Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

The Wisdom of the Internet on School Lunch and Classroom Snacks

September 13th, 2011 · 28 Comments · Kids in the Kitchen, KS lifestyle

power balls and bars 1st batch (6) small

The treasure trove of knowledge found in social media amazes me sometimes.

I mentioned yesterday how I was able to avoid antibiotics and poke into natural remedies for basic illnesses because of the good advice I received from the KS community on Facebook and Twitter.

My readers sometimes help me more than I help them.

A comment on Facebook about a crazy experience at Gymboree this summer received encouragement to contact the manager. I wouldn’t have done it without that positive peer pressure, and Gymboree corporate ended up doing teacher retraining at the site, and the local owner/manager called me to see if there were any other changes that needed to be made.

I’ve also been encouraged by a nurse to write letters to our hospital about Sweet-Ease, the sugar water used for infant pain relief and cry control for the standard heel prick (and I will), and again supported in my quest to bring the ridiculous medical charges from the delivery down. ($3400 to deliver the baby, $2000 more to deliver the placenta. Hmmmm….)

Most recently, I posted dilemmas about my new first grader and food at school. Although I was worried about the logistics of packing a healthy lunch, I knew I could handle it. I was more concerned about what to do with the, “Mom, I want to eat the hot lunch at school!” conversation and the fact that his classroom has group snacks – graham crackers, cookies, and Handi-Snacks cheese and crackers the first week.

When does compromise start to push the boundaries into routine?

And the Survey Says…

The feedback from Facebook was more than I even expected. I got great ideas and most of all, community support for the decisions I knew I wanted to make but needed the courage.

Packing healthy lunches when you’re short on time and out of bread is mind-boggling. Is there such a thing as a lunch without a sandwich? Is it possible for it to be healthy too?

The Healthy Lunch Box: Sandwich-free Secrets to Packing a Real Food Lunch is loaded with strategies to streamline your packing process, stock your pantry with emergency backups for your backups, and send healthy, delicious food in the lunch box, no matter how old your eater is. Read more and start packing healthier, processed-free lunches today.


Is Occasional School Lunch Okay?

When I asked about school lunches and if perhaps a once-a-month pass would be a good compromise, some of my favorite advice included:

  • I would say once a month but only remember if he remembers (+ 4 likes)
  • Doesn’t matter. You’re mom and what you say goes! : ) (+ 3 likes)
  • I am doing once a week they get to eat at school. It has been such a success. We have been in school almost 3 weeks though. Although today the snack that another mom took was a capri sun bleh. I am going to have to go down there and talk to them. Of course I find this out after a complete melt down after school. Iye ya ya. (=+ 2 likes)
  • Perhaps letting him choose from what’s coming up (once a month or even twice) would let him feel some sense of control over the “treat” as well as teach some (very rudimentary) meal planning skills? (+ 4 likes)
  • yes, no complaining for the month then school lunch (+ 2 likes)
  • I went with once a week with my kids. It was enough to keep them “cool” with their friends and kept the peace. (+ 2 likes)
  • My daughter went through that. So, I asked her which day was her favorite: Wednesday! It was pizza day in the cafeteria. I told her that I would allow her to load her card with enough money to buy lunch in the cafeteria once a week. She did this for a couple of months and quit reloading the card…she got over it and told me that she had fun buying lunch like the other kids, but the food wasn’t THAT great for the money that she had to spend.(the money had to come from her allowance.) (+ 17 likes!)
  • We do 2 times a month and it is nice for my kids. We see the menu in advance and I have slight veto over what they chose. It is a compromise for us.
  • You can make a healthy version of what is on the school lunch menu and explain the difference in how you are doing it vs. how they make it. (+ 5 likes)
  • I like the idea of looking thru the menu…but maybe you should make them pick the GROSSEST thing and then they won’t want to eat in the cafeteria anymore! *wink* (+ 3 likes)
  • 1) You pick the “best” option or 2) Let him pick his favorite once a month/week.
  • I like the idea of a free-day. I even think that one meal once a week wouldn’t be terrible. Might be worth the bit of freedom he feels!
  • If there’s something special that your kid is saving up for, you could offer him the option of eating in the cafeteria once a week (on Fridays, for example), but that each Friday he takes a lunch instead, you’ll put that money towards whatever he’s saving for.

