Tips for Packing School Lunches

Packing a healthy school lunch for your little one can be challenging - especially during those rushed mornings when everything seems to go wrong. If you give in and let them eat hot dogs and chocolate cake for a one day, you can look forward to endless days of begging for the same meal again. Preparation helps you stay strong in the face of time constraints and pleading eyes.

  • Prepare Ahead

    Small plastic containers are ideal for school lunches. Fill them up, and they are all set to be frozen or stacked in the fridge, ready to grab at a moment's notice. Choose one day of the week to prepare lunches and snacks. Make enough for the next seven days. Stock them in the freezer.

    Dice up fresh fruit, mix the fruit with plain or flavored yogurt and freeze for a healthy and delicious snack. Freeze portions of snow peas, sliced peppers, and baby carrots. Serve with ranch, Cesar, or Thousand Island dressing. Toss a few 100% juice boxes in the freezer to keep lunchboxes cool.

  • Make the Change

    White bread is not healthy for growing children. Wheat bread is not much better. The label must indicate whole wheat, whole oats, rye, or barley as the first ingredient. Whole grain breads are best for little ones.

    Replace high fat lunchmeats such as bologna with low-fat turkey, roast beef, or chicken breast. Leave the cheese off sandwiches unless you purchase low-fat dairy products as well.

    Choose fresh fruit over canned for a healthier selection. Grapes, apples, cherry tomatoes, pineapple, bananas, raisins, dried cranberries, prunes, melon, pears, and cherries are all suitable for healthy school lunches. If you must use canned fruit, rinse off the sugary syrup before packing. Include dip as an incentive to get your little one to eat fresh fruit.

    Switch to 1% or skim milk instead of 2% or whole milk to cut the fat from your child's diet. Check drink boxes and choose brands of 100% fruit juice instead of sugary, fruit-flavored drinks.

  • What to Avoid

    Preservative- and sugar-laden snacks may taste good, but they are not healthy snack choices. A snack cake every once and awhile is okay. Do not pack cake every day. Instead, substitute banana bread, zucchini bread or pumpkin bread with cream cheese topping as a snack. Bake your loaves ahead of time and freeze for convenience. Homemade cookies are healthier than store-bought ones, since you control the ingredients. Homemade trail mix is easy to make and a favorite with children.

    Prepackaged lunches often contain high fat and high calorie ingredients. Frozen pizzas, snack crackers and instant soups often include high concentrations of sugar and salt. Create your own snack crackers by spreading plain crackers with peanut butter, fruit preserves, or cream cheese.

    Toss in a few individually packaged wet wipes to remind your child to wash hands before eating. Never reuse plastic or paper bags. Wipe down lunch pails daily to keep germs from contaminating foods.

Small, healthy changes in your child's lunch instill healthy eating habits that last a lifetime. Introduce these changes slowly, allowing your child to adjust to new flavors and textures. Eating healthy is a learned behavior. Be consistent and do not cave to the pleas of your child to purchase unhealthy snacks and packaged foods.

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