Help!!!!! Kids Lunches

Updated on August 13, 2007
E. asks from Flower Mound, TX
14 answers

My daughter is starting kindergarten this month. Does anyone have any ideas for kids lunches besides PBJ snadwhiches? I am wanting to try easy new things so she does not get bored with the same lunch every day.

Thank you,

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answers from Dallas on

Use a thermos for soups for the fall and winter. Also, I saw this idea at Kraft Foods you take a salad or pasta salad in a ziploc bag and keep the dressing separate and let them add it in and lock the bag and shake it up then eat right out of the bag. You could also do wraps for a different spin on sandwiches.

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answers from Dallas on

I pack for both my girls every day...let me tell you I have gotten pretty creative esp. since my oldest is allergic to nuts!!! No peanut butter for us! Okay we have done, grilled cheese made in the morning and wrapped in foil, taquitos (I buy them in the frozen foods section-it's just chicken in a corn tortilla) heated in the toaster oven in the morning wrapped in foil, tuna kits (these have everything in them, tuna in a pouch- crackers-mayo-relish), chicken salad kits (by the tuna kits in the store), salad with cubed ham and a cheese stick, South Beach wrap kits (much healthier than Lunchables!), corn dog (foil again), make-your-own-lunchable with lunch meat-crackers-cheese-jello cup-, sugar snap peas and baby carrots, chicken nuggets...I'll keep racking my brain, but I hope that helps :) I use the toaster oven ALOT!!! Good luck with your sweet girl starting Kindergarten! Mine are 10 and 8 and it seems like just yesterday :)

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answers from Dallas on

I have a 3 year old in MDO and she will not eat lunch meat, only PB&J, so that's all she ever gets....BUT I read in this month's issue of Parents magazine that you can put all sorts of hot foods in a thermos and they stay tasty and warm for hours, so I am going to try that out. They suggested leftover Chinese food, pizza, chicken nuggets, whatever they normally eat at home. I am going to try it, hopefully this helps you out.

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answers from Dallas on


Try things like cashews, pecans, nut mixes, potato salad, coleslaw salads, raw vegetables with hummas (premade at grocery store) raw fruits, Cliff bars, salsa and chips, guacamoles and chips, chicken salad sandwiches or wraps, soups in thermos bottles, muffins, bagels with strawberry cream cheese, left overs in thermos containers.

Hope some of these ideas will help.


Dr. Cindy L. Russell
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

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answers from Dallas on

Check out this website. I've had a lot of fun reading it. They even have pictures of the lunches ...

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answers from Dallas on

I have started packing Bento Boxes for my son for lunch, and he LOVES IT. There are so many creative and healthy options. We use a Laptop Lunchbox, and there are many more options for girls at Asian stores around our area or on Ebay. You can Google "Bento Box Lunch" for more ideas. You can get the Laptop Lunchbox at Roy's Natural Market here in Dallas or order from here:

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answers from Dallas on

I asked a very similar question the other day and I received a very LONG, but helpful, response from a member. Good luck and here it is....

"School Lunch Packing Tips

20 lunch box tricks to make your child the envy of the lunchroom. Or, will at least make for a good swap.

There are plenty of good, easy, healthy things to pack in a school lunch box without being forced to resort to pre-packaged convenience foods or getting trapped in peanut butter purgatory. And we’re not talking sardine sandwiches, either. Nosiree. All twenty of the following quick lunch box tricks are easy enough for your child to help produce; are delicious, tasty and fun; and, best of all, will make her the envy of the lunchroom. Or, at least, make for a darn good swap.

• Spread a tortilla with cream cheese, sprinkle with chopped raw vegetables, and roll up. Cut into 1-inch (2 cm) slices and pack in a plastic container. Or do the same thing with peanut butter and banana or jam.
• Make some delicious (and easy) hummus and pack it in a plastic container. Cut a pita up into wedges for dipping along with some carrot sticks, celery sticks, broccoli, cauliflower, green pepper - whatever your child likes. Send along a few potato or tortilla chips - just to make it seem like party food.
• Cut a pita bread in half, and pack it in a plastic bag. Send along assorted things to stuff in the pocket like shredded lettuce, tuna salad, alfalfa sprouts, canned chick peas, grated cheese, chopped hard-boiled egg, and a little container of salad dressing to drizzle on top.
• Cut up some cheese and meat (chicken, ham, smoked sausage, whatever) into cubes and pack in a multi-sectioned plastic container. Use some fancy toothpicks or pretzel sticks to spear the cubes. Or send along a few crackers.
• Make some delicious devilled eggs! Cut hard boiled eggs in half, remove the yolks and mash with a little mayonnaise and some chopped celery or green onion, and re-stuff the shells. Pack in a paper towel-lined plastic container (for padding and to absorb any sogginess).
• Everyone loves pasta salad. Pack the dressing in a separate container to add at lunchtime.
• Contrary to popular myth, cold pizza is not disgusting. Wrap a slice or two in plastic for lunch. Or, make a bagel pizza. Cut a bagel in half, spread with spaghetti sauce and sprinkle with shredded cheese and pepperoni. Bake until the cheese is melted, then let cool completely and wrap in plastic.
• Spoon some plain or vanilla yogurt, or some cottage cheese into a wide-mouth thermos. Send along small containers of assorted toppings - granola, chopped fruit, jam, nuts, raisins - to sprinkle into it.
• Make a mini-submarine sandwich out of a hot dog bun, some sliced meats and cheeses and shredded lettuce (hot peppers? olives?). If you really want to go all the way, pack a small container of salad dressing to pour over the fillings at lunchtime.
• Grill an extra chicken breast while you’re using the barbecue. Chill it, then cut the meat into strips. Pack some containers of dipping sauce (sweet and sour, honey mustard, barbecue) to go with it. Or, if you have some leftover turkey, cut it into cubes and pack it in a plastic container. Send along a container of cranberry sauce to dip into.
• Make some salami roll-ups. Spread thin slices of salami with mustard or cheese, lay a pickle spear on top, and roll up. Pack into a plastic container.
• How about fruit kebabs? Cut melon, apples, pears, grapes, strawberries (or whatever is in season) into big chunks and spear them on short bamboo skewers with the sharp ends snapped off for safety. Add hunks of cheese, if you child likes it. Pack a bagel and cream cheese, or some banana bread to go with it.
• Spread a tortilla with refried beans, and sprinkle with shredded cheese. Fold in the sides, roll up, and wrap in plastic. Send along a container of shredded lettuce, and some salsa. Or make a chicken taco instead. Spread some salsa on the tortilla, top with shredded, cooked chicken, and shredded lettuce. Fold up and wrap.
• Sprinkle shredded cheese on a tortilla, top with another tortilla and cook on an ungreased griddle until the cheese is melted and it’s lightly toasted on each side. Let cool, then cut into wedges like a pizza. Pack some salsa for dipping.
• Make some mini-quiches using frozen tart shells or your own homemade pastry. Pack a couple in the lunch box - they’re good cold, you know.
• Make a banana bread sandwich. Spread homemade banana bread with peanut butter or cream cheese, cut into long fingers, and pack in a plastic container.
• Cook up a batch of tuna dippers and pack them in the lunch box with some barbecue or sweet and sour sauce.
• Pack some homemade bean salad in a plastic container. Add a muffin or a buttered roll to go with it.
• You’ve heard of ants on a log - what about ants in a log? Stuff celery along the crease with peanut butter or cream cheese. Insert the ants (raisins, by the way) into the stuffing, and then squish another peanut butter or cheese stuffed celery on top - trapping the ants inside. Wrap tightly in plastic.
• Fill a green pepper shell with some tuna, chicken, or pasta salad. Wrap in plastic. Or pack that tuna (or whatever) salad into a container, and send along an ice cream cone to spoon it into at lunchtime.
September is traditionally known for articles on school lunches and healthy ways to feed our children. By the first of the year, most of our creative ideas for lunch are forgotten, yet there are still five months left in the school year. Let’s review once again the various ways to put nutrition back in the lunch bag.

