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Sherrie Norris Lovin’ Spoonful Cooking Column: Back To School With A Lunch Box Filled With Good, Fun Food

By Sherrie Norris

Just as the wheels on the bus go round and round, so do the thoughts of most parents this time of year when trying to come up with fun and nutritious lunches to pack for their kids.

Sure, you want them to have a well-balanced midday meal, and while you prefer they eat it hot in the cafeteria, sometimes there’s just no way around their requests. 

So, head to the fridge, pull out the bologna and cheese and pack a lunch. Or better yet, plan ahead the night before and pack a lunch that your children will not only enjoy, but one that you know will be good for them, at the same time.

The first step in planning is to ask what your child wants to eat. It’s useless to pack something that he or she refuses to eat at home, even if they’ve heard a hundred times how good it is for them. 

What they eat really does matter and it’s important to keep in mind that children get about one-third of their daily calories at lunch. 

Following are a few lunch suggestions that might keep things interesting, as well as healthy for your children’s noontime meal.

Keep in mind that the actual time allotted for eating lunch at most schools only lasts for about 20 minutes and is filled with distractions. Make sure the lunch foods you pack are easy to eat, packed in easily opened packages, and don’t require peeling or special tools. 

• Small children may not eat very much at one sitting. Think about packing appetizer portions instead of a large sandwich and whole banana. You can also include more choices if the quantity of each is smaller. 

• Small foods are not only easier for children to handle, but they are more fun to eat. Cut sandwiches into smaller pieces, use tiny tortillas for wraps and small sandwich buns, serve baby carrots and peel and cut fruit into smaller pieces to interest your child in the foods you pack. 

• Think about different types of bread for sandwiches and dippers. Try crackers, mini waffles, rice cakes, mini croissants, pita bread, mini muffins, small bagels, tortillas, focaccia, raisin or cinnamon bread. 

• If your child wants the same thing day after day, go ahead and pack it, as long as the overall meal is nutritious and you are sure your child eats it. Kids don’t like a lot of change in what they eat. It takes 10 to 12 introductions to a new food before a child is usually willing to even taste it. 

• Take some time to look at the prepackaged lunches in your grocer’s refrigerated section. These appeal to kids, but aren’t very nutritious. You can pack the same types of snack foods, but use healthier choices for more kid appeal. 

• Salsa, hummus, bean dips, or fruit dips with baked chips and veggies or fruit are good lunchbox choices, since these foods contain more vitamins and fiber. 

• Make sure to think about food safety. Freeze juice boxes or small gel packs and place in the bag. The juice will keep other foods cool and will thaw to just the right temperature and consistency by lunchtime. Use an insulated thermos for hot foods like soups and stews, and cold salads too. 

• If you make your own snack mixes, you can include healthy additions like dried fruits, unsalted nuts, pretzels, and baked crackers. Kids love to munch on something crunchy and sweet or savory. 

• Instead of making sandwiches, consider packing individual sandwich ingredients to let your child make their own sandwich at lunch, or eat the ingredients separately. Many children don’t like to eat more than one food at a time, since their sense of taste is very intense. 

• Cereal bars can pack a lot of nutrition into a food kids love to eat. Include raisins, currants, or other dried fruits in the recipe for additional flavor, color and nutrition. 

• Make sure to include something fun – a sticker, cookies wrapped in plastic wrap with a ribbon tie, sandwiches cut into playful shapes, or meats and cheeses or fruits threaded on a caramel apple stick (which is safer than a traditional kabob stick). 

  • it’s almost impossible to leave out a few chips and sweets for a special touch. Try items such as pretzels, graham crackers and rice cakes for crunchy alternatives and maybe everyone will be happy when the lunch bell rings! 

• Hide a special note or card in your children’s lunch box, telling them how much you love them and how special they are to you. It’s a guaranteed self-esteem booster, and it will give your child the extra confidence he or she needs to get through a test or a difficult subject in school.

A Few More Ideas To Try Just For Fun

  • Greek Yogurt, granola, peppers, cherry tomatoes, grapes, mini muffin 
  • Ham and cheese mini bagel, banana, a cup of Greek yogurt, 
  • Peanut butter & banana tortilla roll-ups, unsweetened applesauce pouch, celery sticks 
  • Hummus and veggie wraps, dried fruit, crackers, hard-boiled eggs
  • Hummus, pita, cucumber slices, carrot sticks, homemade granola bar
  • Turkey and cream cheese tortilla pinwheels, dried fruit, baby tomatoes
  • Cucumber tea sandwiches, apple slices with peanut butter, cheese stick 
  • PB&J tortilla roll up, Cocoa-Nut Almond Energy Balls, grapes, bell pepper slices 
  • BLT on a soft roll, fruit leather, cheese stick, sugar snap peas
  • Laughing cow cheese wedges, pretzels, fresh cherries, lemon poppy seed mini muffin
  • Chicken & Ranch Wraps, goldfish crackers, peach, celery sticks