Packing a Healthy School Lunch

Children who eat a nutritious lunch perform better in school. The best lunch is a combination of foods that supply protein, fat and carbohydrates to sustain energy and concentration for several hours. Eating foods from at least three food groups gives children the nutrients and energy they need to feel good and do well in school.

What should you pack?
Children\'s input should be the first ingredient. Children who help select and prepare their meals tend to make better choices. You may need to establish some ground rules for what goes into the lunch first. Talk to them about what they like to eat and take them with you on your next trip to the grocery store. 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.

Here are some of our favorite lunches to get you started.

Spice up your typical sandwiches by using different whole grain products instead of plain white bread: Different breads (9-grain, whole-wheat, spelt, kamut, sourdough)

* Rice cakes
* Plain or flavored bagels
* Whole-wheat buns
* English muffins
* Matzo crackers
* Pita bread

Dress up plain pita bread by trying something new.

Pita Pizza: Spread low-fat ricotta cheese in the inside of the pita. Then stuff sliced tomatoes (or any type of pizza toppings) and any leftover cooked meat into the pita. Drizzle with marinara sauce and top off with low-fat mozzarella.

Stir-fry Pita: Mix steamed rice, mixed vegetables, and leftover meat with teriyaki sauce. Then stuff teriyaki mixture into pita.

Wraps and More
The possibilities for making a healthy lunch with wraps are endless. There are many flavors of wraps now available at your local grocery store. These balanced, nutritious wrap ideas can be eaten cold:

* Peanut butter roll-ups
* Ham and cheese wrap
* Fajita roll-up
* Turkey and cranberry wrap
* Pizza rolls
* Chicken quesadilla
* Crunchy vegetable and hummus wrap

During cold weather, pack a soup lunch that will bring the flush back to your child\'s cheeks. To keep the soup hot until lunchtime, first warm up any leftover soup, then pour into a Thermos®. Pack a small roll of bread or some crackers to go along with this hot lunch. Opt for broth based soups such as chicken noodle or vegetable to avoid excess calories.

Safe Food Handling Tips for Lunches and Snacks
It is especially important to take extra precautions and practice safe food handling when packing a school lunch. If lunches are not refrigerated, they provide the perfect environment for bacteria in food to multiply rapidly and cause foodborne illness. Follow the suggestions below to avoid foodborne illnesses:

* Encourage children to wash their hands before eating!
* Include a package of moist towelettes in case soap and water is not accessible.
* Use an insulated lunch bag with a commercial ice pack. Sandwiches with meat and cheese fillings will stay cool, tasty and safe.
* Teach your youngsters to keep their lunch bags out of the direct sun.
* Use a chilled Thermos® to keep milk, juice or other perishables cold.
* Add a box of 100% fruit juice or cup of yogurt that has been frozen overnight. By lunchtime, they will be defrosted and will help keep the other foods cool.
* Include foods that do not need refrigeration like peanut butter sandwiches, whole grain crackers, dried fruit, fresh fruit, granola bars and unopened cans of pudding.
* Wash fruits and vegetables before packing into the lunch bag.
* Wash insulated lunch bags after every use.

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