Say it isn’t so! It’s that time of year already? Whatever happened to the long dog days of August? The three months of being a lazy kid and going to the pool and sleeping in late? Well, they’re coming to an end and school is starting. In some parts of the country, school starts in early August, some in the middle or toward the end of August, but most schools start well before Labor Day. You know what that means! It’s time to start planning for back to school and that means, (you guessed it) packing lunches (again).
If you’re lucky enough to have a good school lunch program that is both healthy and won’t break the bank, I wish I could personally shake your hand and congratulate you and the school for making that happen. If you’re like most parents though, you’re less than impressed by the school’s offering and packing your child’s lunch is the only healthy option.
For food safety reasons, lunch boxes are an important part of the lunch packing equation. There are many different types of lunch boxes that allow for the safe transport of both hot and cold foods, even at the same time. Once you have the proper equipment for the job at hand, you have more options on what you can or cannot pack.
First thing you should do is ask your child what he or she would like to take to school. Also consider the school’s rules; a lot of schools have abandoned peanut butter or other nuts because of allergies. Make sure you know this before packing a PB&J!
Secondly, remember when you’re planning your child’s lunch box menu, that they don’t have very long to eat lunch; a lot of times, it’s just 20 minutes so the food needs coordinate with time constraints.
Now, think in terms of things children can eat fast, that requires no preparation other than taking it out of the lunch box and eating it. Pick what is most nutritious out of the things your child wants to eat. There is no point in putting anything in the lunch box that your child would not eat unless you were standing over him. Teachers will not force children to eat their food, so you might as well avoid the waste by only packing what your child will eat. Having a conversation with your child about what to pack will keep you both sane!
Here are some ideas. Children love to play with their food, hence the love for dipping. Black bean or hummus is a natural and kids love it. Give them some baby carrots, celery sticks or whole grain pita bread to dip it into. Easy to pack, easy to eat, kids love these dips and they’re both filled with protein and carbs; great balance for getting through the rest of the day.
For some crunch, you can turn that pita bread into pita chips by cutting the pita bread into triangles and toasting it in the oven—huge hit with my kids, and super easy to make and store.
Pack water instead of juice or milk. This will keep your child hydrated and less sleepy the rest of the day. Juice packs too much sugar (yes, even 100% juice) and milk? Well, if you want to do dairy, I suggest either some Greek yogurt with fruit or string cheese (keep reading).
Remember the old adage, an apple a day keeps the doctor away? Apples are fantastic year round and most children find them very enjoyable. If you cut the apple up, sprinkle with cinnamon and keep it cold, your child will enjoy the cinnamony flavor and won’t notice it might be a little brown from being cut for hours (because of the cinnamon; nifty trick, huh?)
Buy nitrate free cold cuts and sliced cheese. Make a sandwich or just put the cold cuts in containers and pair it with a low-fat string cheese and let him eat this way. The idea is to get protein and fat into your children and get those tummies full. Don’t feel obligated to do sandwiches if your kids don’t like them. My kids always preferred eating just the cold cuts and cheese separately. When they got home, they had a good snack and that held them till dinner.