For many parents, a big part of the morning or evening routine is preparing lunch for the kids. Here are a few ways to save money, pack smart and prevent foodborne illness throughout the school year:
Did your kids love last night’s dinner? Heat the leftovers up in the morning and pack them in a thermos for lunch the next day. Ensure the thermos can properly maintain the temperature before sending it off to school in a lunch.
Go easy on processed foods
Though they are super convenient and kids tend to love them, pre-packaged lunches are typically packed with added sodium and preservatives. Use them sparingly, only when you are in a rush or don’t have time to prepare lunch the night before.
Mix it up
There’s no hard and fast rule that every lunch needs a sandwich and chips. Typically, kids love finger foods. Try chicken chunks or deli turkey roll-ups with a handful of grapes or other cut fruits and vegetables.
Try to include something from each food group:
- Whole-grain breads (with or without crusts) are a good source of fiber.
- Air-popped popcorn with Parmesan cheese is a welcome treat.
- Spread almond butter, all-fruit spread or cream cheese on rice cakes.
- Whole-grain crackers and pretzels are good, crunchy finger food alternatives.
- Use seasonal fruit ― it’s usually cheaper and typically tastes better.
- Fruit that’s easy to eat is more likely to be eaten. Cut oranges and core apples and pears. Use a few dashes of lemon juice to keep apples and pears from browning.
- Buy 100 percent real fruit leathers or roll-ups and make sure canned or packaged fruits are packed in 100 percent fruit juice, not syrup.
- Use berries, bananas or dried fruit on peanut butter sandwiches instead of jellies.
- Cut raw vegetables and serve them with a favorite dip (guacamole, salsa, light ranch, hummus or peanut butter).
- Add shredded carrots or cucumbers to ham or turkey sandwiches.
- String cheese and cheese cubes are a great source of calcium.
- Freeze yogurt the night before; it will be thawed by lunch and provides a second cold source for the lunch.
- Provide money to buy milk at school.
- Always be aware of nut allergies that might impact other students at the lunch table. If your child does not prefer meat, look beyond the peanut for a protein option. Almonds, cashews and sunflower seeds are tasty on their own and great in salads. Try mixing nuts with dried fruit and dark chocolate chips for a homemade trail mix.
- A peeled, hard-boiled egg, hummus or black bean dip are some other nontraditional protein options.
- When using processed lunch meats, be aware of the high sodium content.
Keep it clean
It doesn’t matter if the lunch is hot or cold; it’s important that food is handled and stored safely to prevent foodborne illness.
- Make sure lunches that contain perishable items (lunch meat, yogurt, cheese, eggs, mayonnaise) are packed with at least two cold sources.
- A frozen water bottle or juice box can also act as a cold source and will typically melt by lunchtime.
- Ensure all produce is thoroughly washed before being packed.
- Never reuse bags or packaging from previous lunches. All reusable containers should be cleaned thoroughly after each use.
Makes: 1 • Prep time: 5 minutes
1 Tbsp. almond butter
1 whole-wheat wrap
1 tsp. honey
1 slice of bacon, crumbled
- Lightly toast a whole-wheat wrap and cook bacon until crisp.
- Spread almond butter, crumble bacon and drizzle honey onto wrap.
- Peel and place the banana on the edge of the wrap and roll. Gently press the banana as you roll to help flatten.
- Cut the wrap into four easy-to-eat portions.
Per serving: Calories 332, Fat 12.4g, Carbs 43.6g, Protein 16g
Makes: 6 • Prep time: 20 minutes
1 lb. spiral pasta
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced
6 Tbsp. light Italian dressing
2 pieces of string cheese, chopped
10 slices turkey pepperoni, chopped
- In a pot of boiling water, cook pasta until tender, approximately 10 minutes. Rinse under cool water then drain.
- In a large bowl, combine pasta, bell pepper, tomatoes, dressing, cheese and pepperoni.
- Toss and refrigerate overnight.
Per serving: Calories 264, Fat 4.8g, Carbs 43g, Protein 13g
Bento box options
1 cup bow tie pasta with cut, raw vegetables like broccoli and carrots
1 cup raw spinach with 2 Tbsp. light dressing
¾ cup cut melon
2 fig cookies
Almond butter and banana sandwich on whole-wheat bread, cut into quarters
10 baby carrots
¼ cup whole-grain crackers
Pretzel skewers box
4 slices of deli meat (ham, turkey, etc.) and a slice of cheese rolled and cut. Skewer with pretzel sticks.
½ cup mandarin oranges
½ cup nuts
1 container of fat-free, sugar-free pudding
Finger food box
2 pieces of string cheese
1 cup of whole-wheat crackers
1 cup broccoli or cauliflower cut into quarters
½ cup blueberries
2 fig cookies
1 cup of bean salad
½ cup cubed melon
1 cup of whole-grain tortilla chips with 2 Tbsp. salsa
8 cubes of reduced-fat cheese