Remember sandwiches often get thrown aside (or away) if they are not appetizing.
•Try half sandwiches instead of whole. Let them ask for more!
•Cut off crusts that can be unappealing to many children.
•Use cookie cutters to make seasonal shapes (hearts, shamrocks, bunnies).
•Offer raisin bread or small bagels in place of regular bread.
•String cheese or sliced cheese and crackers are good sandwich alternatives.
•If your child complains of smashed sandwiches, try aluminum foil or wraps, which protect the sandwich better than plastic wraps or bags.

Pack a beverage that is nutrient dense. Children have a great need for calcium, yet almost half of our children do not get the recommended daily amount. Milk is a great source of calcium providing 300 milligrams per 8-ounce serving. Chocolate and strawberry flavored milk is a fine way to add variety to the lunch box. If milk is not an option, choose juice boxes that are fortified with calcium. Many brands such as Hi-C and Sipss now contain good amounts of calcium, but they are not 100 percent fruit juice. Juice boxes that are 100 percent fruit juice can count towards a child’s fruit requirement, however, fresh fruit is a better choice in meeting this requirement.

Fruits and Vegetables
Add a fruit or vegetable to every lunch. Remember our "Five a Day" recommendation.
•Buy SMALL pieces of fruit. Apples can be sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon. This hides any browning that occurs and is easier for the toothless crowd to eat.
•Peel and section orange slices.
•Throw in some carrots or broccoli, but don’t forget the DIP! Prepackaged dips are now available.
•Offer flavored applesauce and fruit cups, but don’t forget the spoon!
**Fruit roll-ups and fruit snacks are NOT fruit. In my opinion and that of many dentists, they are one of the worst things to pack in the lunch bag. In addition to a high sugar content, they are very sticky; they tend to stick to the surface of the tooth and are a major cause of tooth decay. Reserve these treats for home when a toothbrush is near by.

Do not assume that your child knows to eat the sandwich and fruit BEFORE his/her snack. Make sure you discuss this with your child. The snack should be the smallest portion of the lunch and used as the treat after the nutrient dense foods are consumed. Snack size bags are great for portion control. Try offering:
•Cereal like Quaker Oat Squares
•Cereal Bars, which are calcium fortified
•Ensure Bars (a fortified candy bar that offers protein and fiber)
•Honey mustard or Cheese flavored pretzels
•Baked flavored tortilla chips
•Yoplait Gogurts or Stonyfield Farm’s Yosqueeze portable yogurts

Lunch Box Care
There is nothing worse than a smelly lunch bag/box. Have your child properly empty and wipe his bag at lunch. The bag should be opened and aired out at home before the next school day. On weekends, place a small bowl of baking soda in the bag to absorb any odors. It is a good idea to invest in a small ice pack to keep the lunch at a proper temperature. Hot thermos bottles are great for the adventurous child that will bring leftovers to the lunch table. Add a note of love and praise as the finishing touch to the meal!

How to Pack the Perfect School Lunch
Peanut butter and jelly, tunafish, bologna, apples, cookies, juice boxes? What to pack for lunch? Millions of parents face the task of preparing school lunches for their children everyday. The challenge is to find a menu that is portable, easy to prepare, and is also appealing to kids. But how can parents strike the right balance and prevent their carefully prepared lunches from being traded or tossed? The experts at suggest the following tips for putting together lunches that please both parent and child:

Parents can make a game of choosing the lunch menu by creating index cards with the names of different lunch foods on one side and pictures of the food groups on the other. The kids can choose a card from each group when it comes time to plan a lunch. They can also have fun decorating the cards.

Involve the kids in the lunch-packing process. They will be more inclined to eat what is in the bag if they have helped to pack it themselves. Take the kids to the grocery store and allow them to choose some fun snacks to go along with the typical sandwiches and fruit. One fun idea for lunches is FRENCH'S(R) Potato Sticks in individual serving sized pouches. Convenient and shelf-stable, Potato Sticks are an easy way to add a treat to your child's lunch.

Get your kids excited about vegetables by taking them to a farmer's market or the grocery store and checking out the less well-known fruits and vegetables. Kids may become interested in researching the parts of the world from which different vegetables originate. They should also be encouraged to help plant and care for the family garden. Vegetables such as tomatoes, radishes and carrots are good for school lunches and easy to grow.

Remember food safety: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. If your child's lunch will be unrefridgerated, avoid eggs, yogurt, meat and mayonnaise. Have a supply of shelf-stable foods available such as crackers, pudding or serving sized packages of FRENCH'S Potato Sticks. A frozen juice box or bottle of water will keep your child's lunch cool, and be ready to drink by lunchtime.

Make it fun: Pack a surprise in each lunch. Stickers, lollipops or a small treat are easy to include in a lunch bag. Kids love packaging, so small packets of Potato Sticks or pudding add a lot to their enjoyment of a meal. Decorated with lively stick characters, French's individual packages of potato sticks are one way to add an element of fun to a traditional bag lunch.
Packing school lunches with pizzazz, food safety and nutrition

Finding just the right combination of foods that are nutritious, won't be a food safety concern, and that your child will actually eat can be a real challenge. If you involve children in making some of the decisions and preparation the task is much easier.
To reduce the risk of food borne illness follow these food safety tips.

Start with fresh, clean food. Wash your hands, food preparation surfaces and utensils with soap and water before you make the sandwiches or prepare food.

Keep perishable foods cold, under 40° F, or hot, above, 140° F. Temperatures between 40° F and 140° F allow bacteria to grow rapidly, making perishable foods unsafe to eat. Insulated lunch boxes are the best way to keep foods cold until lunch. Pack perishable foods like meat, poultry, egg or dairy products next to a frozen gel pack, a frozen applesauce cup or a frozen juice box. Place perishable food between frozen items. Sandwiches can be frozen before placing in the insulated lunch box.
Freezer gel packs will keep food cold until lunchtime, but generally not for all day storage. To extend the length of time a gel pack will keep food cold, pre-pack everything in an open insulated lunch box minus the gel pack the night before, and refrigerate. In the morning add the frozen gel pack and close tightly. Keep lunches out of direct sunlight and away from radiators or other heat sources. Any perishables left over from lunch should be thrown out.

Foods like chili, soup or stew will need to be either transported cold and heated at school or be kept hot in an insulated bottle. Before adding hot food to the bottle fill it with boiling water and let stand for a few minutes. Then empty the water and fill with piping hot food. Experiment with this technique before sending hot food to school. Find out if the bottle can keep foods hot for 4-6 hours. Also find out if your child can open the bottle by himself without spilling the hot contents. Some bottles create a vacuum as they cool, making it difficult for many adults to open.

Don't reuse bread bags or other bags that have previously held food, or that might have ink that could rub off on food. In addition to food safety, good nutrition is also an important part of a healthy school lunch.

