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Back to School Lunch Box Help

Guest Author - Sandy Moyer

New school year... New lunch box... What's Inside? Does that cute new lunch box hold a meal that's nutritious and well balanced? Will your child eat the food inside, trade it for a doughnut, or throw it away because it looks yucky?

Eating a balanced, healthy lunch enhances learning ability and supplies energy for the rest of the school day. You want to pack a healthy lunch, of course, but it must be food your children will really eat... packed with lots of kid-appeal. Getting a child involved in planning what food goes into the lunchbox will increase the chances of it being eaten rather than traded or thrown away.

A healthy lunch should include choices from each food group - protein, grains, fruit, vegetables, and dairy products. Using the Food Guide Pyramid for Kids, let your child help to make choices and plan lunch menus in advance.

The Main Course....
A sandwich is by far the most common main attraction inside a lunch box. In a kid's lunchbox, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread is the perennial favorite. According to "The Great Food Almanac", the average American student will have consumed approximately 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by graduation from high school. The pleasing combination helps provide the nutrition a child needs for a school day afternoon. Bread fills them up and supplies carbohydrates for energy. Peanut butter supplies protein for brain power, while the jelly makes it taste good. For a change from the usual peanut butter and jelly sandwich, try peanut butter and sliced bananas on raisin bread or peanut butter with apple slices on wheat bread.

Try a variety of fillings and bread alternatives. Fill a pita pocket with egg salad, chicken salad or tuna salad. Make mini-subs on a ranch roll or on a hot dog roll. Spread bagels with cream cheese. Make tortilla roll-ups with tortillas and cheese spread or with sliced cheese and deli ham or turkey. Use left-over chicken or ham to make sandwich spread. These tasty spreads are great on thin party bread slices.

When you make dinner, think leftovers. Make sandwiches from sliced home-baked ham, roast beef or turkey breast instead of processed luncheon meats. Make an extra large roaster and slice half of the breast for chicken sandwiches. Make two meatloaves and save one to slice for cold meatloaf sandwiches. Cut sandwiches in quarters, in strips, or use cookie cutters to make them more appealing and easier for little ones to handle.

For Sandwich boredom....
Lunch doesn't have to include a sandwich every day. Buy an extra large bucket of fried chicken so there's leftovers for lunch. Fruit and yogurt, cottage cheese with fruit, simple meat & cheese roll-ups, are just a few alternatives. Make pasta salads using colorful pasta in fun shapes. Add thinly sliced pepperoni, or hard salami for extra protein. Make a cold Veggie Pizza. When lunch doesn't include a sandwich, add a slice of homemade quick bread, a muffin or mini muffins, breadsticks, mini bagels with jam or cream cheese, breadsticks, peanut butter or cheese on whole wheat crackers, nachos and salsa, or graham crackers.

For finicky eaters who need daily encouragement to eat enough to get the nutrition they need from meals at home, getting them to eat enough at school can be a real challenge. Picky eaters need a variety of foods in sizes they'll be comfortable with. A whole sandwich might look like too much food to a little girl without a big appetite, so pack only half a sandwich. To help make sure she's getting the nourishment she needs, include a thermos of milk each day. Make it strawberry or chocolate if that means she'll be sure to drink it. Add healthy extras like string cheese, peanut butter-stuffed celery, a hard-boiled egg or pudding.

Add Fruit or Veggies....
Put fruit or veggies such as grapes, cherries, strawberries, tangerine slices, orange slices, fresh pineapple wedges, chunks of melon, grape tomatoes, and baby carrots in a zipper sandwich bag or a small plastic container. Plums, peaches, nectarines, apples, pears, and other whole fruit should be washed thoroughly and wrapped in a paper towel. To minimize waste, look for fresh fruit that's kid-sized. Buy little apples, pears, tangerines, and bananas for your little people. When fresh fruit isn't available, pack dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries, apricots and peaches or canned fruit.

What's for Dessert?
Unless a child must stick to a low-fat or sugar-restricted diet for weight control or other health reasons, adding a sweet treat shouldn't be a problem as long as the rest of the lunch is well-balanced. For little cookie monsters who really look forward to their favorite goodies, add a few small cookies occasionally, either store-bought or homemade.

Alternative treats, that most kids consider equally yummy....

  • crispy cereal treats
  • granola bars - brand name or homemade
  • pudding cups
  • jello
  • trail mix
  • fruit cup
  • fresh fruit kabobs (with lollipop sticks as skewers)
  • fig newtons
  • Keep it cold....Keep it safe...
    Start with a clean lunch box and cold food. Place sandwiches and any other foods that would normally be refrigerated, next to a small blue ice pack or a frozen water bottle. You can also freeze a juice drink box and use it instead of an ice pack, but I think most kids should be encouraged to drink milk with their lunch. Small cartons of milk can be purchased at school or include a thermos of milk.

    Pack a plastic fork or spoon if needed, and always add a napkin. For a special touch, buy party napkins with cartoon characters or super heroes. Check the clearance sales at card shops and party supply outlets to buy them at greatly reduced prices.

    Make sure your child understands that any leftover parts of sandwiches, chicken, dairy products, and other perishables not eaten at lunchtime, must be placed in a trash can in the lunch room, not saved for after school.

    Sometimes variety is not welcome...
    Now, you've done your homework! You've scoured the internet, spent hours gathering ideas for healthy lunch recipes. You're about to become a master of the brown bag lunch (or the Spongebob lunch box). You're ready for even the most hard-to-please finicky eater, with great recipes for healthy lunchtime goodies. You have enough creative ideas for lunch menus to last at least until December, when you realize your child really doesn't want any of that. His idea of the perfect lunch is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a granola bar and an apple. He knows what he likes, that's what he really wants for lunch, and lunchtime at school is too short for extras anyway. He insists that his favorite lunch is not boring at all and finding a turkey sandwich or a tuna pocket makes him a very unhappy little boy.

    It's not that unusual for kids to want the same thing for lunch everyday. Some kids just want familiar things and really don't like variety. As long as its a balanced meal, enjoy the simplicity while it lasts. They'll eventually tire of it and want a menu change.

    About after school snacks....
    After school means time to re-fuel. For a raging after school thirst, encourage your children to drink lots of water. Stock up on healthy snacks like low-fat frozen yogurt or low-fat ice cream bars, granola bars, animal crackers, graham crackers, pretzels, trail mix, popcorn and fruit juice ( 100% juice only). Have fruit and vegetables washed and ready to eat for younger kids. If dinner is served early at your house, set strict limits on what kind of snacks are allowed. Say no to sugary, high-fat after school snacks that have little nutritional value and leave no room for healthy food at dinner.

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    Content copyright © 2013 by Sandy Moyer. All rights reserved.
    This content was written by Sandy Moyer. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Allyson Elizabeth DŽAngelo for details.

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