Diet & Nutrition
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5 Tips for Packing the Perfect School Lunch

Avoid lunch-making stress with these simple ideas.

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For many parents, the most challenging thing about school isn’t picking up the kids from soccer practice or making sure they get their homework done. It’s packing all those school lunches. Why bother? Because many school cafeterias still serve meals that are loaded with fat and sugar (though they are getting better). Instead of stressing out about your kids’ midday meals, follow these expert tips for packing the perfect school lunch.

1. Think Outside the Lunch Box

2 / 6 1. Think Outside the Lunch Box

Don’t get caught in the lunch box grind. There’s no reason a school lunch has to be dull or unappetizing. Make lunch fun by mixing things up. For example, cut up sandwiches made with whole-grain bread into fun shapes, or make deli meat pinwheels by wrapping meat and cheese together. Keep it fun with this recipe for peanut butter, banana and cranberry sushi. And check out this video with registered dietitian Samantha Heller for more yummy tips.

2. Switch Things Up

3 / 6 2. Switch Things Up

If your kids keep bringing home their lunches untouched, give them better options. Each morning fill small containers or a Bento box with different foods – think broccoli trees, trail mix or cheese cubes – so they can choose what they like. Here are some other quick and creative lunch box suggestions. Ask your child to bring home what they don’t eat, too – it’s a good way to judge what works at lunchtime and what doesn’t. Just remember: no guilt trips!

3. Make Your Kid the Chef

4 / 6 3. Make Your Kid the Chef

Let your child pack lunch. Offer a variety of parent-approved choices and let him or her decide what goes in the bag. Or let your child help with the prep – whether it’s making the sandwich or cutting up pieces of cheese to serve with crackers. You can even ask your children to pick out which fruits and vegetables they want to eat. When kids have a say about what goes into their lunch, they’ll be more likely to eat up.

4. Keep It Healthy

5 / 6 4. Keep It Healthy

Lunch should rev up kids for the rest of their day, not weigh them down. Follow these three rules for an energizing lunchSkip the juice drinks, even those made with real juice: They’re often loaded with sugar, too. Instead pack your kids water or low-fat milk. Also, lose the processed meats. They are often high in saturated fat, sodium and preservatives. Find out other lunch box no-nos.

5. Keep Food Safety in Mind

6 / 6 5. Keep Food Safety in Mind

Start with the right gear: An insulated lunch box or bag with a reusable freezer pack to keep food at safe temperatures. Always remember to wash your hands before making lunch and clean the lunch box between uses. Pack foods that won’t spoil quickly, such as trail mix, carrot sticks or whole fruit. Finally, make sure you rinse both ready-to-eat fruits and fruits with a peel in cold water to eliminate harmful bacteria that can spread during peeling.