Use a variety of foods from the food guide pyramid. Include foods with dietary fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, and crackers.

Choose lower sodium, lower fat, lower sugar foods and higher fiber foods more often. For example choose a fresh apple over apple juice or apple pie. Choose a lean turkey sandwich over a high fat and high salt baloney sandwich. Choose baked corn chips over fried potato chips. Choose cookies and cup cakes that supply vitamins, minerals and fiber in addition to calories, for example oatmeal cookies, fig bars and pumpkin cupcakes.

When choosing a beverage think about more than quenching thirst, think about nutrients. Low fat milk and skim milk supply protein, calcium, riboflavin and calories. Fruit juices (look for 100 percent juice) supply vitamins, minerals and calories. Vegetable juices also supply important nutrients, but are often high in sodium. Fruit drinks are often fortified in nutrients but may be high in sugar. Studies have shown that children prefer milk when it is very cold, so pack it next to frozen items or plan on buying it cold at school.

After safety and nutrition, the third part of the lunch dilemma is getting your child to eat what's in the lunch box.
Let your child help shop for the items that will go in her lunch. Teach her how to select a balanced lunch from food items you purchased or prepared together. Show her how to make her own sandwiches.

Schedule time each week with your child to pre-package food items in small bags or containers. For example ask your child to count out 5 snack size bags and then put 5 baby carrots in each bag. Turn this task into a math lesson. Keep in mind the age of your child when determining portion sizes and appropriate tasks. For example a young child may only eat half a sandwich, and although he may not be able to peel carrots, he might be able to break and string celery.

Try putting pre-packaged or home-packaged nonperishable lunch foods on the counter or in a cupboard within your child's reach. Put packaged perishable food on a low shelf on the refrigerator. Group foods in bowls or boxes by food group and then let her build her own lunch. A balanced lunch might include a sandwich containing a high protein food, one item from the vegetable group, one item from the fruit group and a beverage. If the beverage is not milk, consider adding a tube or carton of yogurt or a stick of string cheese.

Some kids like variety and become easily bored with the same foods, so keep exploring different options in each food category. Other children might have a few favorites and want to stick with every day. Remember that breakfast, dinner and snacks can add variety and balance.

And now for the pizzazz: You can add interest and excitement to lunches by packing something extra a few times a week. For example add a snack size portion of a new food once a week. Instead of a sandwich every day, pack a slice of cold pizza or a burrito once in a while. The same fruit like an apple can be eaten in many forms, fresh, sliced, with caramel dip, as applesauce or dehydrated apple chips. Non-food extras that add pizzazz could be a new colorful pencil, eraser, printed napkin or sticker. Consider adding a coupon for an extra hug, extra book before bed, or 15 additional minutes on the computer, TV or phone. A special note from you, an age appropriate cartoon strip clipped from the paper, or a coloring page and crayon, can also make "bag" lunches a big hit.

Quick Tips to Packing a Safe School Lunch
Always keep it clean. Make sure your hands, food preparation surfaces and utensils are clean. Use hot, soapy water to effectively get rid of bacteria. Teach your children to wash their hands before they eat. Also wash fruits and vegetables before packing them in your child's lunch.

Be sure to keep hot foods such as soup, chili or stew hot by using an insulated bottle. Fill the bottle with boiling water and let it stand for a few minutes. Empty the bottle and then fill it with piping hot food. Keep the bottle closed until lunchtime.
Cold foods should stay cold, so invest in a freezer gel pack (available in supermarkets and kitchen supply stores) and an insulated lunch box. Freezer gel packs will keep foods cold until lunchtime, but are not recommended for all-day storage. Any perishable food (i.e. meat, poultry, or egg sandwiches) not eaten at lunch should be discarded.

If your child chooses a brown paper bag to carry lunch, it's especially important to include a cold source. A freezer gel pack or a frozen sandwich works well. Because brown paper bags tend to become soggy or leak as cold foods thaw, be sure to use an extra paper bag to create a double layer. Double-bagging will also help insulate the food better.

Tell your child to use the refrigerator at school, if one is available. If not, make sure they keep their lunch out of direct sunlight and away from radiators, baseboards and other heat sources found in the classroom.

Every parent should have a supply of shelf-stable foods for easy packing. These include fresh fruits and vegetables, crackers, peanut butter sandwiches, packaged pudding and canned fruits or meats.

Freeze single-sized juice packs overnight and place the frozen drink in your child's lunch. The juice will thaw by lunchtime, but it will still be cold. The frozen drink will also keep the rest of the lunch cold.

If you make sandwiches the night before, keep them in the refrigerator until packing up to go in the morning.

Think Like A Kid When Making Plans For School Lunches

VARIETY: Try a variety of food items in their lunch
COOL FOODS: Children like to eat foods cold that adults wouldn't imagine doing
LEFTOVERS: Lunch can be leftovers or even a breakfast type of meal
PRE-PACKAGED AND EASY: Include a small treat or an occasional pre-packaged lunch item if that is important to your child

Add variety to delicious sandwiches:
• use a cookie cutter to make interesting star, animal or heart shapes
• try a variety of breads (e.g. wholegrain, rye, roti, enriched or cheese flavoured breads, rolls, bagels, English muffins or pita bread)
• mini pitas stuffed with meat, vegetable or cheese fillings
• a filled roti or tortilla wrap, cut into small pieces
• flavoured cream cheese on whole-wheat melba toast, bagel chips, crackers or rice cakes

Cool foods:
• cold leftover pizza, chicken fingers, fish sticks
• cold pasta or cold macaroni and cheese with tuna, sliced meat or extra cheese
• mini-kabobs with cubed meat, cheese, sweet peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, grapes, melon or kiwi

• meat or vegetable stew
• chilli con carne
• leftover pancakes or waffles, preferably whole-wheat

Pre-Packaged and Easy to Enjoy Fruit
Although most children love fruit, at lunch they may not have the patience or time to peel fruit.
• Pack small bite size pieces of fruit like grapes, pineapple chunks, strawberries, cherries or pieces of melon
• Send containers of applesauce or canned fruit
• Cut oranges into wedges
• Halve kiwis and include a spoon to scoop out the flesh
• Make a small cut into banana stems for easier peeling
• Pack fruit into protective plastic containers to prevent bruising

Make-Your-Own Pitas or Wraps
Children often like to eat their own creations.

Here are some ideas for children to make their own pita or wrap. The idea is to have several different ingredients on hand. Children can mix and match the ingredients to make their very own pita or wrap.

Here is what you will need to have on hand:
Pita bread (cut in half) or tortillas (plain or flavored)
Here are some ideas of foods that you may want to have the children choose from:

luncheon meat (e.g. turkey, ham, roast beef)
cubed chicken breast
peanut butter
tuna or salmon salad
chicken salad
cooked tofu
sliced cheese (different varieties)
grated cheese (different varieties)
cooked rice
grated carrot
tomato slices
cucumber slices
sliced green, red, yellow or orange peppers
alfalfa sprouts
sliced celery
lettuce or spinach
sliced seedless grapes
sliced bananas
sliced apples
sliced pears
tomato/pizza sauce

You do not have to stick to these foods. Be creative!
Prepare pita or wrap fillings
Have children choose their favorite foods. If using tortillas, have children place food on the tortilla and then roll it up. If using pitas, have children stuff the halved pita with the chosen foods.

