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Discuss Lunch! Does your child have off-campus lunch?

July 20, 2012

Working as an pediatrician can be daunting at times. Particularly working with overweight children. Lately I’ve been seeing more and more overweight children who are eating fast food and take out almost daily. So much of the school lunch discussion has revolved around what schools offer, I have encountered a whole other problem…kids who eat lunch outside of the schools.

 In NYC, where I work, many kids have “off-campus lunch”. This can be started as young as fourth grade. It is hard to decipher whether this ritual was started to give older elementary school kids more independence or as a way to lessen the burden of overcrowding in the school cafeterias.

What I end up seeing is the worst possible result; kids who eat fast food almost daily. Many schools limit the radius children are allowed to walk for safety reasons. They are limited to a 2 block perimeter for lunch choices.  Children always need to go out in groups. Most kids frequent pizza shops, take out Chinese food, or get lunch from the “carts”. These carts offer culinary delights like knishes and hot dogs. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all these foods, in moderation, but these kids are consuming these foods five out of seven days a week.  These foods are loaded with grease, salt, and additives.

Remember food is expensive so a child with a five-dollar budget daily cannot get much these days.

Most of my patients order chicken wings and French fries at the Chinese restaurants. The kids order “combos” that included a sugar sweetened drink.  They have to eat standing up in these food joints. This problem affects both kids in private and public schools, however most private schools do not have off campus policies until middle school or high school.

I think it is imperative to talk to parents about their child’s lunch options. It is better to have a plan about healthy eating before your child develops bad habits. Often times I will use a map of neighborhood on the Internet and help my patients find healthy lunch options.  A local deli may offer a better option of a turkey or vegetable sandwich on whole grain bread/wrap or soup as opposed to a fast food lunch. Kids can buy water instead of a soda or sweetened drink.  Remember, you can always pack a healthy lunch, but most kids say that’s “not cool”.

Communication with patients is key. This is important for both normal weight and overweight patients. We all want our kids to eat right and empower them to make healthy choices.

Discuss Lunch!

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