Cookies, Crackers, Cheetos… What Is Your Child Eating for Lunch?

Shouldn’t the lunches we make for our children aspire to be better than the junk food vending machines we fought so hard to get out of our schools?

I need to start this post by declaring that I am NOT a food snob. I do not judge anyone for choosing regular milk over organic. I am a realist. Sometimes fast food is a must. Sometimes it’s a take-out chinese or delivery pizza night. Other times, a pre-made rotisserie chicken is considered gourmet. I also don’t think the occasionally cookie or piece of candy is bad. Believe me, my children are masters at asking for dessert after dinner and I do indulge them many times.

I also understand that children are picky. I have seen and dealt with my fair share of picky eaters in my daycare. I have seen the natural vegetarians who refuse any meat. Then there are the carb-only kids. Some children I know refuse bread and pizza, but will eat all vegetables and fruit (yes, this really happens). Others like my little sister sustain themselves with weird choices like cereal, jello, and garlic bread (don’t ask).

I get the fact that children refuse to eat certain foods. But does this mean it is okay to pack your child their favorite lunch of Wheat Thins and an M&M cookie… and nothing else? Because this is what one little boy sitting next to my daughter at lunch actually brought from home to eat.

During the first two weeks of kindergarten at my daughter’s school, parents are asked to take turns volunteering in the lunch room to help the kids open their lunch boxes and remind them to stay in their seats. So, I helped this little boy open his lunch bag and watched him pull out a juice box, a giant M&M cookie, and a bag of Wheat Thins. I was shocked to realize that this was his entire lunch.

Then I scanned the rest of the table of ten children. Eight out of the ten had brought their own lunches. But, this does not mean they were eating healthy. Some had sandwiches with fruit and crackers. My daughter brought a sandwich, a cheese stick, orange slices and Wheat Thins (ridiculously I had been concerned about my lack of creativity). Others brought yogurt and noodles. But, far too many brought only junk. Other than the cookie and Wheat Thin boy, there was another who brought a snack bag of Cheetos AND a snack bag of Oreo cookies with his sandwich. Which two of the three things do you think he ate?

There is so much media attention on the poor quality of food being served in schools, that I always assumed bringing a bagged lunch from home was healthier. But, one look at the contents sitting in front of these five- and six-year-olds told another story.

The school lunch that day was a baked potato, a fruit cup and some vegetables or taco meat on tortilla rounds with fruit and veggies. To me, there is no comparison. Many of these children would have been much better off buying the school lunch. I know this is in contradiction to many reports I have read and even to the popular and eye-opening show “Food Revolution” with Jamie Oliver, but it is the truth.

And, I cringe even mentioning this, but I am going to say it. My school is not a low-income school – only 7.65 percent of the children attending this school qualify for free or reduced lunches. To me, this means these parents can afford to do better. Or maybe this is my ignorance/naivete talking. Maybe I am the fool that was led to believe that people living at a certain income level in a single-family home only community should know better.

I contrast this to my neighborhood growing up and it is so frustrating. My high school had a 31 percent free and reduced lunch program. I know my elementary school had an even greater percentage. Many of the children I grew up with really had no other choice. They would have been lucky to get a cookie in their lunch, or a lunch at all.

Maybe this is why it pisses me off to see this kid sitting there with such a deficit of a meal – when more than likely this isn’t a case of no other options.

Often parents I know (many neighbors) talk about going to farmers markets and buying only local, organic foods from expensive gourmet grocery stores. Is this just talk? Is this just a status symbol? Are these same neighbors making these poor choices for their children, even though they are well-versed in what constitutes a balanced meal?

If parents can’t make good decisions for their children, then they should hand over the daily responsibility of providing lunch to the school (our school has even been recognized for its high standards in serving healthy meals). Sending your child with only a cookie and crackers does not cut it. I don’t care how picky your child may be. Don’t give up. Throw in some grapes. Maybe some cheese or an applesauce. Did he really need a giant-sized cookie? Give some healthier options because if he is hungry enough, he will eat it – especially when he is surrounded with other children eating.

Not surprisingly, this boy was having a lot of trouble staying in his chair. For the last 10 minutes of lunch, I watched him bounce in his seat and “fall” to the floor repeatedly.

What should anyone expect? I felt sorry for him. It’s not his fault. It’s his parents’ fault.

Would this bother you? Am I going overboard in my judgement? Should the school get involved and better monitor what children are bringing from home? I want to hear from you. Please leave a comment or join the discussion on the Tiny Steps Mommy Facebook page.


Nicole Dash is a writer, blogger and business owner who lives in the suburbs outside Washington, DC with her husband and four children. She started her career as a journalist and copy editor. She also managed public relations and corporate communications for a national franchise company, but in 2006 started a child care business. In 2012, she launched Tiny Steps Mommy, a lifestyle and parenting blog that quickly gained a following and connected her to an expansive group of women-owned businesses. In 2013, she started a digital marketing consulting business that focused on growing community in an authentic way. Through those connections she was inspired to open Play, Work or Dash, a coworking space that also offers onsite childcare up to three hours per day. It is where like-minded professionals pursue their business goals with the extra level of support parents desire; a place where you "bring your kids to work." She is an active member of the Washington, DC blogger community. She has been published on The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Mamalode and Pop Sugar.




  1. its a fine line. In this country we have an obesity problem. Schools cut back on PE, kids are always playing video games. Something needs to be done but no one wants the government to be that involved in the schools. Most people would accept the schools sending home a flyer of suggested foods for packed lunches but that is probably all.

  2. Last year when H started Kindergarten, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the school lunches. They are nowhere near perfect but I was really amazed at the offerings which are pretty darn healthy. I even ate lunch a few times with him (buying my lunch too) and it really was way better than what I remember as school lunch. On the flip side, I was also shocked that they only have PE 2x a week.

    • I completely agree. The lunch at my elementary school is a much better choice for kids than cookies and crackers. I was also impressed by the quality. It is a far cry from what I grew up eating!

  3. I would never dream of sending that for my son’s lunch, and I like you, am not a food snob and have no problems getting Happy Meals and pizza occasionally. I let my children eat everything IN MODERATION. I sent a single Oreo with my son’s lunch today, but that was accompanied by a thin everything bagel with cream cheese, grapes and cucumbers. Perhaps not THE healthiest lunch in the planet, but the healthiest I know he will eat. Hopefully those “lunches” are an infrequent thing for those children, if not, like you said, they would be better off getting school meals.