Packing School Lunches

Because we get a lot of questions from Kids Plus Parents, both in the office and on Facebook, about diet and nurtrician, we’ve asked registered dietitian Anne Marie Kuchera to write a regular monthly Facebook Note on Nutrition. Starting in September, they will appear in their own regular slot, the last Tuesday of every month… 

Just when you were fully enjoying the blissful simplicity of summer, it’s already time to do a 180-degree turn. That’s right — it’s back to school, back to schedules, back to sports and other activities, and back to packing school lunches.

If you’re anything like me, packing lunches does not top your list of favorite daily tasks. If you have a child who’s a selective eater or has multiple food allergies, the task may be downright challenging. This Note offers a few suggestions to make packing school lunches a bit less complicated.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Lucky for all of us, the USDA is helping out with the recent introduction of their new food icon, MyPlate, a helpful (and popular) replacement to MyPyramid. Check it out…

The MyPlate icon is useful as a guide for planning meals, and especially for lunch in particular.

  1. Start with fruits and veggies — that’s half the lunch.
  2. Add low-fat milk or soymilk to drink (flavored milks as a treat, only on occasion). Try to avoid juices and other sweetened beverages.
  3. Include one serving of grains (whole grain, preferably).
  4. Finish with one serving of lean protein.

Use the lists here to mix and match lunches that are both appealing and nutritious…

FRUITS  

Fresh berries

Melon cubes

Sliced apples/pears

Applesauce

Mandarin Oranges

Raisins or other dried fruit

VEGETABLES

Baby carrots

Grape tomatoes

Sliced cucumbers

Low sodium vegetable juice

Broccoli florets

Spinach (in a wrap or on a sandwich)

GRAINS

Whole wheat bread

Whole wheat pita triangles

Whole grain wrap or tortilla

Whole wheat mini bagel

Rice cakes

Whole wheat past

Granola bar

PROTEINS

Lean turkey or chicken breast

Hummus or other bean spread

Nuts, peanut, or other nut butter

Low-fat cottage cheese or yogurt

Slice cheese or string cheese

Soybeans or other beans

Hard-boiled egg

CONSTRUCT A HEALTHY LUNCH

Here are a few examples to choose from…

SAMPLE LUNCH #1

Turkey & cheese wrap

Baby carrots

Sliced apples

Low fat milk/soymilk

SAMPLE LUNCH #2

Cottage cheese & fresh berries

Granola bar

Cherry tomatoes

Low fat milk/soymilk

SAMPLE LUNCH #3

Hummus/Pita

Cheese stick

Cubed melon

Low-sodium V-8

If you want to increase the likelihood that your children will actually eat their lunch, invite them to choose and pack a few items they would like, aiming to make snack treats an occasional rather than everyday item.

A WORD ABOUT SAFETY

A recent study — we linked to a story about it here on the Kids Plus Facebook stage — showed that by the time they are eaten, many school lunches have reached an unsafe temperature and may pose a risk for food-borne illness. To keep foods at an appropriate temperature, be sure to use an insulated lunchbox or bag, and keep cold foods cold by packing them with two ice packs or a frozen water bottle. You can also freeze certain items, such as yogurt, so it helps keep everything cold and is thawed and ready to eat by the time lunch rolls around.

Anne Marie Kuchera, our Kids Plus Nutrition Consultant, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Dietitian.