Packing Kids School Lunches

A frustration of many parents, school lunches can get boring for both children and parents alike. For this reason, as well as for convenience, many children are sent to school with lunch money rather than brown bag lunches for school. While there is nothing wrong with buying lunch at school, there is something to be said for packing school lunches.

Why Pack?
The increasing concern over childhood obesity has caused parents all over the country to rethink what it is that they feed their children. It has also cast an unfavorable eye on school cafeterias. As a result, cafeterias have been changing their menus to incorporate more healthy choices and fewer bad ones. But the high-fat, high-calorie, low-nutrition foods have not been completely eliminated.

Healthy school lunches start at home, whether your child buys her lunch or takes a lunch with her everyday. Serving your child a well-balanced diet, that includes all four food groups as well as the occasional treat, sets the stage for your child to make the right choices later on. But if you’re not convinced she’ll get the nutrition she needs at school, then packing a lunch will give you control and help ensure that she avoids those bad school lunches.

Better School Lunches
Having troubles coming up with healthy ideas for packed school lunches? Find that your child seems to be heading off to school with the same lunch he had yesterday and the day before that? Then you’re in a lunchtime rut, a common problem for all parents and one of the main reasons they turn their school lunch control over to cafeterias and prepackaged lunches. So, how do you break the rut? By turning to your children.

While it may seem unwise to give meal control to your kids, it can actually be helpful in many ways. First, by getting your child involved in preparing her lunch everyday, you are teaching her to take responsibility for herself. Additionally, asking your child what she would like to allows her to feel a sense of autonomy as she gets to decide for herself whether she wants that orange or pear in her lunch tomorrow. Just be sure to give her two or three options for her lunch rather than a yes or no question, like "Do you want some fruit?" Most likely you won’t get an answer you want with these types of questions.

Finally, when your child helps you prepare his lunch, whether it is coming up with ideas, deciding what he’ll take to school tomorrow or preparing the food himself, you're teaching him how to put together a healthy meal. It also gives him the foundations to make the right food choices later on. And he'll be less tempted to go for those deep-fried french fries in the school cafeteria.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy School Lunches
Nutritional school lunches don’t have to be boring! And they don’t have to be bland, either. A few simple changes to the usual can turn a high-calorie, high-fat lunch into something more nutritious and delicious.

Instead of sending your daughter off to school with a bologna and mayonnaise sandwich on white bread, why not give her a turkey and low-fat mayonnaise sandwich on multi-grain or 100% whole bread? For a tangier punch, substitute mustard for the low-fat mayo.

And rather than giving her some fried potato chips or crackers, give her chips or crackers that have been baked and are free of trans-fats (the bad kind of fat). Children’s school lunches also need snacks and cookies just won’t cut it. Instead, try home made trail mix, veggies and dips, air-popped popcorn, yogurt, fresh fruit or homemade baked goods.

A common lunch packing mistake for many parents occurs with the drink. Obviously, having a can of soda everyday helps to qualify the lunch for the Unhealthy School Lunches Olympics, but did you realize that that fruit drink may not be much better? Drinks labeled as ‘punch’, ‘cocktail’, or ‘drink’ are full of sugar and not much fruit. So how can you easily tell the difference? Simple. If it doesn’t say ‘100% Fruit Juice’ then it’s not healthy.

Fun School Lunches
Here are some easy ways to make your packed school lunch just as fun and exciting as those other bought lunches:

  • Include some low-fat cheese slices or cheese sticks
  • Pack some shredded cheese, tomato or pizza sauce, and a sliced English muffin, mini pizza shell, a pita or a tortilla for a do-it-yourself cold pizza at school
  • Cut that lean, low-fat deli meat into fun shapes
  • Send along a thermos of hot soup on those cold winter days
  • A thermos of milk (or chocolate milk) can help quench any kids thirst
  • For little kids, cracker sandwiches are just the right size for small hands. Use multi-grain crackers and spread on some low-fat cream cheese, low-fat cheese cubes, or peanut butter and jelly
  • Veggies and dip are always a hit with kids
  • Not-so-bad-for-you sweets include: a box of raisins; sliced berries, fruit or melon; cereal bars; fruit flavored gelatin; low-fat pudding (store bought or make your own with skim milk); graham crackers; apple sauce; or, for an occasional treat, lollipops or one or two sucking candies