School lunches have been a hot topic lately. Everyone from Michelle Obama to Jamie Oliver has been calling out the often horrible stuff served to schoolkids under the guise of a healthy lunch and trying to help schools make better lunchtime choices.
That leaves health-conscious parents, not to mention budget-conscious ones, with a dilemma: Let your child buy the school lunch or have them bring it and set yourself up for the hassle of packing lunch daily.
It's a tougher decision than you might think.
Here are some of the offerings at my daughter's school this week (and based on a quick look at school lunch menus in other districts, this is pretty typical):
Not what I'd choose to feed her, to say the least. But she rarely gets food like this outside of school, and she really likes the school lunch sometimes. What to do? Here are some of the pros and cons you might face when deciding what to do for your child's lunch.
School lunch pros:
Portion sizes are appropriate
Good variety of food
Less headache for parents in shopping, cooking, etc.
Food is served at proper temperatures
It's actually less expensive (at many schools) than buying and packing food
There's always one vegetable serving and one fruit serving; not always true of home lunches
School lunch cons:
Holy processed horror! What are "potato starz" anyway?
Concerns about the nutritional value of lunches
Don't want child to develop a preference for processed food
Not much adventurousness in flavors, types of cuisine, etc.
Packing lunch pros:
Control over the preparation and variety of food offered, fruit is always fresh, not canned, vegetables are not salted, etc.
Can meet child's specific food preferences, within reason
Can send lunch notes
Can choose organic, natural food
If the whole lunch isn't eaten, child can have leftover veggies or fruit as snack on way home
Can use leftovers from previous night's dinner
Packing lunch cons:
Boredom with the same old thing
Food safety -- not always easy to keep things fresh
Peer pressure: Yes, kids can and will pick on each other for bringing an "uncool" lunch
Trading -- that apple might just be getting swapped for Rockin' Razzleberry Artificial Flavor Snacks
More expensive, especially when food isn't eaten
Hassle for already-busy parents
The horror of discovering on Monday that no one remembered to take the lunchbox out of the backpack on Friday
We do what I suspect many parents do: pack lunch most days, but let her buy lunch on pizza day or if there's something on the menu she really likes. That way, we get the best of both worlds -- knowing she's got a healthy lunch most days, while allowing her a little fun with what she eats.
Do you pack your child's lunch, let them buy, or a little of both? How did you decide?
Image via DC Central Kitchen/Flickr