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URMC / Patients & Families / Health Matters / August 2018 / What’s for Lunch? Pro Tips to Keep Your Kids Well Fed

What’s for Lunch? Pro Tips to Keep Your Kids Well Fed

Getting excited for the back-to-school bustle? Or perhaps dreading the morning school-bus hustle?

When your life is 10 times busier, it can be that much harder to make sure your children get the nutrients they need. Registered Dietitian April Ho says, with the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, you can use research-proven techniques to make sure your child is eating all her fruits and veggies with far less hassle.mother with children packing lunches for school

The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement was started by professors at the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs, now known as the B.E.N. Center. The Center aims to bring evidence from the fields of economics, marketing and psychology into school cafeterias across the nation.

Despite the best intentions of healthy eating initiatives in school cafeterias, healthy food on a child’s lunch tray often ends up in the trash. Similarly, packing vegetables in your child’s lunchbox doesn’t guarantee they will actually make it into his belly!

“It’s not nutrition until it’s eaten,” according to the B.E.N. Center researchers’ guiding motto. By observing and weighing school lunch plates, they’ve proven that their scorecard of lunchroom strategies ensures that kids will not only choose healthy foods in the lunch line, but eat them, too.

You can put their findings to the test by giving these three strategies a try:

1. Choose it! Offer at least two kinds of fruit and two kinds of vegetables. This gives kids choice and makes them feel autonomous.

  • Pro tip: Set aside space in your fridge for a veggie box and a fruit box. Fill each box with different fruits and baggies of sliced bell peppers, baby carrots, cucumbers, etc. Each morning have your child pick one item from each box and pack them himself. He’s more likely to eat vegetables he’s chosen.

2. Customize it! Self-serve spices and seasonings are available for students to add flavor to vegetables. This allows kids to be creative and keeps lunch interesting.

  • Pro tip: Make a Flavor Station on your kitchen counter with various spices, hot sauces and condiments. Before heading out to the school bus, your children can choose different flavorings to put on their sandwich, in their hummus, etc. This ensures that each lunch is a unique culinary creation that your children can be proud of.

3. Create it! At least one vegetable is selected as the featured vegetable-of-the-day and is labeled with a creative name at the point of selection.

  • Pro tip: Choose one day each week to feature a vegetable dish that you don’t usually make and give it a name that advertises its health benefits in a creative way. For example, carrot slaw becomes “X-ray Vision Carrot Slaw” and broccoli becomes “Bones of Steel Broccoli.” You may think that a silly name won’t fool your child, but research has shown that it works.

Want to learn more? Check out the full list of Smarter Lunchrooms Movement Scorecard Strategies, and other helpful sites for before-school breakfast ideas and back-to-school lunch tips and recipes.


Registered dietitian April Ho


April Ho is a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer with the Center for Community Health & Prevention at URMC. You may occasionally find her at the Rochester Public Market doing nutrition and cooking demonstrations as part of Foodlink, Inc.’s Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables program.


Lori Barrette | 8/16/2018

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