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Packing Lunches for your Kids

Posted: August 22, 2011

With September comes the end of summer and the beginning of school for many families. Shopping for school supplies has been completed and now you have about 150 days to create exciting and nutritious lunches your child will want to eat. Don’t start this school year off dreading this daily chore. With a little planning and your child’s involvement, packing lunches may not be so daunting this school year.

Here are some lunchbox tips and ideas, which may make your child the envy of the lunch room.

1. Right from the beginning, check with your school for any policies on food allergy restrictions. Many schools have a “no nut” policy. This will rule out including any peanut butter sandwiches in your child’s lunch pail.
2. Food safety is a must. Make sure you have a thermos to keep hot foods hot. Frozen juice boxes or small ice packs placed in a thermal lunch box will keep cold food at the right temperature until lunch time.
3. Remember that your child may only have 15 to 20 minutes to actually sit and eat their food. Pack a lunch that is easy to eat, packed in easy to open containers and requires little prepping, like peeling fruit. Do the prep work ahead of time for your child.
4. Don’t include a food that your child has not ever eaten before. The opportunity to refuel midday is important to your child’s academic success. Take every opportunity to include foods your child is familiar with and will eat during lunch break. Save the introduction to new food items for the weekend or dinner time.
5. If you want to ensure your child will eat their lunch, include them in the planning process, purchasing and packing of their own lunch. Take them along to the grocery store to make food selection; have them help assemble a sandwich or place items in their lunch box.
6. Include small foods. Small foods are more fun for a child to eat. Avoid a whole sandwich; instead cut sandwiches into smaller pieces. They are easier for your child to eat and more fun too. Baby carrots, fruit slices, dried fruit etc. make good lunch items. Pack items in mini muffin cups and wrap in foil or plastic wrap. You can include more choices if the quantity is smaller.
7. Include a variety of tastes and texture to make the lunch satisfying. Include crunchy, salty, sweet, and savory foods in each lunch. The crunch of a carrot stick, the saltiness of a whole grain pretzel, and the sweetness of a peach will make for a satisfying lunch.
8. Consider a variety of bread products if sandwiches are a daily fare. Whole grain breads, like whole wheat, 12 grain, and rye or oat bread make for a good variety and are healthy choices.
9. Consider dips and spreads instead of sandwiches each day. Salsa, humus, bean or fruit dips make a nice alternative to sandwiches. Pack crackers, mini bagels or bagel chips, tortillas, baked tortilla chips, rice crackers, mini muffins, pita bread, or mini croissants make for good dipping.
10. Avoid high cost, high fat and low nutrient foods like Lunchables. While these are appealing to children, they are not very nutritious and can be tough on your budget. You can pack a more nutritious lunch or snack yourself using the ideas already mention above.
11. If your child wants the same thing day after day go ahead and pack it. If you know that the lunch is nutritious and your child is eating it, there is no harm in eating the same thing each day. Children don’t like change and a new school year will bring on enough stressful changes in your child’s life.
12. Remember whenever possible to include something special in your child’s lunch box. A homemade cookie, a sticker, pencil, a handwritten note, or a little change to purchase chocolate milk or an ice cream sandwich will make for a nice surprise. A special treat will encourage your child to dig into their lunch box each day.

For more helpful tips on packing a healthy and desirable lunch check out the following web sites.

http://justbento.com/handbook/downloads/weekly-bento-planner

http://www.school-lunch-ideas.com/

Written by Lenelle Roberts, Extension Educator, to learn more, contact Lenelle at (717) 921-8803 or email: lmn119@psu.edu