Packing interesting and frugal school lunches
If you pack your child's lunch for school, or plan on doing so, do you save money over the school lunch program? I know there are other reasons for packing school lunches over using the programs - nutrition or special nutritional needs, for instance, but for the purpose of this column, we're talking money. Actually, how to save it.

First, think about how your child eats. If he never eats more than half a sandwich, only pack half a sandwich. If he won't eat it, don't send it. Ask him to bring home the portions of uneaten lunch instead of throwing them out. That way you can see what he is really eating. Don't waste money in providing things he won't eat.

Making sandwich spread is far cheaper than buying it. A food processor or a blender can be used to chop leftover meat finely, then add cut up pickles, onion, cheese, and mayonnaise or whatever you prefer, and continue to blend/chop until the mixture is very fine.

Chicken, ham and beef all make very good sandwich spreads. One leftover chicken drumstick can yeild enough meat for two sandwiches this way.

If there's a particular kind of sandwich spread you buy because you like it, look at the ingredients and try to duplicate them. (Some things, like preservatives or hard to find ingredients, can be skipped!)

Don't get stuck on sandwiches. Send crackers and cheese or crackers and peanut butter, boiled eggs, cold fried chicken, slices of ham or roast, olives, peanuts, raw vegetables, muffins or cornbread with baked in hotdog chunks. Keep a notebook or computer list with ideas as they strike you. Combine foods differently. Carrot sticks and crackers combined with a slice of beef roast makes a good and frugal meal!

Keep the lunch cold by using an insulated lunch pack and/or sending drinks frozen. Frozen drinks keep the rest of the lunch cool, but will be thawed (or mostly thawed) by lunchtime. Find or buy a drink container with a snug top - a soft drink or water bottle can be recycled this way. Buy juice or fruit drinks in large containers and refill the bottle each evening and freeze for the next day's lunch. (Leave enough headroom for the liquid to expand!)

Frugal Living reader Melissa has a great idea for packing frozen drinks. She says, "I wrap a frozen drink in a paper towel, so the rest of the bag does not get wet with the condensation. Then, at lunch, the kids have a wet wipe to clean off with, and a dry bag to put things back into."

It's easier to pack lunches, or at least the basics, the night before. If leftovers from the evening meal can be used, you won't have to put them away, then get them out again. If you need to change the form (pick the meat from a piece of chicken; add to a salad, etc.), you'll have time to do that.
Don't fall for the prepackaged "meals" you find in the store. They're a very poor buy and they are not nutritious. It doesn't take much time to put your own together and you can add real food to them and spend far less.

With a little thought you can pack school lunches frugally and your child will enjoy them.

Back to School Lunchbox Goodies

Although good ol' peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are actually a nutritious lunch choice, many kids tire of the same thing day after day. Let's take a look at how to liven up those school lunchboxes, so they don't end up in the trashcan! Know your child's tastes

So, you pack your child's lunch, diligently balancing the offerings to comply with the Food Pyramid Guidelines. Very good! But, how to you know it's not ending up in the trashcan in the cafeteria?

One of the most obvious points is to not only know, but acknowledge the tastes of your child. If Johnny won't eat carrots at home, he's certainly not going to eat them at school. Ask your child what he/she would like for lunch, and let them get involved in the planning and packing process. Plan lunches in advance and pack them up the night before, if possible.

Let your child help pick out the lunchbox. If your child is embarrassed by her lunchbox, chances are it will stay hidden and untouched in the locker or cubbyhole. Choose a lunchbox with a Thermos and an insulated section where you can put cold foods.

During warm seasons, freeze juice or drink boxes the night before to be used to keep foods cold. They will thaw by lunchtime, while doing double-duty keeping companion foods chilled. Or, you can also invest in miniature "blue ice" coldpacks in the sporting goods department of your local department store.

Livening up the lunchbox
Here are a few quick suggestions to help liven up that lunch fare:
• Choose fruits that are easy to eat and not messy. Be sure to peel fruits that need it, and cut them into finger-size pieces for younger children.
• Write a riddle on the peel of a banana or orange or draw a cartoon picture with words of endearment or encouragement to brighten up the day.
• Vary the bread offerings from plain sliced bread to raisin bread, pita pockets, dinner rolls, flour tortillas, or mini-bagels.
• Rice cakes are a fun addition. Pack tuna salad, peanut butter or cheese spread in a separate container to be spooned on at lunchtime so the cakes don't get soggy.
• If your child likes cold pizza, send it along for lunch! Pizza is actually not a bad choice.
• Mini-muffins are the perfect size for kids' lunches. Use your favorite recipe, but smaller tins, and bake 12-15 minutes.
• A thermos of hot soup is perfect for cold days, along with crackers.
• Cut sandwiches into diamonds, triangles, rectangles, or other fun shapes. Kids seem to think they taste better this way!
• Make your own trail mix at home using your child's favorite cereal, raisins, nuts, and mini-pretzels. Toss in a few fruit gummies as a surprise.
• Send along naturally-sweetened fruit cocktail in a container to mix with yogurt.
• Mix cream cheese with raisins and a dash of honey to spread on graham crackers.
• It doesn't have to be a sandwich. Pack string cheese and ham sticks with a honey mustard sauce for dipping.
• Finger foods always go over well. Look over your favorite cold appetizer recipes with your child's lunch in mind.
• Granola bars and fruit newtons will satisfy that sweet tooth, but be sure to read labels. Some are not as healthy as they'd like you to think.
• Mix shredded carrots with raisins, unflavored yogurt and a bit of honey for a crunchy salad.
• Make fruit kabobs of cubes of favorite fruits using thin strips of celery for skewers.
• An old favorite is Ants on a Log. Fill celery sticks with cream cheese, sprinkle with grated carrot, and push in raisons for ants.
• Bean dip and baked tortilla chips make a fun protein-filled addition.
• Cut veggies into fingerfood-size, and accompany with seasoned cream cheese for dipping.
• Popcorn is always a welcome treat, and the low-fat microwave versions make it easy to pop up quickly to send along. Be sure to put it in a sealed baggie to retain freshness.

Lunchbox Recipes
There are some very creative recipes you can try to get rid of those lunchbox blues. Some of these recipe titles may have some strange names, but that might even make them more intriguing to your child. Just think back to when you were a child and have fun with it! These recipes should help you begin to think outside the box -- the lunchbox, that is -- to create interesting brown bag lunches for not only your children, but the whole family.

Packing Safe and Appealing School Lunches
Need some ideas on packing school lunches? Packed lunches should have three "ingredients": nutrition, taste and safety.

When considering nutrition:
Include at least one fruit and vegetable. For vegetables, try carrot or celery sticks, cherry or grape tomatoes, or bell pepper strips.

Include fruits and vegetables your children enjoy. Fresh produce is always a good choice, but also consider small pop-top cans of pineapple, peaches and other fruits.

Avoid juice drinks or punch with a lot of added sugar. Look for "100 percent fruit juice" on labels.

Avoid prepackaged cheese-and-crackers or similar treats -- they are generally high in fat, sodium and calories. Check the label. Small packs of chips are often better choices, if your child can afford the calories.

Kids also insist that lunches be tasty:
• Vary sandwich breads. Whole-grain bread, kaiser rolls, pita, hamburger buns, bagels or tortillas are good alternatives to plain white bread.
• Wrap tomatoes and lettuce for a sandwich separately so the bread doesn't get soggy.
• Include a favorite pasta salad or hot soup in an insulated wide-mouth container.

