Children's Nutrition: Lunch Box Ideas For Back-To-School

Wednesday, October 4, 2006 - 2:03pm

By Heidi Reichenberger McIndoo, MS, RD

Another school year, another dilemma: What to pack for your child's lunch that is nutritious and yet won't get traded or thrown away? Packing a successful meal isn't difficult, but it does require some creative thinking.

8 lunch box tips for children

1.   Involve your child in making the lunch

Kids are less likely to throw away a meal they helped create. However, I don't suggest that you let them loose in the kitchen! Packing lunches should be a joint effort. The child's input should be taken seriously, while a parent provides suggestions to help balance the meal.

2.   Pack lunches the night before

Finding the time and patience in the morning to pack a healthy meal is almost impossible for many families.

3.   Be creative in the packed lunch for your child

For example, when choosing the bread try different types like oatmeal, cinnamon, raisin and French. Try different shapes, like pitas, tortillas, English muffins and even hot dog buns. Also, consider different types of crackers instead of bread.

4.   For extra nutrition and an interesting crunch, pack "add-ons"

These could be lettuce or spinach leaves, thinly sliced apples or cucumbers, or shredded carrots. Pack them in a separate container to prevent sogginess. As with the rest of the meal, be sure to let your child have some choice about these.

5.   Packed lunch: consider hot foods for variety

Prepare most of the meal the night before. In the morning, simply heat the food and pop it in a thermos. Some good choices include hearty soups, and baked beans with sliced low-fat hot dogs. Sometimes dinner leftovers work well too.

6.   Make sure it's a balanced packed lunch

It's okay to have a high-fat or high-sugar food, but there should also be some with less fat and sugar, and more vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Usually, including a serving from as many of the food groups as possible will accomplish this. The food groups are: fruit; vegetables; grains; meat/nuts, and dairy.

7.   Mix it up - don't make your child the same packed lunch every day

If your child opens the lunch box and finds the same meal every day, it won't take long for the trading and tossing to begin.

8.   Be cool - use insulated lunch boxes for chilled options

Some foods may need to be kept chilled. Insulated lunch boxes or bags work well. Freezing the sandwich will also help keep the meal cold. The sandwich will thaw by lunch time. This works for most sandwiches, but don't freeze mayonnaise, mayonnaise-type salad dressing, and hard-cooked eggs. Water bottles packed frozen will do the same job.

Sample lunches

  • A 100% juice, juice box; yogurt; a tortilla, spread with a bit of low-fat mayonnaise or other salad dressing, one or two slices of turkey, a few lettuce leaves, and shredded carrots, and rolled up; and a Rice Krispie bar.
  • Low-fat milk, purchased at school, three mini sandwiches made with saltine crackers and peanut butter, a plum, and a pudding cup.
  • Bottled water, a 1/4 cup of almonds mixed with a 1/4 cup of dried cranberries, a dozen baby carrots with a bit of dip, 1 ounce of diced cheese, wheat crackers (like wheat thins), and one homemade cookie.

A small time investment reaps big rewards

Just a few extra minutes planning and prepping and you can send your kids off for the day with not only a nutritious lunch, but one that tastes great too!