Don’t Take the Fun Out of School Lunches

August 15, 2014
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Cameron Acken give his mom a hand by preparing sandwiches for lunch. Photo courtesy Regina Acken

Cameron Acken give his mom a hand by preparing sandwiches for lunch. Photo courtesy Regina Acken

By Meghan Loder

Getting kids to eat a healthy meal is never easy but just as important is what you pack inside those school lunch boxes and bags.

Lisa Testa, a holistic nutritional consultant in Lincroft, said it is crucial for any food that kids take to school to be “something that would sustain energy.”

A perfect lunch, she said, would include “a healthy carbohydrate, such as an apple and container of peanut butter, a lean protein on a whole grain sandwich and water.”

For parents who find it difficult to include all of those components, the best foods are fresh fruits or raw nuts,” Testa said.

Getting children to eat healthy doesn’t have to include drastic changes and banning all junk food from the house. Testa suggests taking small steps. “Change over from refined foods to less-refined foods. No bread is better than whole wheat bread. Honey, instead of sugar, or whole grain chips” instead of more processed corn chips, Testa said.

Testa warned against adding a sweet treat in kid’s lunches. “Sugar gives kids a quick up and a quick down. They get very hyper and don’t focus on the learning.”

Regina Acken, a mother of four children, who range in age from 12 to 18, always tries to make sure her children’s lunches are filled with healthy nutrients.

“Because I am making their lunches, I have control over what they are eating. The majority of what they are eating is very healthy but I don’t try to take the fun out of it for them,” she said.

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But, she understands that she is not going to be there all the time, and works to instills healthy eating habits into her children.

“I encourage them to notice the way they feel after they eat food. It encourages them to make healthy choices. If you feel crummy after you eat [fast food], then don’t eat it,” Acken said.

Her kids have a big say in what goes into the food they bring to school. “They have zero involvement in making their lunch but 100 percent involvement in what goes into their lunch,” Acken said. “I have four kids so it’s very different for each one. Fruit for the kids who like it, veggies for the ones that prefer that.”

She said the hardest part of making four lunches is that “the supplies go very quickly. I keep having to go to the store to restock, to keep remaking them. Also diversifying their lunches, I tend to stick with what they like so they keep on getting the same thing because I know what works.”

While having four kids with different likes and dislikes sounds   difficult to ensure they get exactly what they want, Acken has that challenge solved. “It’s very easy now. It wasn’t always but it has just morphed into a system.”

What are her tricks for getting four lunches and kids ready to go day in and day out? “There is no trick, it is a labor of love. I birthed them, I have to feed them.”

For parents in a time crunch or for those who want to give their children a special treat every now and then, Sickles Market in Little Silver sells prepared lunches all year. They have a plethora of options for sandwiches with lots of choices for notoriously picky eaters. The options can be found online at

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All lunches include Mott’s apple juice, a red delicious apple, and a choice of goldfish or tiny twist pretzels along with a sandwich.

The little boxed lunches have been a hot item for more than five years now. According to marketing manager Tori Sickles,  “Kids love them, plus they are so adorable.” The meals in a box are not only for the elementary school set. Their popularity extends all the way up until high school, Sickles said.

“They are super convenient and easy” for moms and dads on the run, she said.

The little boxes are also great in summer for that easy, grab-and-go lunch for the beach or a picnic, Sickles said.

As always, the aim of a nutritious school lunch is to have your child eat it and not discard it or trade it away.

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