For safety's sake, make sure perishable items stay cold until the time your child eats lunch. If lunch is packed at 7:30 a.m. and lunchtime is at noon, the lunch could sit at room temperature far longer than the two hours food safety specialists recommend. To reduce risk:
• Use an insulated lunch box or bag and include a frozen gel pack to keep the contents cool.
• Pack a frozen juice box with the lunch. It will thaw by the time lunch rolls around and will keep other items cool.
• Lunch-meat sandwiches can be frozen overnight and should thaw by lunchtime. Freezing tuna salad or other similar spreads isn't a good idea because mayonnaise doesn't freeze well.
• Also, rinse fruits and vegetables before packing the lunch so they don't cross-contaminate other items. And, don't re-use paper bags. Food particles -- and any germs with them -- can't be wiped out. See other safe-lunch tips in "Quick Tips to Packing a Safe Lunch."


Every parent should have a supply of shelf-stable foods for easy packing. These include fresh fruits and vegetables, crackers, peanut butter sandwiches, packaged pudding and canned fruits or meats.

Freeze single-sized juice packs overnight and place the frozen drink in your child's lunch. The juice will thaw by lunchtime, but it will still be cold. The frozen drink will also keep the rest of the lunch cold.

If you make sandwiches the night before, keep them in the refrigerator until packing up to go in the morning.

Plan on Packing School Lunches with Food Safety in Mind
Big-eared mouse or small-headed monster? Fable heroine or cartoon star? These decisions are often the big ones that children make when choosing a new lunch box for school.

But what's packed inside rather than what's painted on the outside is the critical decision, especially when it comes to food safety, the Texas Department of Health (TDH) advises. "People really need to plan children's school lunches with an eye to what will be safe to eat after being out in a lunch box for four or more hours," said Ione Wenzel of TDH's Retail Foods Division.
"Foods need to be either non-perishable, or they need to be kept properly cold or hot," she said. "Peanut butter and jelly is one sandwich that is safe because it does not need to be refrigerated." Wenzel advises people to read labels carefully. "If the product says it needs to be kept refrigerated, do so. Keep these foods cold, even in a lunch box." Lunch meat, poultry and eggs also need to stay cold. Meat sandwiches may be made the night before and kept refrigerated or frozen.

Processed and prepackaged food items that do not need to be refrigerated can go safely to school unopened until lunch time. "Whole fruits are wonderful," Wenzel said. "Cut up fruit, however, needs to be refrigerated." Other foods such as bread, crackers, vegetables, cookies, canned meats, shelf-stable cheeses, packaged pudding and canned fruits and juices also work well in lunches.

Small freezer gel packs, available in most supermarkets and kitchen supply stores, can be tucked into lunch boxes early in the morning to keep the cold items safe the few hours until lunch. The gel packs will not keep perishables all day, however, Wenzel said. "Lunch leftovers should be thrown away and not taken home to eat later." Some non-perishable snacks such as granola, raisins, whole fruit, chips, cookies or packaged puddings can be packed separately for after-school snacking.

Mayonnaise can be used in lunch box foods, as long as it is commercially prepared and not homemade. "Mayonnaise has a bad reputation," Wenzel said. "But mayonnaise is very acidic and can actually slow the growth of bacteria. Commercially-prepared mayonnaise is safer than that made at home because the commercial variety contains pasteurized eggs while homemade mayonnaise recipes call for raw eggs.

Insulated lunch boxes do help keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot, but they still require a frozen gel pack or insulated bottle for hot items. Fill the insulated bottle with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then fill with hot food. Keep the bottle closed until lunch time. Plastic boxes and brown paper bags will work for carrying lunches, but the paper bags tend to get soggy as the gel packs thaw and plastic boxes will retain moisture. Use extra paper or plastic bags to create a double layer to help solve the problem.

"But whatever type of lunch box is used, it should be kept in a cool place in the classroom, out of direct sunlight and away from heat," Wenzel said. "Parents may be surprised to know just how quickly cold foods get warm." Wenzel suggests people experiment at home, testing a sandwich with a product thermometer. "Put the thermometer next to lunch meat between two slices of bread and see what temperature it registers after four hours. To be safe, cold food should stay at 41 degrees."
Wenzel said a good product thermometer, which usually can be found with the kitchen utensils at the supermarket or retail store, will register temperature from 0 to 212 degrees. She keeps hers in the refrigerator so that she also can make sure her refrigerator stays as cold as it needs to be.

Another important thing to remember when preparing lunches is to have clean hands, clean utensils and a clean work surface. Wash hands often with hot water and soap. Don't use the same cutting board for meats and poultry as for breads and vegetables. And don't prepare raw and cooked foods with the same utensils. A simple, inexpensive solution for sanitizing food preparation surfaces is one tablespoon household bleach in a gallon of water. Keep the lunch box clean as well. Wash the plastic boxes daily with hot water and soap. Clean insulated bags as indicated by the manufacturer and wipe them occasionally with the sanitizing solution.

Keeping food safe is not restricted to the school lunch hour, however. Teach children food and kitchen safety tips, Wenzel said, especially if they will be making their own snacks at home after school. Keep a supply of easy-to-fix foods on hand and let children know where they are stored. Here are some health and safety suggestions:
• Put backpacks on the floor, not on the counters or kitchen table. Backpacks carry germs.
• Throw away any leftover lunch brought home from school. (Or better, don't bring it home at all.)
• Wash your hands.
• Always use clean spoons, forks and plates.
• Wash fruits and vegetables before you take a bite.
• Do not eat bread, cheese, fruits or vegetables that look bad or have even the smallest spot of mold. If food looks or smells bad, never take even a bite to see if it is still good.
• Do not leave cold items such as milk, lunch meat, hard cooked eggs or yogurt on the counter at room temperature. Put them back in the refrigerator after you make your snack.
• Snacks for younger children could include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese and crackers, yogurt, cookies and milk, fresh fruit, precut vegetables, hard-cooked eggs, cold cereal and milk or lunch meat sandwiches. Older children also could have microwave popcorn, snacks and meals.
• "When in doubt, throw it out," Wenzel said. "That's still the best advice there is."

School lunch can pack punch
Every night when it comes time to pack her children's school lunches, E. Ward thinks, "Not again."

"It's a challenge to come up with different foods for kids to eat, especially if you want them to be healthy," says Ward, who is from Reading, Mass., and has three girls, 8, 7 and 4. Even though she is a registered dietitian and an expert on making creative lunches for her children, she still struggles with the task. (Also: Best, worst school snacks named)

Many families are stuck in a rut when it comes to packing school lunches. A survey of 2,000 households done by the NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y., found:
• 74% of all bagged lunches for school include a sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly is the most popular.
• 70% include a salty snack such as chips or pretzels.
• 59% include fruit. An apple is most common.
• 59% include a fruit drink.

It's no wonder school lunches fall into a rut; parents are busy and kids are finicky, so they just keep bagging the same old stuff. And yet it's more important than ever that kids eat smart at school, considering an explosion of obesity and the fact that kids can be under a lot of stress. About 20% to 30% of children are either overweight or at risk of becoming so.

Ward, author of Healthy Foods, Healthy Kids (Adams Media, $14.95), tries to think outside the lunch box. One way she does that is by using something other than bread, such as whole-wheat crackers, whole-grain rolls, bagels or whole-wheat pita bread.
Some children have little time to eat lunch at school, she says, so the meal needs to contain nutrient-rich foods including dairy, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

But getting kids to eat their veggies isn't easy.

