School has begun, and grocery carts are filling with goods for the lunch box and snacks. Is the lunch sent from home any better than that offered by the school? Look at options such as variety, cost and food safety.
For starters, I invite anyone to visit a school and partake of school lunch. I know that you will be surprised at how far they have come. The cost of a school lunch is guaranteed to cost less than what you can pack, though a sack lunch is a nice diversion periodically and sometimes faster to eat. A school lunch costs even less for a family of four making less than $41,348 annually.
What are some items to put in there? To be sure they will eat what you pack, start by strolling through the store for ideas in the refrigerated meat, produce and dairy sections. These appeal to kids but are not good options (high fat, high salt, high cost, low nutrient content).
Pack healthier options of the items in some of the fun containers to boost kid appeal. Consider rolled sandwiches (with tortilla or lettuce) or roll-up bread with goodies rolled in. The basic peanut butter and jam sandwich (though almond butter might be an even better choice) is always good. Cut-up pieces of fruit or vegetables with dip can be put in special containers.
Pack the lunch in a well-insulated lunch bag with cold packs surrounding perishable items for safety. If the food is cold going into the box, there is better chance of it being cold and tasting better when eaten. If you freeze water or yogurt, it can thaw during the morning to keep other foods cold. Thermal containers can be useful for smoothies or for hot food, as well.
Based on studies done in local cafeterias last year, children eat lunch in less than 10 minutes. Plus, there often is lunch-item swapping. You might think those fancy nuts and dried fruits are perfect for your child. That doesnt mean that your child does. It might be given to someone else or swapped for a donut. Therefore, I suggest packing several small options for a better chance that items will be eaten (or snacked on through the day). Be sure to include quality selections from each of the five food groups (whole grain, fruit, vegetable, dairy and protein).
If a small sweet is added, keep it small. A lunch consisting of a Lunchable and a package of Ding Dongs really doesnt give the child much to work with. An emphasis on getting protein into the lunch will help with sustained energy and brain power. High-carbohydrate items dont give much nutrition or sustained brain power. Things such as portion packs of peanut butter for dipping apple slices or smearing on top of mini rice cakes are quite handy.
Most important: Take a moment to add a special note to the childs lunchbox periodically. It could be a silly riddle, a smile, a thanks for some specific thing or good luck for that upcoming test. We all love to know someone is thinking of us add a little value to your childs moment.
email@example.com or 247-4355. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.