Subpar School Lunches and Healthy Alternatives

30 Oct

A few weeks ago I attended a training event where lunch was provided.  It was a general boxed lunch that was distributed to all attendees.  I was surprised at what was inside and thankful that I had brought my own food to eat.  The boxed lunch consisted of a sandwich, pasta salad and cookie, all of which were highly processed.  This meal was created with little to no thought given to the nutritional balance, cost was most likely the deciding factor.

After hearing several people mention that they were tired soon after lunch, it was clear to me that this was due to the sugar and processed carbohydrates that were the majority of the meal that they just ate.  Refined flours rush into our bodies and causes a spike in blood sugar and a crash soon after.

Many people might see this meal and think it’s perfectly healthy, which shows exactly what is wrong with the food system.  Processed substances are often masquerading as healthy choices and marketed to us that way as well.  What they don’t tell you is that the sugar that’s added for taste and the chemicals used to make it shelf stable are making you overweight and sick.

Meals full of processed food are especially concerning when they are served to children in schools.  Often with only a small, sad salad bar as a healthy alternative, children are choosing these processed meals instead and consuming them every day.  Chemicals in food are especially dangerous to young bodies that are still growing and developing .  In addition to possible health problems, additives have been know to cause an increased risk for hyperactivity.  Feeding children lunches like this is just setting them up for failure.

Let’s take a look at this lunch and see what dangers and lurking inside…

Traditional school lunch


Turkey and cheese sandwich –

In other words, processed meat and cheese in between two pieces of refined carbohydrates.  The recent statement from the World Health Organization on the link between meat consumption and cancer is all over the news.  They have finally stated what we’ve known for years but many chose to stay blind to.  Another organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)  classifies processed meat as a group 1 carcinogen.

The processed white bread is almost as bad as the meat.  Made of refined grains, these carbohydrates get broken down as glucose (aka sugar) in the body.  In turn, the pancreas secretes an elevated amount of insulin to break down the sugar.  This spike in blood sugar and insulin is taxing on the body, especially one that is still growing.

Pasta salad –

This is just more refined grains and carbohydrates, was there not enough in the white bread?

Cookie –

Not only is there refined flour in here, but sugar as well.  This gives them a double dose of insulin spiking blood sugar.

Almost nothing in this meal is providing your body with any essential vitamins or nutrients.  Aside from the apple (which ironically was the one thing most people left behind) everything in this meal has been made in a factory.  Also, there are no vegetables at all!  I’m not counting that sad piece of lettuce on the sandwich.


Now, here are some alternatives that are affordable and easy to prepare.  Here is my upgraded, healthy school lunchbox and the nutritional benefits of each item.

ZENutrition school lunch


Chickpea salad pita –

A whole wheat pita filled with a chickpea salad is worlds better than the turkey sandwich in the first lunch. When choosing a pita, be sure to read the ingredients and choose one without preservatives.  I find it’s best to store them in the freezer and just toast them up as I need them.  Since there aren’t chemicals added, they tend to go bad pretty quickly.  The chickpea filling mimics a chicken salad.  Like chicken, it provides protein but also fiber as well.  It is so simple to put together and you can make it using whatever you have on hand.

Quinoa salad –

Quinoa is a better choice than the pasta salad.  It offers the carbohydrate fuel that the pasta does, and also adds a number of vitamins and minerals that are essential for young, growing bodies. Potassium, calcium and B vitamins just to name a few.

Raspberries –

You can round out your meal by adding whatever fruit is in season.  I added raspberries because they are a healthy treat and an excellent source of vitamin C which helps growing bodies fight off infections.


Stay tuned for kid friendly recipes that are perfect for the lunchbox.


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