Rallie McAllister, mother of three boys and author of Healthy Lunchbox (LifeLine, $19.95), has learned that her children will eat vegetables if she gives them cut-up broccoli, grape tomatoes or baby carrots along with some packaged dip.

Most children like fruit because it's sweet, and they are more likely to eat it if it's bite-sized, such as cherries, grapes, berries or melon balls, says McAllister, a family doctor. She buys seasonal fruit, and she also makes homemade trail mix with dried fruits, raisins and nuts.

When it comes to liquids, Ward packs her children milk, water or calcium-fortified orange juice or lemonade and steers clear of fruit drinks and soft drinks.

How much food should be put in the lunch depends on the age, height and weight of the child. Parents can build and add to some of Ward's basic school-lunch ideas:

• Turkey-and-cheese roll-ups. Wrap deli turkey around string cheese. Serve with whole-grain pretzels, cherry tomatoes, fruit and milk.
• Leftover cheese or veggie pizza; fruit; water. "I buy high-quality frozen pizza and add to it, cook it the night before and use it for a couple of days' lunches because I have two in elementary school right now," Ward says.
• Bagel, spread with peanut butter (if OK with the school because of concerns about peanut allergies), popcorn, carton of yogurt, fruit.
• Whole-wheat crackers or whole-grain roll with butter or margarine, string cheese, applesauce, an ounce (about a handful) of trail mix, milk or 100% juice.
• Whole-wheat pita bread and six celery sticks with hummus for dipping, fruit, milk.

Ward often slips in a couple of cookies because she believes "kids need a few treats. If parents try to be too healthy with kids, it can backfire. As soon as kids get one ounce of freedom, they are going to be out buying candy bars and junk food to make up for lost time."
There are several foods both Ward and McAllister don't put in their kids' lunches.
• Potato chips or other high-fat, salty snacks. "They have few redeeming qualities aside from calories," Ward says. "Some kids may need the calories, but most don't as we fight this childhood obesity epidemic." Says McAllister: "Chips are the worst. Every parent should take them off their list. If they need something salty or crunchy, try pretzels, nuts, sunflower seeds."
• Soda and candy. "I would never put soda into my child's lunch, because it's another food with zero redeeming qualities," Ward says. She also shies away from candy, with the exception of Halloween candy.
• Oscar Mayer Lunchables. "I can't believe they can cram that much fat and sodium into that little food," Ward says. "When you look at the label, it's astounding, but my kids love them, and we indulge from time to time. They've come out with a lighter line called Lunchables Fun Fuel that are really OK." McAllister says parents can create their own Lunchable-like meals using healthier foods. "It's the right idea made with the wrong foods."

Pack a Lunch With Punch!
Back-to-School Veggie Style: Healthy Lunches That Kids Will Love!

Moms and dads, you know the drill: It’s back-to-school time, and that means packing healthy lunches that your kids will actually want to eat—all before dashing out the door yourself. Here’s one quick tip: Leave the deli slices, cheese, milk, and other animal foods on the supermarket shelf, and replace them with good-for-you vegetarian alternatives, such as soy milk and mock meats. Kids raised on a vegetarian diet have a tremendous advantage: a lower risk of the obesity, cancer, heart disease, and other health problems that will plague their meat-eating peers as they grow older.

Another tip: Think outside the (lunch)box. We love PB&J, but many other options are just as easy—and a welcome change. Try bagels with Tofutti’s Better Than Cream Cheese, mini English-muffin pizzas, Tuno salad, a thermos packed with veggie beans and franks, or heat-and-eat vegetarian chili. With a little imagination, it’s easy to pack a lunch that your kids will love! Here are a few of our favorite ideas to get you started.

Veggielicious Lunchbox Dishes
• Spread bread with eggless mayonnaise (try Nayonaise or Vegenaise) and pile on veggie deli slices—such as faux ham, faux turkey, or “phony baloney”—and Tofutti American soy cheese slices ( Cut into triangles or fun shapes using cookie cutters.
• Make a mock chicken-salad sandwich with Worthington’s Chic-ketts, available at health-food stores or at
• Pack P.B. Slices (, individually wrapped slices of peanut butter, with bread or crackers; kids can combine them at lunchtime.
• On those hectic mornings, toss a Smucker’s frozen PB&J sandwich in your child’s lunchbox; it will be thawed and ready to eat by lunchtime.
• Make burrito roll-ups by spreading tortillas with Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese; add olives or diced veggies, roll up, and cut into bite-size pieces. Olé!
• Look for The Good Lunch lunches ( at local health-food stores—they’re ready-to-go with veggie deli slices, soy cheese, crackers, and a sweet treat.
• Make your own “good lunch” by packing meat-free Smart Deli Pepperoni slices (, soy cheese slices, and crackers.
• Spread a bagel with Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese, top with veggie pepperoni, and cut into halves or quarters.
• Make a mock tuna-salad sandwich by substituting Worthington’s Tuno (Available at health-food stores or at for tuna in your favorite recipe.
• For a healthy alternative to egg-salad sandwiches, try eggless “egg” salad: Mash together tofu, soy mayo, turmeric, salt, and spices. Click here for a recipe.
• Pair veggie kebabs (try cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, sweet peppers, and baked tofu cubes) with “ranch” dip (combine Tofutti Sour Supreme with McCormick Spring Onion Dip Mix—it’s vegan!).
• Cut mini-pitas in half, and stuff them with hummus and chopped tomatoes, falafel, or your favorite sandwich filling.
• Prepare an easy pasta salad by combining cooked spiral pasta with diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and/or peppers and chunks of baked tofu, veggie Canadian bacon, or Chic-ketts; mix with your favorite vinaigrette.
• “Shake ’N Bake” mock chicken chunks instead of the real thing. Several Shake ’N Bake flavors are vegan—just use chopped Chic-ketts or White Wave’s wheat meat (; it’s great hot or cold.
• Pack hard breadsticks with dip, such as pizza sauce, peanut butter, or hummus.
• Make a mini pizza by topping toasted English muffins (Wonder Bread-brand muffins are vegan) with a dollop of pizza sauce, a slice of soy cheese, and veggie pepperoni.

Hot Ideas for the Thermos
• Warm kids up on cold winter days by heating Hormel canned vegetarian chili and packing it in a thermos.
• For another easy heat-and-eat treat, try Campbell’s tomato or vegetable soup. (Please be sure to check labels—some soups contain beef or chicken broth.)
• When you have a little more time, make alphabet soup using vegetable or faux-chicken broth instead of chicken stock and diced mock chicken. Make a pot over the weekend, then reheat it on Monday morning to start your kids’ week off right.
• Make a better “beefaroni” by mixing macaroni, Morningstar Farms veggie burger crumbles, and tomato sauce.
• Combine Bush’s Vegetarian Baked Beans and veggie dogs for the classic kids’ favorite “beanie weenies.”

Don’t forget to include a sweet treat, healthy drink, and afternoon snack.

