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The four secrets of lunch packing success

Last Modified: 8/27/2019

This post was written by Amanda Langan, RDN, CD, clinical dietitian, Parkview Health.

The days are getting shorter, the nights are a little cooler and the kids are back in school. In addition to the latest fashions and the supply list, it’s also a time when the topic of lunch comes up. Is your student going to pack their lunch or eat the school’s offerings?

Packing lunches might seem like just one more thing to do while you are trying to get everyone out the door in the morning, but making a midday meal with your kids is a great way to get them engaged in the kitchen, while teaching them about nutrition. The more your child helps make decisions about what goes into their lunch, the more likely they are to eat it. If you have a picky eater on your hands, packing a lunch filled with things you know they like might be the difference between them eating or being hungry for the rest of the afternoon. Here are a few tips to set parents and students up to conquer the cafeteria.

Make it fast and easy

Not everyone has time to make a healthy and balanced lunch from start to finish in the morning. These ideas can take the stress out of getting lunch right:

  • Take advantage of nights and weekends to prep items for the week.  
  • Pre-cut vegetables and portion them out into reusable containers or bags.
  • Keep something from each food group – fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains and dairy – on hand and have your child grab one of each for their lunch.
  • Frozen fruits and yogurt tubes can be kept in the freezer for quick additions to lunch.
  • Fruit cups and low-fat string cheese are a healthy addition to lunch and have a long shelf life.
Make it fun and tasty

Fun shapes and colors and even a cool lunch box increase the chances that your student will eat their lunch instead of swapping it with a friend or throwing it out. Use cookie cutters to form sandwiches and fruit into fun shapes. Explore these fun and easy recipes, browse Pinterest for fun ideas or give one of these options a try.

  • Pinwheels three ways ­– Start with a 6- or 10-inch whole grain tortilla, add toppings, roll up and cut into bite-sized pinwheels.
    • PB Banana ­– Spread 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter (or any nut butter) onto the tortilla and add sliced banana.
    • The Club – Add 1-ounce low sodium lunch meat, 1-ounce cheese, lettuce and tomato. Pile it high with veggies for extra fiber, vitamins and minerals.
    • Veggie Lover – Spread 1-2 tablespoons of hummus on the tortilla and top with your favorite roasted veggies. My favorite combo is mushroom, zucchini/squash, beets and onion.
  • DIY Parfait ­Layer – Layer 6 ounces of low-fat yogurt with ½-1 cup of fresh or frozen fruit and ¼ cup of granola.
  • Fruit Kabobs ­ – Thread chunks of melon, berries, pineapple and oranges onto a skewer for a rainbow-colored kabob. Pair with low-fat yogurt for dipping.
  • Veggie Sticks – Pair precut carrots, bell peppers, celery, radish or zucchini with hummus or plain Greek yogurt for dipping.
Make if functional

Colorful utensils and water bottles are pleasing to the eye and fun, and also reduce waste. Reusable containers help control portion size and keep food from getting smashed or leaking. For more zero waste ideas, visit the Mighty Nest and Waste Watcher websites. 

Make it safe

Most schools don’t have refrigeration for lunches brought from home. Employ a reusable ice pack to keep lunches cold. Frozen fruit or frozen yogurt in tubes are a smart way to keep lunches cold and they will be thawed and ready to eat by lunch time. To clean up drips or crumbs, wipe out the inside of your child's lunch box with a warm, soapy cloth and air dry.

Lunchbox love

It’s OK if your child’s lunch isn’t perfect every day. The important thing is that you are teaching your child healthy habits that will last a lifetime, all while making sure they have a nutritious meal to eat at school. Not only will lunch help fuel their body, but also their mind.






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