Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fast Food School Lunch

I can't tell you how many times I have met my daughter for lunch at her school, walked into the cafeteria and smelled that undeniable smell: fast food.

Her school doesn't serve fast food; these are lunches parents have brought in for their kids to eat that day. Their 6-year-old kids. Munching down on Chicken McNuggets, french fries, chocolate milk, hamburgers, you name it.

I've talked to a few parents about it and they tell me it's a special treat for their kids. Or the child forgot their lunch for the day and the parent had to run something up there. Or, it's a special day because Mom or Dad came to visit.

Come on, parents - we can do better than this.

We live in a small town (a suburb, really, but it has a wonderful, small-town feel); it's roughly 14 square miles with a population of about 39,000. And we do have many convenient, inexpensive fast food joints here. As a matter of fact, I counted them:

* two Sonics

* two McDonalds (which seems to be a favorite with the lunchtime crowd)
* two Wendy's
* two Subways


* Taco Bell
* Chicken Express
* Quizno's
* Dairy Queen
* Boston Market
* Chipotle
* Mooyah Burgers
* At least five pizza places
* And that's not counting the locally-owned BBQ, donut or other fast-food type establishments
* Plus, I'm sure I missed a few

Seriously, I could eat at least one fast food meal daily at a different place 30 days in a row - all within a convenient 5-minute drive from my house.

So, fast food is definitely here. But that doesn't mean we have to eat it.

We can do better than this.

If you're looking for a fast, fairly cheap meal you can take to your kid as a treat or as an "oops, I forgot your lunch" lunch, there are so many other better choices than the requisite chicken nugget/fries/chocolate milk.

Try one of these healthier ideas for next time:
  • Grocery stores typically have fresh sandwiches, salads or pizza. Market Street here has awesome (and quick) fresh-to-order, custom-made sandwiches, salads (my favorite is the Asian with crispy noodles any kid would love) and pizza. Order your pizza with less cheese, on a crispy thin crust with your child's favorite toppings - my 3-year old devours them.
  • Here in Coppell, a locally-owned store called Healthy Me also has fresh-to-order meals (there is a chef on-site) and they specialize in kid meals and box lunches.
  • Chipotle has pretty healthy choices and they try to provide locally-grown meats and produce. Split a burrito with your child or get him a salad bowl with beans, rice, a little cheese and some chicken (omit the lettuce if your child won't eat it - like my daughter).
  • Subway has great options for healthy sandwiches - turkey, ham, veggie. Catch your favorites on their "featured day" and pay just $2.50 for a 6-inch sandwich. Plus you can order online for super fast service. Just try to forgo the chips and fountain drink.
  • Jason's Deli (which is about 10 minutes away) has a great kids menu, complete with baked chips, fruit, organic apples and organic lowfat milk. Call ahead to make it a fast pick-up.
  • If you must go to McDonald's, try their small, plain hamburger with a side of apples and a lowfat white milk. Much better than the chicken nugget Happy Meal (with over 20 grams of fat and about 1/2 of your child's calorie allowance for the entire day).
Any other ideas for fairly healthy, on-the-go kid lunches (and for our lovable, notoriously picky eaters)? Share in comments.....


  1. I totally agree! In Finland students are served FREE home made (they cook it there at school) normal meal like potatoes and meat with salad and a slice of rye bread. They have great variety too. Those were the days ;-)!

  2. Gee, I think I love Finland! What a great idea to have the students cook the meal themselves; it's a wonderful way for them to appreciate not only just eating the food, but where their food comes from and all that goes into preparing it. I would love to start a school-approved cooking program on the elementary level, when kids that age are truly excited about it.