My initial response:

I was tickled when he heard we had tuna fish at home and was TOTALLY disappointed that he wasn’t here! Guess what he’s getting in his lunch tomorrow?

And he’s a “saver” so asking him to spend his own ($1.65/lunch) is an excellent, excellent idea. I’m so excited about that one!

The Kimball School Lunch Plan

My husband and I discussed the issue and decided on our game plan: we’d allow Paul to choose lunch once a week from the menu with Mom getting ultimate veto if necessary.

He’d pay half, we’d pay half, but if he chose to skip a week, we’d put our half into his bank for whatever item he decided he wanted to save up for.

The only catch is that I am waiting for him to bring it up again…and a week later, he hasn’t mentioned it! Did he forget or is school lunch looking less appealing these days? Or does he just assume Mom will say no and is smart enough not to bring up a lost cause?

I’m so curious, I’m almost ready to bring it up myself. Winking smile

Classroom Snacks


I posted on Facebook about the snack issue as well:

Snack is a community affair, and recommended options to bring for the class are pretzels, goldfish, carrots or animal crackers. Today they had graham crackers. Sigh. White flour, trans fats, and so very much gluten. DH says don’t make a big deal of it. I’m struggling with my inner real food bear…

There was quite a bit of controversy about the first comment:

I know that my daughter is sensitive to BHT, food coloring and flavoring. You could pull the “my kid’s allergic” card. I totally would. ;)

Rightly so, many folks jumped in to say that parents should never lie or exaggerate about allergies – sets a terrible example for your child and causes a bad precedent for families with real food allergies. They don’t deserve to be second-guessed or questioned. (My son does not have a known allergy or sensitivity, but we remain “low gluten” as a family because my husband clearly has some sort of problem with gluten and we fear/expect my son to as well.)

Other great advice included:

  • I wouldn’t be comfortable with a daily compromise. Weekly, maybe; monthly, yes. Definitely not daily.
  • Tons of folks just said “homeschool!”
  • I know that you don’t like to do processed foods … but that sometimes necessity forces you to concede. This might be such a necessity. Annie’s has cheddar bunnies instead of “goldfish” that are organic and gmo-free. It could be a compromise … maybe?
  • I have a snack box in my son’s classroom. Whenever they have a snack he can’t have, he gets to choose from his box. I have things in there he doesn’t usually have at home (single serving applesauce cups, fruit leather, lara bars, etc), so he still feels like he is getting a treat and doesn’t feel left out.
  • My kids school did the same thing in Kindergarten. Each kid (if they could afford it) had an assigned day each month to bring a snack for the whole class. Lucky for me my girls naturally turned down some of the really bad things but I just look at it in a way that I know the majority of the time they are getting fed good foods and they know the right choices to make when it really comes down to it. The candy and holiday treats are to be worried about more then a small snack. That is just my opinion though.
  • Our boys have allergies so we always bring our own. I say it’s your kid, you take whatever snack you want to.
  • I wouldn’t lie about it, but I don’t see why he can’t have his own snack. I’m sure all the GF and allergy kids do. Start with the teacher and see if he/she will work with you. If not, work your way up the chain. You might be surprised to find other parents who also would rather opt out.
  • I agree to talk to teacher, maybe some compromise from them and from you could create a good situation. We are lucky in our town, at our alternative school healthy is the norm and unhealthy not so much. Hang in there. Maybe you could suggest a nutritionist come in and do a talk, many will for volunteer hours.
  • I don’t mind my kids having animal crackers once a week at Sunday school, but I don’t think I would feel comfortable with them eating standard processed snackfoods 5 days a week. I think you have every right to provide your child with an alternate snack every day. And at least you know when it’s your turn to provide snacks the others kids will get something great!
  • Maybe you could even work with the school on creating a list of school approved healthy options.

