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What's a good way to pack school lunches?

Cheryl Tallman
Nutrition & Dietetics
It is important to have the right gear, and the lunch box is an important asset. Consider letting your child pick out his own lunch box or purchase one and let him decorate it with paint or markers. Make sure your child's name is on it with a permanent marker or paint. Most schools will not provide a refrigerator to store lunch boxes, so you should select an insulated one with a re-usable freezer pack to keep the lunch fresh. Or, instead of using a freezer pack, you can freeze a bottle of water, and add it to the lunch box. It will keep the lunch cold and fresh during morning classes and by lunch time it will have thawed and be ready to drink.

Those gimmicky, salt, fat and sugar-filled "Lunchables" trays are very popular with kids. Not because they taste so good, but because they look so cool. There is no reason a homemade lunch needs to look dull and unappetizing. Buy colorful containers in different shapes to pack your child’s lunch. They are better than plastic bags and less wasteful too. If your child is drawn to characters, buy some stickers and decorate the containers. Put your child's name on the containers, but it is inevitable that some containers may not make their way home. Another option is to purchase inexpensive or "semi" disposable containers that will not disappoint you if they accidentally end up in the trash.
Insulated lunch boxes along with a frozen ice pack are the best bet to help keep your edibles at a safe temperature until lunchtime. The inside and outside of the lunch box should also be thoroughly cleaned with hot soapy water and rinsed clean in between uses.

Perishable foods such as yogurt, meats, and cut up fruits and vegetables, should remain chilled at 40 degrees F or below to slow down the pathogens’ ability to multiply to dangerous levels. Perishables that are left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours should be tossed as they are unsafe to consume.

Also, try asking your child what he or she wants for lunch. Compromising a smidgen with the majority of the food being healthy can be a great way for a child to enjoy a nutritious lunch. 
A good way to pack school lunch for your little one is to make sure that the portions are correct and the meal includes a balance of healthy foods. Use an insulated lunch box with enough ice packs to keep any perishable food inside from spoiling. You can freeze a box of no-sugar-added fruit juice and use it as an ice pack: It will melt enough by lunchtime for your child to drink it with his meal.

If your child is coming home with uneaten food, find ways to make his lunches more enticing. If the leftovers tend to be fruits and vegetables, try sending only half a sandwich so that he doesn't get filled up on his "main course." Or get creative: Wrap slices of lean turkey or ham around a cheese stick instead of making a sandwich, for example. Even using creative containers can make lunch more visually appealing for a child so that he's more likely to eat it.
Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics

Always start with foods your kids like. Packing them foods you think they should eat but won't is not a good idea. If they like sandwiches make them with whole grain breads. Avoid always giving them the same lunch. If they insist on the same lunch everyday make sure it is a healthy one. For instance, if they insist on PB&J every day, use natural non hydrogenated peanut or almond butter on whole grain bread. If they want ham every day, use nitrite free products. Find fruits and veggies they like a pair them with fun dips like hummus or salsa. Periodically pack fun snacks like popcorn balls or Carmel sauce for dipping fruit.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.