Sweet Treats
• Fresh fruit, such as a sliced apple, grapes, or a peeled and separated orange—or try fruit kebabs
• Fruit roll-ups or fruit leather
• Soy yogurt cups (try Stonyfield Farm’s O’Soy, WholeSoy, or Silk brands)
• ZenDon soy pudding cups
• Raisin boxes or other dried fruit
• Unfrosted strawberry or blueberry Pop Tarts
• Vegan cookies (for a list of brands, click here)
• Graham crackers, with or without chocolate frosting filling
• Clif or Luna bars

• Juice boxes
• Canned vegetable juice
• Bottled water
• Chocolate or vanilla Silk soy milk singles

• Pretzel sticks, mini bagel chips, or potato sticks or chips
• Mini cereal boxes
• Individual bags of bite-size carrots or celery
• Nuts
• Trail mix

Kid-Tested Lunchtime Tips
• Make food fun by cutting sandwiches into different shapes. Cookie cutters are great for this.
• In hot weather, keep foods cool by including a carton or plastic container of juice, frozen overnight, in the lunchbox. The juice will be thawed by lunchtime.
• Pack “kid-size” foods like cherry tomatoes, baby bananas, and mini boxes of raisins.
• You can control what goes into your child’s lunchbox, but you can’t control what goes into your child. Send your kids to school with a lunch they like—and one they’ve helped prepare and pack—and they’ll be less likely to toss or trade it.
• Rely less on processed, packaged foods—replace them with fresh foods whenever possible.
• Remember that kids can be influenced by peer pressure—foods they love at home might be not-so-cool at school. Ask them what types of foods their friends bring for lunch—whatever it is, you can probably find a vegetarian version.
• Most kids will skip foods that take a lot of effort to eat. A little prep work can make almost anything more kid-friendly. For example, peel clementines and oranges, then cover them with plastic wrap before packing them, or cut kiwi fruit in half and let kids scoop out the flesh with a teaspoon.
• It’s a good idea to buy a small, reusable ice pack that can be frozen overnight and placed in the lunchbox—this helps keep perishable foods fresh.

Buying lunch at school may be the first time your child gets to call the shots about which foods he or she will eat. The good news is that school lunches have improved over the years, both in taste and nutrition. Unfortunately, many school lunches meet the standards for protein, vitamins, calcium, and iron, but still exceed recommendations for fat. Some schools also have made an effort to serve better dishes, such as grilled chicken sandwiches and salads.

The downside is obvious: In the typical school cafeteria, your child can still choose an unhealthy mix of foods, taking advantage of the less nutritious fare often available a la carte or in the vending machine. For instance, a child might decide to buy the same kid-pleasing entrée, such as a hot dog, day after day.

A Lunchtime Opportunity
Use school lunches as a chance to steer your child toward good choices. You can't force a child, but you can make it easier to eat healthy. Especially with younger kids, start by explaining how a nutritious lunch will give them the energy to finish the rest of the school day and enjoy after-school activities. Here are some other steps to take:

Look over the cafeteria menu with your child. Ask what a typical lunch includes and which meals he or she particularly likes. Recommend items that are healthier, but be willing to allow your child to buy favorite lunch items occasionally, even if that includes a hot dog.

Ask about foods like chips, soda, and ice cream. Find out if and when these foods are available at school.

Encourage your child to pack a lunch, at least occasionally. If you do it right, this can put you back in the driver's seat and help you to ensure that your child is getting a nutritious midday meal.

Healthier Alternatives
Encourage your child to choose cafeteria meals that include fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, such as wheat bread instead of white. Also, avoid fried foods when possible and choose milk or water as a drink.

If you're helping your child pack a lunch, start by brainstorming foods and snacks that he or she would like to eat. In addition to old standbys, such as peanut butter and jelly, try pitas or wrap sandwiches stuffed with grilled chicken or veggies. Try soups and salads, if your child is willing, and don't forget last night's leftovers as an easy lunchbox filler.

You also can take your child's current lunch and perform a lunch makeover. Here are some suggestions for small changes that do make a nutritional difference.

Instead of: Consider:
Higher-fat lunch meats Lower-fat deli meats, such as turkey
White bread Whole-grain breads (wheat, oat, multigrain)
Mayonnaise Light mayonnaise or mustard
Fried chips and snacks Baked chips, air-popped popcorn, trail mix, veggies and dip
Fruit in syrup Fruit in natural juices or fresh fruit
Cookies and snack cakes Trail mix, yogurt, or homemade baked goods such as oatmeal cookies or fruit muffins
Fruit drinks and soda Milk, water, or 100% fruit juice

And here's how two lunches stack up, after a typical lunch received a nutritional upgrade:
Typical lunch Nutritional upgrade Why it's better
Beef bologna on white Lean turkey on whole wheat Less fat and more fiber
Mayonnaise Lettuce and mustard Less fat and fewer calories
Potato chips Carrots and celery with light dressing Less fat and two additional vegetable servings
Fruit cup in light syrup Fresh grapes Fewer calories and more fiber
Chocolate sandwich cookies Homemade trail mix Less fat and more fiber
Fruit punch drink Skim milk Fewer calories, less sugar, plus calcium

Prepackaged lunches for kids are popular and convenient, but they're also expensive and can be less than nutritious. Instead, create your own packable lunch using healthier ingredients. Consider these components and pack them in plastic containers, resealable plastic bags, or colorful plastic wrap:
• cold-cut roll ups (lean, low-fat turkey, ham, or roast beef; lower-fat cheese; and flour tortillas)
• cold pizza (shredded mozzarella cheese; pizza sauce; flour tortilla, English muffin, or mini pizza shell)
• cracker sandwiches (whole-grain crackers filled with cream cheese or peanut butter and jelly)
• peanut butter and celery sticks
• veggie sticks with low-fat dip or dressing
• 100% fruit juice box
• optional dessert (choose one): flavored gelatin, low-fat pudding, oatmeal raisin cookie, graham crackers, fresh fruit

Don't forget to involve the kids in the process so that healthier lunches can become a goal they can strive for, too.

Safe Packing
A packed lunch carries the added responsibility of keeping the food safe to eat. That means keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. One study found that fewer than a third of parents included a cold pack when packing yogurt, deli-meat sandwiches, and other foods that need refrigeration.

Here are some suggestions to keep foods safe when packing your child's lunches:
• Wash your hands first.
• Use a thermos for hot foods.
• Use cold packs or freeze some foods and drinks overnight. They'll thaw in the lunch box.
• Wash out lunch boxes every day or use brown paper lunch bags that can be discarded.
• Toss in some moist towelettes to remind kids to wash their hands before eating- and to clean themselves up afterward.

15 Healthy Foods to Pack in a School Lunch
Starting your kids off right by packing school lunches with nutritious foods that taste good will help them establish healthy eating habits for life. Instead of a sandwich on white bread, bag of chips, and cookies, try some of the following healthy (and more interesting) items for your child’s lunch box:
• Wraps made with whole wheat tortillas, containing either lean cold cuts or lowfat cream cheese topped with veggie slices. Even the classic PB and J (peanut butter & jelly) is healthier in a wheat wrap.
• Single portion-sized cups of unsweetened apple sauce or fruit without added sugar.
• Trail mix made with cereals, nuts, pretzels, dried fruit or raisins, and a few chocolate morsels.
• Low fat cheese spread on whole wheat crackers.
• Individual serving-sized packages of low fat yogurt, cottage cheese, or yogurt smoothies.
• Baby carrots, celery sticks, or apple slices with dips made from yogurt or low fat sour cream.
• Mini-burritos made with rice and black beans or refried beans in a tortilla with tomato salsa. These can be heated or eaten cold.
• Baked chips or pretzels are a better choice than high-fat potato chips or cheese snacks.
• Drinks made from water with a splash of cranberry, peach, grape, or other fruit juice are healthier than sodas. Excess consumption of pure sugar-laden juices can increase the risk of obesity.
• Whole grain bagels topped with cream cheese-vegetable spread.
• Air-popped popcorn flavored with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
• Low fat cheese cubes and seedless grapes make a delicious side dish for sandwiches or wraps.
• Cold strips of grilled chicken with honey mustard dip.
• Dried cranberries or cherries are a sweet alternative for kids bored with raisins.
• Quesadilla slices made with cheese and chicken or vegetables.

