NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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A Healthy Lunch in a Bag

A Healthy Lunch in a Bag


                Eating lunch is the normal pattern for most school children but for a variety of reason, more and more students are bringing their own lunch from home.  Packing a lunch everyday can be a challenge. Following are some tips and tricks for cheap, easy and healthy lunches for your kids.

Getting your children to eat a healthy lunch must first come with the deal that whatever they don't eat at lunch time they must bring back home again and you will promise not to comment on it. For your children to eat well you need to know if they are even eating and if every time they bring an uneaten lunch home just to hear you lecture about it they will take the easy way out and dump it in the trash.
                If you have several children in a wide age group you know better than anyone that there is no such thing as one lunch that everyone will like and eat, you also probably don't have the time to customize every ones lunch. An alternative is to prepackage some aspects of their lunch that they can chose to take.
                Dried fruits, nuts or seeds can be easily packed in plastic sandwich bags. If you have a plastic bag sealer then you can make an assorted variety of sealed bags for them to take. The trick is finding a variety and switching it up as much as possible. You can bag up nuts such as almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, peanuts, or seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower or sesame. You can also bag up a variety of dried fruit like, cranberry, apricot, banana chips, raisins, prunes, currants, pineapple or cherries. Look for these items on sale at bulk stores or the bulk aisle of your grocery store.

                Reusable plastic containers from the grocery store that are very inexpensive but will last for several months (or years) with care. In these you can place fresh fruit like grapes, strawberries, cut up pears, cut up apples, cut up plums, cut up peaches, orange slices, diced cantaloupe, diced honeydew or whatever fruit is in season and on sale. Children are more likely to eat fruits that are cut. Give them a whole apple and it will probably return home, give them an apple that has been sliced or quartered and it will get eaten. Depending on what the fruit is, you could cut up two or three day’s supplies worth to have ready in the 'fridge.  Add a container of carrots, cut up cucumber, mini tomatoes, or other vegetable that they enjoy and if they want add a small container of salad dressing like Ranch or Caesar that they can use as a dip.

                Sandwiches are part of the typical school lunch. Depending on what else you are giving them they might not need a full sandwich and half a sandwich will do. Sandwich fillings are endless but listen to what they tell you. They might love having a salami sandwich at home but don't want to take it to school because the other kids tease them about the smell of garlic. Chicken, turkey and beef from the deli comes in many different flavors from smoked to roasted to spiced. Turkey with grated cheese and shaved lettuce might be a messy to eat between two slices of bread but it would be great rolled up in a soft tortilla. Maybe they would enjoy having diced chicken and celery with a bit of mayonnaise stuffed into a pita pocket. Bagels are also another substitute for bread. 

                While milk has always been the suggested beverage of choice for children they don't need to have it at every meal. The beverages that come in "juice boxes" don't always contain 100% juice. The cheaper varieties usually are just a flavored drink. You can use a refillable plastic juice boxes and pour them about 1/4 full and place in your freezer overnight with the (lid loosely on) and in the morning top it off with the rest of the juice. This will keep the juice cold until lunch time. You can do the same with their reusable water bottles.

                And what for a sweet treat?  Your best bet is again in the bulk aisles of your grocery store or bulk food store. Bag up an assortment of sweet snacks and let them chose one every morning. If you decide to buy cookies as their sweet snack make sure they don't get crushed.

                As children get older their tastes change and what they can eat changes. You wouldn't send a messy 7 year old to school with a thermos of chili but you would with a 14 year old. Even with foods that they swore they would not eat when they were young they now might enjoy if given a second chance.   

                What should you do if your child just won't eat what you are packing them for lunch? Think about how big your child is and what their appetite is like on the week end. You might be giving them way too much food. Find out if there is an underlying reason why your child is not eating lunch at school. They only have a short time to eat their lunch before they are sent out to the playground. They might be having too much fun with their seatmates or there might be something else that is going on.


                School lunches can be cheap, easy and healthy, it just takes a little bit of planning.

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