Brace yourself, parents. The whirlwind school day mornings are almost here.
School days are often accompanied by a mad scramble to make sure your kids have everything they need, and that they haven’t somehow tied their shoes together. It’s tempting to hasten the process of preparing a lunch by simply throwing a few packaged items together. However, this can often result in a meal that’s lacking in healthy nutrients and high in fat, sodium, and added sugar.
What’s a good balance for a school lunch? The USDA’s MyPlate program recommends that half of a lunch plate be dedicated to fruits and vegetables, one-quarter to grains, and one-quarter to protein, with a modest amount of dairy also allowed.
Some healthy lunch and snack options include:
- Turkey pita wraps: Pita pockets make this recipe a snap. Just stuff in an array of healthy ingredients, including turkey, grapes, greens, and apple for a delicious midday meal!
- Mini quiche: A terrific, compact lunch that can be prepared in a muffin tin. This simple recipe combines potatoes, greens, and cheese, and can be prepared in bulk to simplify a week of meals
- Yogurt parfait with fresh fruit: This beautiful layered mixture of yogurt, granola, and fruit makes for a perfect snack. Choose your favorite fruit options, such as peaches, blackberries, or blueberries
- Cinnamon apple chips: Ditch the salty chips and try this recipe instead. An hour of baking time yields a yummy snack for your young scholars!
Tips for preparing a healthy lunch
Feeling pinched for time? Coping with picky eaters? These tips might help:
- Get started the night before: Sliced fruits and vegetables are an easy lunch side, but trying to cut them up before the bus arrives can be a stressful process. Get started the night before so your child’s lunch is ready in the morning.
- Involve the kids: Invite your kids to participate in preparing their lunches, including washing fruits or vegetables and chopping them up if they’re old enough to use a knife. You can go farther by enlisting their help in picking out healthy foods at the grocery store, taking a pick-your-own adventure to a Connecticut farm, or finding food options at farmers’ market.
- Have fun with it: Miniature cookie cutters let you prepare fruits and vegetables in creative ways. Chopped fruits and vegetables also make useful artistic materials for creating faces, animals, and other surprises that will delight your child when they open their lunch box.
- Invest in organizers: Instead of a lunch box or brown paper bag, consider an organizer that helps you organize the meal. This bento box approach helps keep foods separate and minimizes the chances of a smushed meal, which is more likely to go uneaten
Nutrition in Connecticut schools
For many years, Connecticut’s schools have stressed the importance of proper nutrition. USDA school nutrition programs are administered through the Connecticut State Department of Education, and foodservice professionals in schools develop menus designed to meet or exceed USDA dietary guidelines.
Students can enjoy breakfast and lunch options, along with healthy snack options and programs that offer fresh fruit and vegetables. Parents can look up more information on these options on school websites, which often contain additional information such as the calorie count of each meal.
In addition, Connecticut’s Farm-to-School Program educates students on gardening in nutrition while highlighting the importance of fresh, locally grown produce. Earlier this year, 13 school districts and educational partners were selected to receive Connecticut Grown for Connecticut Kids grants to support infrastructure improvements, experiential learning, farm-to-school planning, and pilot programs to support the purchase of CT Grown products for schools.
Celebrate Farmers’ Market Week and Support Your Local Farmers
It’s officially National Farmers’ Market Week (Aug. 7-13), the 32nd annual celebration of our farmers and the vital role farmers’ markets play in our food system.
There’s no better time to visit your local farmers’ market — not only to support the farms in your community — but to also enjoy local, fresh and healthy foods and high-quality products available at affordable prices. And with more than 100 certified farmers’ markets and farm stands located throughout Connecticut — you are sure to find a great farmers’ market right in your community.
“Connecticut’s farmers’ markets are a collective effort fostering direct-to-consumer sales, reinforcing the farm to plate connection, and providing a crucial entry point for new and beginning farmers,” said Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt. “Farmers’ markets fuel local economies and provide increased access to nutritious, fresh CT Grown food for our most vulnerable populations.”
Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program Underway Through November 30
Need another reason to visit your local farmers’ market? Here’s one!
Farmers’ markets offer food nutrition programs — allowing consumers to stretch their food dollars with the purchase of fresh, locally grown farm products while supporting new and beginning farmers, as well as established producers.
The Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), administered by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, received additional funding through the state legislature for eligible individuals to redeem checks at certified farmers’ markets or farm stands throughout the state. Eligible individuals include seniors over the age of 60 and women, infants, and children (WIC) who meet certain guidelines. Here in Connecticut, eligible WIC and Senior participants can receive up to $32.00 in Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program checks to purchase fresh Connecticut Grown fruits, vegetables, cut herbs, and honey. Newly added to the list of eligible items this year are eggs.
Many farmers’ markets also participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — some even offering double purchasing power. In 2021 alone, over $100 million in federal nutrition benefits were redeemed at farmers’ markets across the nation.
Check Distribution Sites
Check Redemption Sites
Recipe ideas using products from Connecticut farmers’ markets
Need ideas on how to incorporate CT Grown products into your home-cooked meals? Here are some great recipes that are affordable, easy to make, and of course, delicious! The best part, each of these recipes are centered around ingredients grown by Connecticut farmers, and available at a reasonable price.
Sauteed Green Beans with Garlic (Green Bean Market Price: $4.00/quart | Garlic Market Price: $5/head): Snap into a refreshing and zesty summer side dish with locally grown green beans — in season now!
Greek Stuffed Eggplant (Eggplant Market Price: $4.00/quart): Light, yet filling, Connecticut Grown eggplant is the centerpiece of some great healthy recipes — including this Greek inspired dish that can incorporate several other locally grown products (tomatoes, peppers, feta, etc.).
Kale and Peach Smoothie (Kale Market Price: $3.00/bundle | Peach Market Price: $5.00/quart): Healthy and refreshing, this recipe can be made using several locally grown products. Want to make a special treat? Freeze it and make smoothie popsicles — refreshing on a hot summer day.