Pack Plenty of Good Nutrition in Lunches from Home
When children take their lunch to school, make good nutrition a priority and involve them in planning. Their "buy-in" makes it less likely foods will be traded, go in the garbage, or come home uneaten.

• As a rule-of-thumb, make sure lunches include at least three of the Pyramid's Five Food Groups.
• Instead packing a fruit juice, fruit-drink or soft drink, have children buy milk. Research shows that children who drink milk with lunch are more likely to meet their daily calcium needs. Fruit-flavored and soft drinks provide calories and few, if any, nutrients.
• Let them buy flavored milk if they prefer it. It has the same nutrients as white milk. Research shows that children who drink flavored milk don't consume more fat or sugar than children who drink only white milk.
• Serve the same foods with a new twist. Cut cheese into cubes instead of slices or cut apples into circles instead of wedges.
• Consider likes and dislikes. Have your children help you create a list of foods they like for lunch. Take them to the grocery store and ask for lunch box suggestions.
• Keep foods safe. Use an insulated lunch box that includes an ice pack.

Pair vegetables, grains and protein-rich foods
• Cut-up fresh vegetables cheese cubes and whole-grain crackers
• Hummus with pita wedges and cut up vegetables for dipping
• Hard-cooked egg and whole-grain roll.

Serve leftovers - Many leftovers taste great served cold!
• Cold spaghetti
• Chicken pieces
• Baked ziti or other casseroles
• Pizza slices

Send soup or chili in a thermos
• Add a small bag of shredded cheese to sprinkle on top

Make it yogurt
• Yogurt in a tube or drinkable yogurt with a muffin and fruit
• A carton of yogurt with lowfat granola and fruit to mix in
• A smoothie in a thermos along with a banana and graham crackers

Making Lunches for Children
Don't be tempted to buy the neatly packaged juice boxes or drinks. You can save money by using a colorful plastic squeeze bottle and refilling it with juice each time from your own pitcher.

Set out the lunchboxes on the kitchen table the night before and go ahead and put in anything that doesn't need refrigeration--chips and plastic silverware, for instance. Make the sandwiches the night before so that all you have to do is throw them in at the last minute.

When making peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, be sure to spread a little bit of peanut butter on both pieces of bread so that the jelly doesn't bleed through and saturate the bread. The peanut butter acts as a sealant.

Crumble excess cookies and pack them into your child's lunch. They can sprinkle it on their yogurt for a sweet treat.

Sneak notes into your child's lunch, just to let them know that mom or dad is thinking of them.

Create an "emotional goodies" jar with your child, and, as a special treat, place a "goody" in his or her lunchbox. Come up with words of encouragement with your child. For example, "Knowledge is power," "Learning is fun," or "You can do it." You could also promise after-school treats or an offer for an extra 30 minutes of playtime. After you write the notes, have them laminated and store them in a special "cookie" jar in the kitchen for regular use.

Pick a fun container: What you carry your lunch in can make a difference in how you perceive your food. Presentation of a homemade lunch is just as important as it is when served on a plate. Kids especially know this and the right lunchbox can make the difference in being accepted by one's peers or not. Adults may opt for some of the colorful nylon, cloth or paper bags available.

Cookie cutter sandwiches: Make these with your kids. Slice the crusts off the bread and use cookie cutters in fun shapes. Pack a few extra to share with friends.

Nuts to You! One of the most boring things about brown bag lunches is the lack of variety and texture. Adding nuts or sunflower seeds to salads, soups and even sandwiches makes for crunch appeal. Try some toasted, spiced pecans in your bag instead of chips.

Mail Bags: This is fun for kids: include some mail for them. A note from you, a newspaper clipping, even a piece of junk mail you don't plan on opening (kids love to open things!) How about printing out something fun from the Web and including it?
Stickers: If you use brown paper bags, decorate them with stickers, especially at holidays. This is not just for kids, because adults love to show off that something special sent from home, too. And there's such a variety of theme-oriented and playful stickers these days.

Alphabet stamps: My mom used to take alphabet rubber stamps and ink pads and decorate my lunch bags with words and sentences. Try making up riddles, or jumbled words for your kids to unscramble.

Joke-a-Day: Do you have one of those joke a day calendars? Keep the old ones and throw ‘em in your family lunch bags. The day may be gone but the joke's still good.

Silly Pasta Salads: Pasta now comes in all sorts of fun shapes: basketballs, grape clusters, Christmas trees...Make pasta salads using these silly shapes, and the kids will especially love them.

Five-A-Day: Remember that vegetables are good for us all. Focus on fun ways to eat them. Fresh vegetable relishes are tasty to pack and snack on. Try grilled corn and red and green peppers; black olive, tomato and grated cheese; red onion, oranges and cilantro. Pack some hummus dip, cut them with cookie cutters, grate them into a salad, roll raw veggies in chili powder, lime juice and salt...

Save your yogurt containers! After eating the yogurt, wash them thoroughly and fill with liquid Jell-O or pudding mixture (before it sets), cap, and refrigerate. This gives you individual snack-sized Jell-O or pudding at a fraction of the cost.

Take leftover cooked chicken and make chicken strips. Pack dippers such as salsa, ranch dressing, barbecue sauce, ketchup, honey mustard, or pizza sauce.

Use a variety of breads. Try Italian varieties, sourdough, different grains, Hawaiian bread, and different rolls.

Pack string cheese or cheese cubes. Send along bread sticks or crackers to eat with them. Or pack a prepared cheese spread with breadsticks for dipping.

Cut fresh fruit into bite-sized pieces and use fruit-flavored yogurt or pudding as a dip. Or mix the fruit with your prepared Jell-O (see Jell-O tip).

Each day include a short note to your child. Anything that shows them you love them and you are thinking of them will show your child you care.

Layer creamy peanut butter on a flour tortilla with jelly or fruit spread and roll up "wrap" or "jellyroll" style. Slice crosswise into pieces. Select the size tortilla depending on your child's appetite.

Heat frozen waffles and ma

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

South Beach lunchables are great & healthy!!
My 5 yr. old likes putting the wraps together or you can do so the night before & then have her put the dressing on before she eats it.



answers from Dallas on

You can try lean turkey or ham sandwhiches. Maybe even use cookie cutters to cut out fun shapes.



answers from Dallas on

I had (and will probably have) the same challenge. I made sandwiches in MANY shapes and sizes for variety, purchased a really good thermos and made mac & cheese, soup, spaghetti, sent pizza some times, veggies and dip, salad, fruit, cheese, and crackers.
Hope this helps.



answers from Dallas on

I second They are awesome. Also my son used to take spaghetti oh's, ravioli, and soups in his thermos. I just made sure it was boiling before I put it in the thermos and it was always plenty warm come lunch time.



answers from Lubbock on

What about Lunchables? Or maybe you let her take some resealable containers with ravioli or spaghetti o's.



answers from Dallas on

My kids are very picky. However, they love it when I cut their sandwiches in shapes. I just use various cookie cutters. They look forward to all their sandwiches, and they can even help by picking out what shape they want.

Good luck.

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