Tips for Packing Nutritious and Tasty School Lunches
Back-to-school means back to packing lunch boxes. About 41% of elementary students bring lunch to school on any given day, but research from Tufts University and The University of Texas at Austin has found most packed lunches are of low dietary quality, containing processed snack foods, sugary drinks and empty calories while lacking in vegetables and whole grains. We have previously reported that eating more fruits and vegetables may be linked to better performance in the classroom. Here are our tips for packing a safe, nutritious and delicious school lunch box.
Keep it Cool
When it comes to packed lunches, food safety is first. Nix old-fashioned brown paper bags and invest in an insulated lunch tote—some come with a built-in cooling compartment. Keep perishable foods like yogurt, turkey and hummus cold by adding an ice pack or better yet, a frozen water bottle—by lunchtime it will be thawed and ready to drink. If you are packing a hot lunch such as Chili or Vegetable Lasagna, first pour boiling water into a thermos and let sit for ten minutes. Then pour out the water, add the hot food to the thermos and close the lid tightly to seal in the heat.
Think Outside the Sandwich
PB&J again? Prevent lunch boredom before it begins. Our Hoot Owl recipe kicks lunch up a notch with a creative design of healthful ingredients that will entice your child to dig in. Lunches don’t have to come in sandwich form. Prepare larger batches at dinner of your child’s favorite meals so there will be leftovers to pack the next day. Grain salads made with whole-wheat pasta or quinoa tossed with veggies like cherry tomatoes or chopped spinach are also kid-friendly options. Another way to switch things up is to skip the entrée concept all together and provide a sampling of healthy foods for your child to mix and match. Whole grain crackers, bean dip, peanut butter, veggie sticks and apple slices makes a balanced and fun combination for kids.
Jazz Up the Veggies
It’s no surprise that some kids don’t love eating vegetables, but a few simple tricks can help make veggies more appealing and fun. Choose colorful vegetables like red bell peppers, carrots and cucumbers and use small cookie cutters to create fun shapes. Don’t let the veggies go bare—a 2013 Penn State study found kids are more likely to eat and enjoy vegetables when paired with dip. Hummus, low-fat Ranch, or yogurt-herb dip are options kids may like.
Every child loves a sweet treat with lunch, but traditional packaged snacks like cupcakes and cookies can be laden with refined sugar and saturated fat. Utilize the natural sweetness of fruit to create healthful happy endings for lunch. Pack bite-sized cubes of pineapple, mango or cantaloupe along with vanilla yogurt dip for a nutrient-packed dessert that’s fun to eat. Chocolate-dipped strawberries or bananas are also sure to please a child’s sweet tooth while offering the nutritional benefits of fruit.
Want more ideas for back-to-school meals? Check out our new recipes on http://www.dole.com
Published September 1, 2015