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Hacks for the Perfect Packed Lunch

Photo by: iStock

Don’t leave your child disappointed at lunchtime when they open a packed bag with a mushy PB&J or brown banana! Make this meal something they can get excited about. The perfect packed lunch is both appealing and nutritious. A few hacks help you send your children to school with a lunch that they’d never trade.

It’s All in the Package

The wrong package leads to smashed sandwiches and crushed crackers. Invest in a few bento box-style containers that have three or four divided areas, hard sides and a lid. Bento boxes make the meal visually appealing and ensures food stays intact all morning in your child’s backpack.

Ditch plastic baggies and go for reusable bags or plastic containers instead. You’ll save the environment and provide stronger, leakproof protection for snacks.

Fruit Tricks

Fruit adds healthy vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to meals, but a cut-up apple turns brown and bananas get squished. The way you treat fruit matters:

*Wrap slices of banana in a tortilla that’s been spread with peanut butter and all-natural jam to keep them from turning brown
*Freeze blueberries in a small plastic tub with a lid and they double as an ice pack
*Pre-slice an apple and reassemble it. Hold it together with a rubber band to keep it from turning brown

Vegetables may seem like a hard sell. But, if you send them already cut up with dip—such as hummus or plain peanut butter— they are well received says Andrea Atzbach, mom of three school-age kids in Colorado Springs, Colorado and a veteran lunch-packer.

Plan Ahead

Morning is a rushed time. Add packing lunch to the schedule and it only contributes to the chaos. “Put lunch bags and containers in a predictable place,” suggests Atzbach, “this way you can quickly assemble lunch.”

It also helps to plan ahead:

*Make a large batch of chicken and egg salad at the beginning of the week. Each morning, your child can choose what kind of sandwich to make
*Freeze peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Sunday night and grab one each morning (the sandwiches thaw by lunchtime). Vary the nut butter (almond, walnut, cashew) and jelly flavors for variety
*Pack all the non-perishables the night before and add the yogurt, sandwich and fruit in the morning. Pretzels, crackers, trail mix and nut butter packs can sit overnight

Encourage Independence

You don’t have the micromanage every lunch decision. When your child chooses his own meal, he may be more likely to eat it. Plus, it teaches them how to navigate their own food decisions. Atzbach notes that she “asks them what they want, but certain things are non-negotiable, such as protein and vegetables.”

Other ways to get kids involved in lunch-making:

*Put fruit, cheese sticks, bars and yogurt pouches in a lower drawer in the fridge so it’s easily accessed by your kids for their own packing pleasure
*Place a sticky note on the fridge that lists the basic components of a lunch (protein, fruit, vegetable, etc.) and allow your child to pick one of each to craft his own meal
*Have your kids write down the healthy snacks they want to include in lunches or take them shopping with you so they can pick them out on their own

Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef and a Certified Nutrition Therapist. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University. She’s the proud mom of two kids, who love dance, rock climbing and animals.

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