What To Pack In Your Kids' Lunch

Not sure what to pack in your kids' school lunches? Here are some ideas that may help them eat right.

Even at school, kids may face lunchtime temptations through vending machines or snack foods offered by friends. If they're bored with the packed lunches they've been taking and you're at your wit's end in knowing what to send, the following ideas may help.

1. Start with main items. There are many lunch-size canned pasta or other entree-type foods available at a reasonable cost from many grocers. Beef or chicken stew, wieners and franks, and mac and cheese are some of the more popular items that are available from brand-name companies. If you prefer that your kids have home-cooked food, prepare any of these casserole meals for dinner, along with others that your family enjoys, then freeze leftovers for lunch. Individual serving size containers can be purchased at many stores, but be sure to pack food in appropriate packaging or thermal containers for keeping it at safe hot or cold temperatures to avoid food-borne illness. Sandwiches, pizza, and leftover fried chicken or meatloaf may also provide healthy lunchtime choices.

2. Don't forget vegetables. Add fresh veggies to your child's lunch to provide fiber and important nutrients to help keep him or her healthy. Carrot and celery sticks, radish rosebuds, cucumber slices, or even a small tossed salad offer a filling side dish to the main item of the lunch. In lieu of serving these as separate raw items, add your child's favorite veggies to a sandwich or pack instant vegetable soup.

3. Fruits can be fun. Freshly washed apples, grapes, or peaches make tasty additions to a hungry child's lunch. If you peel them first, sprinkle lightly with sugar to help preserve color and freshness. Or throw in a banana, orange, or even an individual can serving of processed fruit. As a last resort, you can include a packet of fruit juice or fruit-flavored beverage with added vitamin C to enrich your child's daily intake of nutrients.

4. Add a snack or dessert. Used sparingly, these small extras provide versatility to a school lunch without piling on hundreds of needless calories. Wrap up a couple of small cookies, a handful of chips or pretzels, or a snack-size candy bar. Make sure your child agrees to eat these items after the "good stuff" is gone.

5. Lunch-pool with other parents. A group of three or four parents may decide to make lunches for all the kids in their group for a week at a time. That way, kids will get to enjoy someone else's cooking and creativity, each parent will get two or three weeks "off" lunch duty, and parents who are packing lunches for a group of kids instead of just their own may be motivated to try new and creative items.

Experiment with flavors, colors, textures, styles, and wrappings to make lunch a fun and creative time for both you and your child. Include a cut-out newspaper cartoon or joke or a short note of encouragement to let your child know he or she is in your thoughts. Make lunchtime a bonding time in more ways than just food!

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