How to Nutritionally Charge a Lunch

My kids are attending camp this summer. Many parents I know (myself included) pack lunch for their kids, but some do not and order lunches. Here is part of an e-mail I received directed towards those parents that may order lunches.

“We have heard your requests and have worked hard to provide your campers with a more nutritionally balanced lunch. Please take a look at all the new items. Also new this year, we are offering an alternative lunch everyday. If you see something on the menu that your child may not eat, you may opt to order an alternative lunch for that day which consists of a bagel, cream cheese, chips, fruit, drink and dessert”
Let me make something clear. My intention is not to slam the camp. My kids LOVE this camp. I LOVE this camp. I think blogging about this situation is important because lunch revamping is hip and cool right now and more importantly, necessary. If you are currently trying to change your kids’ school lunches you must know by now the process takes time and money. Here is this camp’s one week cycle definition of “more nutritionally balanced” lunches:
Monday: mac and cheese, dinner roll, fresh fruit, wafer cookie
Tuesday: cheese enchilada with Spanish rice, garden salad, ranch dressing, churro
Wednesday: cheese pizza, ranch dipping sauce, oven baked fries, carrots, cucumbers and fresh fruit
Thursday: pancakes with syrup, hash browns, eggs, sliced tomato, cucumber, honeydew and cantaloupe
Friday: chicken nuggets, fries, tomato and cucumber chopped salad, pineapple and watermelon.
My comments will begin on a positive note. There are quite a few fruits and vegetables offered on these menus and that is good news for the kids.When I read this menu and saw all the fruits and vegetables it made me think of Weight Watchers for some reason. Have you heard about their new program? You can have unlimited fresh fruits and vegetables. This is pure genius if you ask me. I mean how many oranges can a person eat? Two, maybe three if you are hungry? Three oranges is about 250 calories. After three oranges you are probably full, bored of the flavor and tired from peeling so you stop eating. I liked seeing all those fruits and vegetables on the camp menus. Nice work camp.
My constructive criticism lies in the fact that I think these menus still have a long way to go. They can be nutritionally charged. If they hired me to revamp the lunches, here is what I would do:
Monday: whole wheat macaroni and cheese with spinach, whole wheat dinner roll with olive oil for dipping, fresh fruit bowl
Tuesday: cheese and finely chopped (I mean really finely chopped) mushroom enchilada, brown rice and black beans, and sliced apples
Wednesday: whole wheat vegetable pizza, garden salad with Italian dressing (made with olive oil), orange slices
Thursday: blueberry whole grain (add some ground flax) pancakes with syrup, scrambled eggs, sliced tomato, cucumber, honeydew and cantaloupe
Friday: baked chicken strips, sweet potato fries, carrots and olives, oatmeal raisin cookie
The alternative lunch of a bagel, cream cheese, chips, fruit, drink and dessert seems like a load of carbohydrates and empty calories. Why not offer a whole wheat pita with cheese, carrot and cucumber slices, fruit salad and milk (no dessert unless it is Friday when I think everyone should get that oatmeal raisin cookie I propose).
My changes to this menu are expensive and there is more food preparation required but this is what has to happen to revamp lunches. Chef Ann Cooper and Jamie Oliver would like my revised menu. So would Michelle Obama. I appreciate the camp’s effort, but they can take it much further. I’m packing my kids lunch this summer.

About Melanie Silverman

Melanie is a pediatric registered dietitian nutritionist (RD) and a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) working primarily in pediatric nutrition for well over 15 years. She spent seven years as a clinical dietitian at The University of Chicago Medical Center in the neonatal intensive care unit, pediatric intensive care unit, adult and pediatric burn units, and high risk pediatric follow-up clinic. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at Loyola University Chicago. Melanie has presented at state and national meetings for the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN), March of Dimes, Prader-Willi California Foundation, Texas Prader-Willi Association, Oklahoma Prader Willi Syndrome Association, Foundation for Prader-Willi Research (FPWR) in the United States and Canada and the Prader-Willi Syndrome USA (PWSA). She worked hard for her Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry and Spanish from Indiana University and a Master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center. A member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, California Dietetic Association, Pediatric Nutrition Practice Group, Women’s Health Group, Nutrition Entrepreneurs and an active member of the International Lactation Consultant Association.