What’s In a Tray? Tech Talks Healthy School Lunch

As a new year begins for both college students and younger ones, many parents will once again begin spending mornings packing lunches for their children.

As a parent and dietitian, Amber Johnson, nutritionist for Health Promotion and Dining Services, knows firsthand the challenges of packing healthy lunches and getting kids to eat them.

Johnson’s first advice, of course, is to cover all the basic food groups. A good lunch should include at least three of the following: protein, dairy, fruits/vegetables, and whole grains.

Lunch contents may also be dependent on when your child eats lunch.

“If lunch is at 10 a.m., a whole grain waffle with sunbutter or soybutter might be more acceptable than last night’s lasagna,” she said.

Packaging can throw a wrench in things for some — juice boxes or pre-packaged crackers or fruit gummies can be hard to open. A healthier, and easier, suggestion from Johnson is to cut up fruits and veggies and pack those instead, and a thermos of milk or water.

“For picky eaters, be sure to pair one of their favorite foods along with a newer food,” she suggests. 

Finally, timing is everything. When students only have 20–30 minutes to eat, and spend much of it talking with friends, having the food cut in bite size pieces can encourage healthy intake — even for things such as sandwiches.

“Meal planning helps me so I won’t be stumped in the wee hours,” Johnson said. “Work with your dinner menu and what you already have around the house. I like to include a little treat, like fruit leather, every once in a while, too. Have fun with it!”

Katherine Drake, academic assistant in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, taught in elementary schools for 13 years before coming to Georgia Tech. She found that healthy lunches were vital for student performance, even at a young age. 

“If a child isn’t fed or if they’re hungry, or if they’ve just had a gigantic handful of M&Ms for lunch, it affects their performance,” she said. “Food is one of the basic needs, and if they don’t have the food they need then they can’t perform at their highest level.”

— Ben Wright, College of Engineering, contributed to this story. 

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