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Pack Your Bags: Great School Lunches

Created January 12, 2017
The trick to a great lunch? Find winning combinations that are healthful and fun, tasty and tempting. It's worth the effort. Eating well affects your kids' energy level, brainpower and ability to fend off illness.
Pack Your Bags Great School Lunches

The ABCs of Packing Lunches

A is for Appetite

  • Pack small servings. Think snack-sizes, especially for younger kids. Too much food is overwhelming and can squelch hunger. Try 3 or 4 small servings of different foods, such as a sandwich cut in half, 8 to 10 wedges of mandarin oranges and a 4-ounce container of yogurt.
  • Include protein to extend energy. It stays in the stomach longer than carbohydrates. That can help slow digestion and keep kids from getting too hungry or tired before they come home to refuel. Pack a little protein, such as meat, cheese, turkey, yogurt or peanut butter, into every lunch.
  • Consider looks - they matter. The color and texture (crisp, crunchy, juicy, etc.) of foods make lunches more interesting. Put together enticing combos, such as smooth yogurt with crunchy apple slices or a biscuit and cheese with crispy carrots. Stickers, colored plastic wrap and decorative napkins add to the fun.

B is for Beverages

Beverages separate great lunches from not-so-great ones. Make yours tops by selecting drinks that do something good for the body:

  • Water
  • Milk (white or chocolate)*
  • 100% juice (especially those fortified with calcium)

*For food safety, purchase milk at school, buy shelf-stable milk or use a freezer pack to keep milk cold.

C is for Commitment to Food Safety

Lunches left at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours are a prime target for food poisoning. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. The right tools help make that happen.

  • Use and insulated lunch container instead of a paper bag.
  • Include a small freezer pack with the meal.
  • Freeze foods, such as noncarbonated drinks, sandwich bread and Go-Gurt™ yogurt. They will thaw by lunchtime and help keep other foods cold.
  • Get a small thermos for hot foods. Test it to make sure it keeps hot foods hot (at least 140 degrees) for up to 4 hours.
  • Toss in hand sanitizer so kids can clean their hands before eating.

Four Foods for Every Lunch Box

Packing a healthful lunch is easy with a blueprint. Select at least one food from each of these categories.

  • Grains: They contain carbohydrates for energy, B vitamins to help the body use the energy and fiber to keep foods moving through the intestines. Try to use whole grains: whole wheat bread, whole grain crackers, etc.
  • Calcium-Rich Foods: To build better bones and strong, healthy teeth.
  • Protein: It's needed for growth, for muscles and for bones - in short, for every cell in the body.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: They contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals that keep the body strong and able to fight off illness.

Possible Pickings

Grains Calcium-Rich Protein Fruits & Veggies
Bread or bagel Yogurt dips for fruit Dairy (cottage cheese, yogurt, etc.) Berries, melon, pineapple
Tortillas or pita pockets Dill Yogurt dip for veggies Turkey, ham, roast beef or chicken Carrots, sweet peppers, jicima
Crackers or pretzels Cheese Nuts or peanut butter Apple wedges (dip in OJ to keep fresh)
Biscuit or muffin Snack-size pudding or yogurt Salads (turkey, ham, chicken, tuna) Cherry tomatoes or sweet pea pods
Pasta Milk or calcium-fortified juices Egg Dried fruit (apricots, apples, etc.)

Quick Tips for Quick Lunches

  • Have your kids help pack. You supervise; they make the meal. Pride in ownership.
  • Keep a wish list on the refrigerator. Have your crew jot down lunch items they would like from the store.
  • Stock convenience foods. Some days are more harried than others. Keep a stash of single-serving fruit cups, puddings, vegetable dips, raisins and more.
  • Pack the night before. It eases the morning rush hour and gives foods time to fully chill before they sit in a classroom or locker.
  • Look to leftovers. Rolls, muffins, soups, casseroles, fruit and pasta salads are a quick remedy for the sandwich slump.

Five Simple Sample Lunches

Lunch Idea One:

Lunch Idea Two:

  • Chicken Noodle Soup
  • Breadsticks
  • Cottage cheese and baby carrots
  • Fruit Roll-Ups®
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice

Lunch Idea Three:

Lunch Idea Four:

Lunch Idea Five: