Can you believe summer is almost over? Back-to-school planning involves many things: new clothes, supplies, shoes, and don’t forget their favorite part of the day – lunch! While we want to try and balance our children’s meals with healthy and delicious foods, we need to stay in line with our budget as well. Below are some helpful hints and tips that may help you decide “to pack, or not to pack”.
- According to choosemyplate.gov, school meals are based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture standards. This means they have fruits and veggies at school every single day, half of all grains offered are whole grain, low-fat and fat-free milk options are always available, and some portion sizes are smaller while still offering all the nutrition their growing bodies need.
- School lunch is a great option when time is an obstacle. Set aside some of your grocery budget and pay for their lunch a few weeks (or months) in advance!
- Don’t forget about the free/reduced lunch programs offered at all public schools. If your child qualifies, they may receive meals for less than half the cost or for free. For more information on the School Lunch Program, you can review the fact sheet
- Packing your child’s lunch provides more control over what they eat. If you’re concerned that they aren’t choosing the fruits and veggies the school is offering, home lunch may be a great option for you. Picky eaters may benefit from home lunch as well. Allow them to make some of the food choices, offering ideas from all five food groups.
- Home lunches can offer a lot of variety. Sandwiches can get boring, so throw in cheese, crackers, and lunch meat instead, or shake it up with a wrap, tortilla, or quesadilla. Kids love to make their own creations, so give them the ingredients and let them make it their way!
- I can tell you from experience that if you pack it, they’ll eat it (most of the time). When carrot sticks, apples, and grapes are offered, chances are they won’t come back in their lunch bag. Just keep offering the healthy options along with some of their other favorites. Most of the time, lunch can be made with what you already have in the fridge or pantry.
Do both! Pre-pay for some school lunches in advance. Your child’s school will offer the lunch calendar online and/or in the office. Have them choose school lunch on days when they really like what is being offered, and home lunch on other days. If you plan ahead, packing may not be such a hassle or a surprise. If you choose this option and they forget their lunch at home, school lunch is still there to feed their body and energize their brains!
On the days you do decide to pack a lunch, try the ideas below.
Who doesn’t love cinnamon rolls? This recipe is a quick and easy version perfect for a lunch box. My daughter couldn’t believe I let her have frosting for lunch! Sugar in moderation is just fine. Use whole wheat bread and balance out the meal with other healthy options from the fruit, veggie, dairy, and protein group.
Make up a big batch of Fruit & Chicken Salad for the whole family. Pack it in the kids’ lunch boxes and save some for yourself. Eat it plain, on a bed of rice, rolled in a tortilla, or like you see here – in a pita pocket. If your kids aren’t used to eating lunch out of a pocket, they’re sure to get a kick out of it.
Do your kids like playing with Easter eggs? Mine sure do. They put candy, small toys, or special rocks from their rock collection inside the eggs. They hide them around the house and the yard, and take turns finding them. When you want to make your child’s lunch more fun, try putting different foods inside the eggs.
I chose carrots, canned peaches, oyster crackers, cheese cubes, and almonds. Fill in the rest of their lunch box with tiny turkey and cheese sandwiches, applesauce, berries, and a string cheese.
Use whole wheat tortillas to make up a batch of cinnamon crisps, full of whole grain goodness. Pair them with fruits, veggies, low-fat yogurt, and some almonds to make it a MyPlate meal.
Uncrustables are a popular food item for kids. You can make your own at home. All you need is a Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich with the crusts cut off. It’s that simple! Use cookie cutters to make the sandwich into different shapes for even more fun.
As you prepare for back to school, remember that fueling your kids with good nutrition is the best option – whether you decide to pack or not to pack. If you’d like even more ideas for school lunch, click here and here. Enjoy!
Candi Merritt and Becky Egli
Certified Nutrition Education Abassadors