Back to School Lunch Planning

By Tanya Davis | Published Wednesday, August 29, 2012

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Last week we focused on the importance of breakfast for our school-age children, but we don’t want to forget about planning for a nutritious lunch as well.

According to the new U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for school meals, lunches will have more fruits and vegetables and more whole-grain foods. They will offer only low-fat or fat free milk, and they will be lower in unhealthy fats and salt.

That should be incentive for parents to encourage their children to eat the school lunch.

However, for parents whose children do not want to eat the meals served at school, providing a well-balanced, healthy and appetizing selection of foods that can be kept cool until eaten can be a challenge. Here are tips to help answer the question, “What can I pack that won’t spoil by lunchtime and contains healthy foods that my child will eat?” here are a few tips:

Introduce children to a variety of whole-grain breads and rolls. If your child doesn’t like a sandwich, try an unassembled one they can eat in stages: like reduced-fat cheese cubes, lean meat slices, tomato bites and whole-grain crackers. Try “planned-overs” like hearty soups, chili or spaghetti from the night before.

Pack cheese sticks by cutting your own. Children need calcium each day, so include cheese even if milk is served. Veggies and dip are always a hit. Cut up carrots, cucumbers, broccoli or cauliflower and pack with a small container of your child’s favorite low-fat dressing.

Offer beverages like water and low-fat milk; 100 percent fruit juice should be an occasional beverage.

Minimize the salty and sweet treats in the lunch bag. Items like chips, “fruit” roll-ups and cookies in the lunch bag fill kids up and make it tough for small stomachs to eat the healthier foods that provide the nutrients needed for good health and growth.

Include a favorite item along with new foods. This way if the child doesn’t care for the item, he or she will still have the old favorite.

Involve children when planning lunch-bag menus. They’ll look forward to lunchtime knowing they’ve helped create the menu.

It is also important to consider food safety. Keep cold foods like meat, eggs, lunch meat, cheese, milk, cut fruit, cooked pasta, vegetables and rice cold. Use ice packs, freezer gels or frozen juice boxes.

Keep foods like soup and chili hot with a wide-mouth, insulated bottle. Pour boiling water into the bottle to heat the inside. Then heat the food to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Drain the boiling water from the bottle and replace with the hot food.

Foods that are safe at room temperature include nuts and peanut butter, unopened containers of pudding, juice boxes, unopened canned meat, dried and canned fruit, chips and whole fruits.

For information on packing a safe and healthy lunch, call the Wise County Extension office at (940) 627-3341.

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