There are so many other nuggets of wisdom, hilarious and frightening anecdotes, and a great depth of discussion – click HERE to read the rest. It’ll be worth your time.

Kimball Family Snack Plan

I had a conversation with my son Sunday night explaining the new snack plan. I began by asking him what ingredients he thought might be in the first week’s snacks.

He was onto me in a second and said, “You mean which ones have gluten in them?” We talked about that ingredient, sugar, and did any of them have butter in them or margarine and unhealthy fats?

I asked if those were growing foods good for the brain or fun foods. He’s smart enough to know the answer.

He seems cool with my compromise: he can choose one group snack each week to eat, and the rest of the time he has his own snack in his bag. I’m also trusting him to understand when there’s an honest-to-goodness healthy snack: baby carrots, fruit, etc. and he can eat that without using his “one treat a week” card.

When I talked to the teacher at open house, she was extremely understanding of my quest to eat healthy foods and said it would be no problem for him to have his own snack.

Yesterday was day one of the new system, and he chose to use his “ticket” already. The snack was cookies.

I’m really curious as to what the story will be for today, the first day he’ll have to stand out and get his own snack from his backpack. I hope it’s not too painful!

When it’s my turn, I’m either bringing individual raisin boxes or whole apples (we pick by the bushel, so that’s not even very expensive). I may have to cut some apples for the kids who have no front teeth though, come to think of it!

I would absolutely work for greater change: a school “healthy foods” list or whatnot, except that we’re only going to be in the school for a short time, and it feels odd to get too involved in the future…even though, I know, it could help other kids after we’re gone.

Need Ideas?

If you need ideas to help your family pack healthy lunches and snacks, try these resources:

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I’m pleased to enter Real Food Wednesday at Kelly’s place!


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28 Comments so far ↓

  • laura

    My daughter is in kindergarten this year and they do a class snack. She doesn’t always like what they have, so she just brings her own. The teacher didn’t say anything about it, so I figure it is fine if she brings her own. No big deal!

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  • Lisa B

    I typically send raisins and apples (the classroom has an apple cutter they keep there).
    Our school has an approved snack list and even then there are days my daughter won’t eat what’s for snack. The teacher keeps raisins, etc. in her cabinet for those days.
    I would talk to the school about food options because they should be making sure the snacks are low or no sugar, low in fat, etc. It has to do with their federal funding.

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  • Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares

    My son is on a gluten-free diet, so when they have a class party, I make a large bowl of popcorn for everyone to share. That way, even if some things I have to pack just for my son, at least one of the things is appropriate for him AND the other kids.

    I wonder how many kids in my son’s class take their own lunches. My son has autism, so he doesn’t know how to beg, and doesn’t tell me what the other kids do or have. I wonder if he is secretly longing….

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    Heather Reply:

    This was my Mom’s go-to when we were kids. We had a hot air popcorn popper, and she’d pop up a ton of popcorn and send it with us to school in a paper grocery bag. Each kid got a handful, and it was always popular–and great for Mom. Cooking wasn’t her talent, especially cooking/baking that required close timing, but popcorn worked out great

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  • Amanda Suzzi

    I’m so blessed to be in a school district that not only has great food, but straight from the local farm meals. I honestly had no idea and planned to pack lunches every day. Thank goodness a mom came along before me and worked with the local lunch distributor to make changes!!

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  • Kelly

    We don’t have a cafeteria, just a “heating station” and I cringe when I see the kids walking to class in the morning with a sausage cheese pizza or a corn dog and chocolate milk. Yech! But we do have tested food sensitivities and have never been able to do any school food. It’s not anaphalactic reactions but huge behavioral and skin issues ranging from hyperactivity to aggression and emotional sensitivity, not to mention the allergic shiners and eczema. But the kids that have grown up with my daughter are used to it and she really gets it. There has never been a fitting in issue yet (2nd grade now) and I always try to provide the closest possible substitution when there are treats. I even went so far as to make candy corn from scratch without corn syrup for the Halloween cookie decorating. Sugar, yes, lots. But at least it’s not corn and soy laden or GMO. If I had not been turned toward the answer of food sensitivities by a well informed preschool teacher, I shudder to think what kind of issues and labels we would now be dealing with. But I always make it quite clear to the teachers on the first meet and greet day that the only safe foods are from home unless I have seen the label and approved it. I really wish more parents knew the far reaching effects of a steady diet of processed food. I try to inform the teachers and anyone else who will listen. So yes, be a food advocate and teach your kids the reasons why as well so they’re not just saying, “mom won’t let me.” You seem to be doing great there, keep up the good work!

