: School Lunch Utilization - Balancing Kids, Cost & Nutrition Quality : School Lunch Utilization - Balancing Kids, Cost & Nutrition Quality

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School Lunch Utilization - Balancing Kids, Cost & Nutrition Quality

For my kids, ages 5 & 7, the most exciting thing about going off to school was riding the bus… until they discovered the school cafeteria. Being able to make their own choices and independently buy their own food was amazing to them. Now, each month when the lunch menu is published, they carefully peruse all the offerings weighing the pros and cons of breakfast for lunch, stuffed crust pizza and build-a-burger day. Then the negotiating begins… Typically, we allow them to buy lunch once or twice per week, but every month they push for more. My youngest and most practical points out that it would be so much easier on Mom and Dad if we could relax at night instead of making them lunch. While he makes a good point, this is where utilization steps in.

At $2.75 a school lunch is a great deal and it definitely saves us some time and money. For less than $30 per week, they are offered a well-balanced meal and must choose at least one fruit or vegetable with their lunch. Based on straight cost comparison, the decision should be obvious. However, choosing and actually eating are not the same thing. For instance, on build-a-burger day, my daughter throws out the burger and the veggie toppings and just eats the bacon and cheese on the bun. Sure, she won’t go hungry but the nutritional value is certainly not optimal. This also creates a lot of waste, which does not sit well with our recycling, composting, farm-to-table family values.

School lunches have definitely come a long way since our elementary school days, but as parents, we want to be sure our kids are getting good nutrition from quality ingredients. School lunches meet the ‘requirements’, but what does that really mean, especially if some of the food goes straight to the trash? According to the School Nutrition Association, school lunches have to be low in sodium, rich in whole grains, contain less than 10% saturated fat, and be 550 to 650 calories. While that’s a great start, it doesn’t address some of the other things parents may worry about like GMOs, preservatives and processed foods.

My husband and I know we can’t control everything our kids eat, so to balance out those bacon sandwiches and tater tots, we also make them lunch at home. Our kids know to choose a protein, fruit or veggie and starch each day and we throw in the occasional bag of organic gummy snacks for a treat. To keep costs low, the kids read the sale flyers from the newspaper to see what looks good. This practice has worked for us as it gets the kids involved in healthy eating habits, allows us to purchase lunch bag ingredients that are on sale and keeps lunchtime exciting, as the contents are always changing. When added up, a homemade lunch costs about $3.50, not too far off from a school lunch after all. By establishing this routine as best-practice now, we hope to set the stage for a healthy and affordable lifestyle.  Healthy eating habits and good nutrition as kids will help them grow properly, support a strong immune system and carry over to adulthood. Knowing that my kids will actually eat their fruits and veggies because it was their choice is worth the extra cost and time spent making lunch. Reaching this compromise between the excitement of school lunch and nutritional best practice is utilization in action and a win-win for our family.

So how does this translate to the healthcare environment? Consider central line dressing kits. Many manufacturers make central line dressing kits costing as little as $2 but when the ingredients don’t line up to the needs of the end user (nurses), items are wasted and standards of care may not be met. As the process becomes less efficient, the value of the kit is lost. Since each manufacturer makes multiple options, it may be possible to find a kit that does align with clinical need and streamlines the process but has little or no waste. A good way to choose the best option is to include the end user in the selection process. By involving the clinician, a kit can be selected that provides all the items needed to change a central line dressing according to hospital policy without waste. Even if the ideal kit isn’t the lowest cost product, having the right ingredients will increase end user satisfaction, make the dressing change more efficient and improve care to the patient by providing the best possible tools thus making the kit more valuable than its monetary cost.

Read Week 9:  The Case for Nutcrackers

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