School Lunch: Dealing With Peer Pressure

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Each day, our school aged children walk into their respective cafeterias to eat lunch among their peers.  While many children are content with healthy home packed lunches, often children want to fit in with their peers who are either eating low quality cafeteria food or unhealthy home packed lunches.  Each day, food conscience parents are faced with the particularly difficult dilemma of providing a well balanced nourishing meal or allowing your child to fit in comfortably with their peers.

Childhood obesity and diabetes are rising at obscene rate.  This current generation of children is expected to have a shorter projected lifespan, due in part by poor nutrition.  If one thing is clear, it’s that we are in a health crisis and proper nutrition is paramount to a full life. 
It’s the little issues, like lunchtime nutrition that make parenting difficult, especially with the doomsday statistics mentioned above.   Where is the line?  What is the best solution for your family?  What is going to prevent your child from rebelling or having food issues down the road?  How does a food conscience parent deal with low quality school cafeteria lunch?  How does a parent combat peer pressure to eat commercially marketed, low-nutrient food?

1. Educate

Talking with your child about what makes food healthy and unhealthy is very important.  Explaining food quality, ingredients and the relationship between food and health can give even the youngest person a basis of knowledge that will likely lead to healthful eating choices as an adult.  Have your child participate in the food selection including, meal planning, shopping and food preparation to further their understanding of healthy eating choices.  Remember to model healthy eating.  Kids learn by watching their parents.

Dr. Mellissa Holland, PhD Clinical Psychologist states: Deprivation or labeling something as off limits or “bad” usually makes it more desirable.  The problem with labeling and making certain food off limits is that it creates labels around food and can lead to emotional eating, binging when the parental figure is not around, and having an unhealthy relationship with food (e.g., in more extreme cases can spark eating disorders).

Instead of labeling, talk about foods that are good to eat frequently (e.g. apples), and those that one eats infrequently (e.g., Cheetos).  And, one of the best ways to have children eat healthy…have the parents eat healthy.  Modeling is key in healthy lifestyles.

2. Compete!

There is no reason food can’t be both nutritional and fun for kids.  Find ways to incorporate your child’s favorite meals into their lunch box.  An example would be pizza….every kid loves pizza.  Mini homemade pizza’s can be very nutritious if made with high quality ingredients like whole grain wheat flour, fresh organic tomatoes and hormone free cheese.   They can easily be made ahead of time and eaten at room temperature.   Your child will be the envy of his friends and you will know they are eating something healthful.

3. Find Nutritious Alternatives

Thankfully, there are more nutritious alternatives coming into the marketplace all the time.  Skip the granola bar with high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils and go for a brand that is made with real ingredients and won’t last on a shelf for 20 years.  Brands like Kashi, Clif Bar, and Natures Path offer prepared snacks that look similar to their unhealthy alter-egos.

4. Relax…it’s only lunch!

If you’re still anxious about school lunch, it’s a good idea to put it into perspective.  The average well fed child eats 35 meals a week.  That includes 3 solid meals and two snacks per day.   Even if your child eats a school prepared lunch everyday, that’s only 5 meals out of 35.  Now that doesn’t sound as scary.  Dr. Holland recommends one school prepared lunch a week in order for children to fit in with their peers.

The Bottom Line:

Model good behaviors, provide nutritious meals at home, make your child’s home packed lunch both healthy and fun so that given a choice they might choose mom’s lunch.  Don’t stress parents, low-nutrient food every once in a while is not going to override all of your hard programming and good intentions

Contributor Info:

Amanda Louden is a busy wife, mother, avid grocery shopper, food lover, and nutrition educator.  She combines traditional nutrition with a fast paced modern day life using an organized, practical approach. Eat Your Roots Nutrition Education and Advocacy was launched earlier this year in order to promote eating real, traditional, nourishing foods…just like grandma used to make.  Visit her website at
and Blog at

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