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  • Erin

    I told my daughter (who started full-day kindergarten this year) she could have school lunch a few times a month. After a week of taking her lunch, she told me that she would be taking it all the time. I asked her about pizza day, and she asked if I could send pizza in her lunch those days. After I asked why, she said she didn’t want to wait in line! :) I’m happy to send a mini-pizza made with healthy ingredients and sides! Snack time, I decided that getting used to school and sharing was more important for our brand-new-to-school girl. It doesn’t hurt my resolve that they give them each only a tiny Dixie cup of goldfish or animal crackers (no Handi-snacks), and she still has been eating her healthy lunch well. We also have no gluten issues, so that’s not a concern.

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  • JanaC2

    My son was teased when he first started school because his lunches were “too healthy.” I refused to compromise, but I never know if he’s eating what I pack. And now… after doing a ton of research for my own health problems, I feel strongly enough that gluten may be affecting my children’s health that I am slowly transitioning the whole family gluten-free. But my 2nd grader won’t eat tuna, beans, rice, soup, salad, casseroles, dips and is allergic to nuts so this will be a challenge!! I appreciate all the input on many of these issues and look forward to more!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Whoa! Your poor kiddo will live on eggs and carrot sticks…but he’ll survive! ;) Good luck! Katie

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  • Lindsey @ Why Just Eat

    I am so lucky! Last year my daughter called me crying at lunch time because she had gotten a carton of spoiled milk and a really nasty tortilla with plain yogurt, cheddar cheese and ranch dressing on it for lunch. That was the end of her ever wanting school lunch! Sucks that she had to go through that, but we had a long talk about how those meals are prepared and she’s never looked back.

    A comment about pulling the “food allergy card” – my mom gave me a piece of advice when I was about 14 that I have never forgotten. She said that if I was ever in a situation that someone was trying to get me to try something – beer, wine, illegal drugs, etc – and I was uncomfortable using the regular explanations, I could always just say that I was allergic to it. Kids will argue with you if you use the “just say no” lines, but no one argues when you say you’re allergic to beer. So while I completely agree that you should never encourage children to lie, this is one to remember :)

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  • Amanda via Facebook

    one of the biggest blessings I have ever received is finding your page! and I dont even remember how I came across it :P

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  • Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama

    I worry about this and my kids don’t even go to school. But they’re in church programs twice a week. I hate regular “compromise” foods. I have just been bringing their snacks to church and that is what they have. My daughter doesn’t seem to mind anymore, although I know she would want what the other kids had when she was younger (she is 3.5). My son (2) apparently doesn’t care as long as he has SOMETHING and will just sit quietly and eat (so my friend, who teaches his class, told me).

    We do say they are allergic. Because 1) they actually were when we first told the church (prior to GAPS) and 2) they still don’t react well to certain things, truly, and I don’t want to pick apart exactly what it is. So we say no snacks except what we bring, unless they ask us.

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    Erin@TheHumbledHomemaker Reply:

    OK–I know I should know this, but how long did it take GAPS to work? I am seriously, seriously considering it if I can get hubby on board.

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    Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama Reply:

    We didn’t have serious symptoms –at least the adults. In 3 months we saw major changes. We have done it more than once and will always eat a semi-GAPS diet (low grain/sugar) and go back to it strictly for a couple months once a year, but with minor issues it does not take long to see a difference.

    [Reply to this comment]

  • susan

    great post! i am new to your blog and so enjoying it. what are the yummies in the first picture? recipe? thanks!

