Though many local schools are officially back in session, this school year looks very different than any other we’ve seen in most of our lifetimes.
Some schools are in session, some are online, and some are both. In some cases, parents have opted to homeschool their children this year through virtual schools.
During the nearly three months that Ohio was shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic and most everyone was ordered home to work and to learn, parents got a taste of how homeschooling works. But much was lost when children were unable to attend school in person, including school breakfasts and lunches, a vital part of the day for many who may not otherwise get these meals.
School districts, churches and non-profits throughout the region worked to fill that void with free lunch programs for those in need, while many parents and caregivers incorporated creative lunch ideas into their routines at home to provide healthy fuel for their learners.
We talked to some parents and school nutrition staff for their best tips on how to plan healthy school lunches for packers at school or for those learning from home.
Ann Riegle Crichton, who works for the Better Business Bureau in Dayton, has been working from home since March. She has twin sons and is currently involved in a school co-op with another family with two sons.
“I’m making my boys pack their lunch in lunchboxes just like they will for school when they go back,” said Crichton, who lives in Centerville. “Even on days when they are with me at home, they do this the night before.”
Crichton has all four boys at her house two days, the other mom has them for two and they have hired a teacher to work with them on one day.
“Research shows a full belly makes us learn and concentrate better,” said Olivia Stone, the student nutrition service supervisor at Centerville schools. “I would encourage fresh fruit and veggies as well as whole grain items. It’s best to keep all the chips and convenience foods out of the house!”
Experts recommend meal planning and having lunches and other meals ready to go is always a good idea. That way, hungry learners can go to the refrigerator and grab their prepared meals when they are hungry.
But keeping a regular lunchtime while at home is also important. If the homeschool day structure has regular breaks, including for lunch, built in, it’s better, overall, for learning.
Tiffany Becker, a Fairborn mother of three who is homeschooling and working, said it’s “business as usual” at her house with meal prep and planning.
“Once a month I sit down with a calendar and plan out all our meals,” Becker said. “I also make some freezer meals so all I have to do is thaw them out and warm them up. It saves a lot of time.”
Pam Pearson, the food services director at Northmont, said that if kids help fix a meal, they are more likely to eat it. And with parents working full time and trying to prepare healthy meals for their kids, the more help they can get, the better.
Here are some ideas to start with:
A week of meal ideas for busy families
Pack a lunch on Sunday evening for the next day for everyone who is home, including parents. Have the kids pack their own and put them in lunch boxes. Then if the weather is nice, eat outside during lunchtime.
Tuesday: Incorporate that fresh produce if it’s in season. Nutritionists say that if you can’t get fresh, canned is also fine. Just watch for added salt or sugar.
Wednesday: If your family has learned to make some new things — like bread in a bread machine or roasted veggies — try making everything in your lunch from scratch. Experts suggest avoiding overly processed foods.
Thursday: Plan a hot lunch that could include homemade soup with sandwiches, homemade pizzas or tacos. Don’t forget salad or veggies
Friday: Kids choice day! Do your kids have a favorite restaurant that delivers? Take turns allowing each child to choose and you can use this as a reward for a week of hard work and effort.
School free lunch programs
Several local school districts participated in a free lunch program with the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The program has been extended into the school year for those participating districts regardless of financial need.
This provides another resource for families go get some help with meals, so check with your school district to see if it is a participant and if your family is eligible.
For example, Northmont and Centerville school districts are both offering school breakfast and lunch programs and, the ODE has just announced that all districts that participated in the National School Lunch Program in the 2019-2020 school year are eligible to offer free meals for all students, regardless of financial need.
“Our meals include a variety of what we usually serve,” Pearson said. “We even put frozen pizzas in them and give directions on how to cook them. Parents love that kids have been getting their favorite meals.”
Unfortunately, as much as the districts have been working to get the word out about the school lunches, only small numbers of families are participating. Pearson said in Northmont, they have only been distributing about 1,000 meals each day but can serve 3,500.
Stone echoed this. Though the district is taking meals to seven locations throughout the district, only about 175 students are taking advantage of the service and this number is not consistent.
“We put our menu online so parents and kids can see what we are offering on each day,” Stone said. “We are really trying to be as flexible as we can and accommodate as many as we can.”
Stone and Pearson both said that food services are an extension of academics at their schools.
“We try to incorporate learning about what is healthy to eat,” Pearson said. “We put posters in our cafeteria and introduce kids to new foods. I suggest families keep doing this at home.”
A week of snack ideas
Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Afternoon tea (iced in the summer), with caffeine for you and caffeine-free for the kids. Pair with cookies, or serve with savory sandwiches, like cucumber and cream cheese, or ham and good butter on fluffy white sandwich bread.
Vegetable sticks, with fresh lime juice and chili powder. Cut up cucumbers, carrots, green apples and jicama, squirt with halves of fresh lime, and sprinkle with salt and ground chili powder, like Tajín.
Kid-friendly meat and cheese platter. Use your child’s favorite deli meats. Round out the board with cubed cheese, crackers, raw vegetables, fresh fruit (like apples and grapes), and nuts (assuming allergies aren’t a consideration).
Chicken wings/chilled fried chicken bites from the grocery store, with celery, carrots and ranch dressing. A few chilled, store-bought wings can be the centerpiece of protein-heavy snacks, to get your at-home learners through homework, while also fitting another serving of vegetables into their diet.
Air-popped popcorn. Toss with flavored salt and melted butter.
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