Henry Rinehart, a restaurateur of the Manhattan-based bistro HENRY's and board member of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, shares tips and guidelines for packing healthy snacks lunches AND down to earth advice on how to become an advocate for nutritious and delicious lunches served in your school. For more tips on great food and recipes straight from his restaurant's kitchen, follow Henry at twitter at @HENRYsNYC or stop by family-friendly HENRY's on Manhattan's upper east side and say hello!!
******Henry's Tips for Packing School Lunches*******
Simple Beverage -- keep them hydrated and you keep them healthy
Often our kids are like adults and their lack of focus and energy are related to dehydration. Solve this and often you can arrive at a mealtime in much better shape.
Do Pack This - Water, coconut water, diluted fresh vegetable and fruit juices
Don't Pack This - anything that's not natural and contains unnecessary sugar or artificial sweeteners. E.g. Tang, Hi-C, Vitamin Water, chocolate milk.
Vegetables as the Main Attraction
Try to include veggies in or as the main attraction. They're not just a side dish anymore! Vegetables are often the greatest challenge for parents. Offer them early and often and you might be surprised at the response you get. Vegetables are packed with micronutrients and fiber -- two essentials for little bodies.
Most people over estimate the amount of protein that children need. Children over the age of 4 require .5 grams of protein per pound of body weight or less, that means your 50-pound child needs roughly 25 grams of protein per day. When you consider that a slice of wheat bread, hummus and an egg each contain about 7 grams of protein per serving. It's not that hard to get protein. What is hard to get is those phyto-nutrients from fruits and veggies that will help boost a child's immune system, provide major vitamins and minerals for better performance in school and help prevent major diseases down the road.
Do Pack This - Carrots with hummus, romaine wraps filled with guacamole and salsa, celery and bean dip, soup, fruit and yogurt with granola are several ideas that work as main dishes.
Don't Pack This - Any processed, sliced meats; white breads; sugary spreads.
Whole New Side Show -- Beware Snacks
All too often, parents succumb to marketing hype and children show up at school with "snacks" that are loaded with fillers and sodium. The classic "goldfish" that so many toddlers nibble on sport a whopping 210 mg of sodium per one ounce (and most kids gobble more than that). Even more alarming is pretzels which sound off at 310 mg of sodium per serving. Accompanying the ubiquitous bread/meat/cheese sandwich, this combination of sandwich plus "snack" provides too much sodium, carbohydrates and saturated fat for growing bodies.
Do Pack This - dates, prunes, raisins, any unsweetened dried fruit, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are all natural, vitamin-mineral rich foods that will nourish and satiate the sweet/salt tooth.
Don't Pack This - pretty much any snack that comes in a packet. Like Michael Pollan says, we are trying to serve food, not packaging. Anything with preservatives, a lot of salt, fat or sugar.
Add Some Love -- Making Food Fun
Put a little love in the lunch bag! Make food fun. Don't just leave it to the food marketers. Write a note, clip out a funny magazine picture or print a family picture and draw mustaches on everyone! If you do this every once in awhile your child will be surprised to find a personal touch from home in the middle of a loud, crazy school day that will make her smile.
Engage Your Child
You are reading this, so clearly having a great school lunch for your child is high on your list of priorities. Make sure to discuss this with your child. Let them know that you are planning their meal and ask them what they want. In an ideal world, ask them if they want to help prepare their school lunch. You never know, you might just get lucky.
Engage Your Partner
Preparing lunch for school every day during the busy school year is a huge task by any standard. Try to make discussion of school food part of your planning conversation with your partner. Any and all efforts to support a healthy packed lunch for school are appreciated. And another voice telling your child about family priorities is key to success.
A parting word: That thoughtfully packed lunch may come back un-touched on certain days and it's important for parents not to take this too personally. When the children get hungry, they will eat. It's our job to have nutritious foods at every meal from which they can choose and to let go.
Henry Rinehart is the owner of the critically acclaimed HENRY's, a modern American bistro on Manhattan's Upper West Side. He's also the proud parent of 6- year-old Jules. As the owner of a thriving neighborhood restaurant and a hands-on caregiver, Henry has seen (and experienced himself!) what works and what clearly does not work when it comes to school food. Henry and his wife Dinneen Viggiano, a yoga teacher and health coach, serve on the board of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food. The NYCHSF works closely with the Office School Food at the NYC Department of Ed and with Boards of Education statewide and have developed recipes for plant based entrees that are used city wide in the NYC and Ithaca school systems. Alongside HENRY's Chef Mark Barrett, Henry has led city wide trainings for DOE cooks on cooking and cooking the plant based entree recipes. Also, NYCHSF has developed sound bites (called Wellness Wakeup) and supporting posters that advocate for healthier nutritional choices for kids through the school PA every day. Over 17,000 kids hear these messages every day and the program has spread to Philadelphia and Aruba!
Also, Henry, his wife Dinneen and Chef Mark Barrett developed a parent forum called "Feeding Our Families" a roundtable conversation about challenges and successes in feeding pre-K kids. Henry regularly conducts school tours of his kitchen at HENRY's and hosts healthy lunch dates as part of educational rewards for kids.