu but also to make sure my kids start making better decisions.
If you want to start small and create interest at home, you can scale down initiatives found in Georgia school districts like “Shake It Up” with its salt-free flavor mixes and create blends at home for your kids to shake onto their meals. Learn more about what’s on your kid’s School Lunch Tray at SchoolNutrition.com or join the conversation on the Tray Talk Facebook page.