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Reply:

    Welcome! Those are what I call power bars, the centerpiece of the Healthy Snacks to Go eBook (they’re basically homemade larabars). Thanks for being here! :) katie

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  • kristin

    My kids don’t want school lunch. Those crappy snacks that people bring in….grrr. They should be banned!

    My daughter has a late September birthday. She was the first birthday girl at preschool last year. I suggested we bring a favorite fruit — clementines! It was a hit and well received.

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  • Charise

    I am so glad to read that parents are getting on board with healthy food. I was a teacher for 17 years and was appalled at what I’d see in my students lunch boxes. For many the good majority was prepackaged lunches (lunchables), fruit roll ups, and juice boxes (or even soda…yikes), or the school lunch program (double yikes). I finally started making a list of healthy acceptable snacks and even had a parent create a suggested menu. Kids had carrots, sugar snap peas, pear tomatoes, cucumber, etc. I discouraged any processed foods and most parents really tried hard to provide these for their children. I cannot tell you the amazing difference it made for our class. We got sick much less, the kids were able to maintain their attention for longer periods of time, and behavior management suddenly became very easy for me.
    I will also say that our district really tried to discourage all the cupcakes, etc for parties, but were sorely lacking in the school lunch scenario. In my honest opinion all of it was sheer garbage.
    So, I applaud all you moms who are investing in your children’s health by preparing nutritious foods for your children.

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  • shelle

    We are lucky enough that our Waldorf charter school’s hot lunch program serves real food, local when available, organic dairy.. only down side is the price– $4.50/lunch- but you get what you pay for. I have agreed to once a week, it gives me a break from the lunch making task.
    Luckily we don’t have to deal with the snack issue either everyone packs their own. I definitely would not encourage not telling the truth I think it sets a bad precedent.

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  • Bee

    I don’t have any children of my own, but I do like keeping snacks in my desk at work. There’s always that time when you just want something. When I read this post I remembered reading something about a school snack list awhile back. I found it again at

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    Katie Reply:

    I read that list when it was posted, as well, but I thought that many items on it were so expensive to purchase. A tough part of real food, but these are heavily weighted toward the organic lines, which just aren’t practical for most schools’ families. It’s a great jumping off point, though, and nut-free snacks are a particular challenge. :) katie

    [Reply to this comment]

    Bee Reply:

    Oh, I completely agree on the cost issue. That and the list seems to be geared towards a specific store in many areas and for me that’s not really an option either given that the closest one is a good hour and a half to two hours away. But like you said, it’s a good jumping point for your own ideas. :)

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  • Stephanie Cain

    Check this out:
    Homemade Whole Wheat Honey Graham Crackers


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    Katie Reply:

    Mmmmm…this one was my son’s bday snack last year!

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  • Kelly via Facebook

    Lol, that IS funny!

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  • Lindsey @ Why Just Eat

    Last night my daughter and I sat down and made a “lunch choices spreadsheet” on the computer. The categories are: morning snack, lunch main dish, lunch side dish, and drink. I will print it out once a week and my daughter will choose one item from each category for each day of the week, and mark it with the appropriate initials for that day (m, t, w, th, f). This will take the guesswork out of what to pack each day, I can prepare for a week’s worth of lunches on Sunday (when I do most of my meal prep), and all of the choices offered are satisfactory to me. Hopefully it works well :)

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  • Erin@TheHumbledHomemaker

    #1–I can’t WAIT until your update of Healthy Snacks to Go! I love that book!

    #2–I like that you are only letting him eat the school snack one day/week. We really, really compromised in this area up until LAST WEEK when we found out our 3-year-old is egg/gluten intolerant. Now, looking back, I wish I had not said: “You eat this way at home but can have whatever people offer you at church and grandparent’s houses.” (I didn’t literally say it, but you know what I mean.) My kids are at my parent’s house at least once/week, and it’s like they enter a candy store–so many cookies and crackers and fruit snacks, etc. Now, I see how all those things were weekly wreaking havoc on her system. (More than weekly since she had snacks at church each week as well–as well as at two different Bible studies I attended during the week last year.)

    ANYWAY…we are of course bringing our own snack everywhere now.

    [Reply to this comment]

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Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.