ABCs of Back to School Lunches
It’s that time of year when children are heading back to school. That means time to pack lunches. Feeling overwhelmed with what to pack? Here are some tips to simplify your life and give them a nutritious and delicious lunch!
A: Add a touch of AMUSEMENT and AFFECTION
- Make it fun! Lunch time goes quickly, so pack foods that don’t require extra effort to open and eat.
- Have the kids help prepare lunches; they will be more likely to eat it!
- Use fun pasta shapes for salads and cut sandwiches or cheese slices into shapes using cookie cutters.
- Make it interactive: Pack ingredients so kids can easily assemble their own lunch – tacos, mini cheese/meat/cracker sandwiches or foods on a skewer.
- Add a special treat: A note, small game riddle, cartoon, or write a quick note on a banana peel.
B: BALANCE food choices: Make it healthy by packing lunches the MyPlate way and including foods from each food group:
- Dairy is a must! Include milk at all meals so that children won’t miss out on key nutrients necessary to grow and learn. Send milk from home or make sure that they have milk money in their school account.
- Sweeten the meal with a fruit serving: Fresh, canned in juice (or water) or dried fruit. For younger children remember to peel citrus fruits and to cut fruit into easy to eat pieces.
- Add a veggie serving. Since kids love finger foods, sliced cucumber, bell pepper, celery, cherry tomatoes or baby carrots are great, especially with a healthier yogurt dip. Don’t forget lettuce and other veggie toppings for sandwiches.
- Include a whole grain serving for sandwiches, such as whole wheat bread, pita, tortillas or English muffins. Mix healthy whole grains into salads and side dishes like quinoa, brown rice or pasta.
- Protein foods are satisfying, support growth and aid concentration. Pack lean meats, poultry and fish (leftovers make great lunches). Like milk, yogurt, cheese cubes or sticks, cottage cheese, quark and kefir are great protein sources. Legumes (beans, lentils), peanut butter/nut butters, nuts and seeds also provide protein. Check with your school on policies for allergen-potential foods.
Keep appropriate portion sizes in mind. Young children will be overwhelmed by too much food so keep portion sizes to about 1/2 to 2/3 of regular adult portion sizes. Older children are growing rapidly so pack regular portion sizes and include enough variety to keep them satisfied through the day.
C: Use CARE in packing: Use safe food handling practices each step of the way from home to school.
- Always clean surfaces and wash hands thoroughly before preparing foods.
- Wash all fresh fruit and vegetables before preparing and packing.
- Don’t cross contaminate: Keep raw meats away from ready-to-eat and cooked foods.
- Make lunches the night before and store all foods in open lunch boxes in the refrigerator to achieve safe cold food temperatures.
- Use insulated lunch boxes and include ice packs. Frozen yogurt tubes help to maintain a safe temperature and typically thaw by lunch time.
- Keep hot foods, such as soups, hot by using a pre-heated thermos to help maintain temperatures (add boiling water to thermos and let stand 1-2 minutes, discard water and then add hot food and tightly seal.)
- Include a wet-nap or hand sanitizer in your child’s lunch box to clean hands before eating.
Some foods such as dried fruit (and other low-moisture foods) are safe at room temperature. Consider including these low-risk foods in your lunch:
- Peanut butter and other nut butters (almond, cashew)
- Shelf-stable items: Crackers, bread, nuts, dry cereal, cookies, popcorn, granola bars, fruit cups and pudding or gelatin in aseptically sealed containers, aseptically packed juice and milk.
- Commercially prepared meats, poultry or seafood (such as tuna in a pouch or pull-top can) that can be easily opened and eaten immediately
- Fresh whole fruit and vegetables
- Mustard, ketchup, relishes and pickles
- Hard cheese (i.e., cheddar cubes)
- Dried foods (jerky, dried fruit)
- Small portions of jelly, jam, honey (high-sugar content inhibits bacterial growth)
The 1, 2, 3s of Variety!
Keep it interesting and pack lunches that your kids won’t toss or trade with the 1, 2, and 3’s of variety:
Think Inside the Box: Bento Box ideas
- Apple Cheese Wraps
- Bistro beef wrapped sushi slices: Spread hummus on a whole grain tortilla, top with thin sliced roast beef, sliced provolone and lettuce. Roll and cut into 4-6 pieces. Place in lunch container along fruit and veggies such as cubed melon and sugar snap peas.
Not the same ‘ol sandwich
- Sassy Sandwich Kabobs: Cut your child’s favorite sandwich into thirds, and then cut again into thirds to make cubes. Alternate sandwich cubes with cherry tomatoes or grapes and cheese cubes on child-safe skewers (try coffee stir sticks)
- Edible fun faces and shapes like our take on English muffin pizzas-Mini Clown Faces
Heat it up!
- Pumped up veggie soup: Add an extra 1/2 cup of frozen vegetables to a can of your favorite vegetable soup, heat and transfer to a pre-warmed thermos. Pack with cheese sticks and pumpkin bread or goldfish type crackers.
- Homemade hearty soups are like a hug from home! Make a batch of our Cheesy Chicken Chowder, pack with apple slices and Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Dip