School Lunch That Won't Come Home

by Pregnancy.org Staff

You drag yourself out of bed, pack a nutritious lunch and assume your child will appreciate your best efforts. Here's the reality check. Lots of school lunches come home uneaten or appear belly-up in a trash can. A little ingenuity gives those lunches "edible" status!

Funky Food Ideas

lunch goodies on a plateKids are all about the visual! Add a little color, a little flair, and they'll be more apt to chow down on what you provide.

Believe it or not, lunches do have an effect on "social standing." Use these ideas and rise to the ultimate challenge of a nutritious meal with kid appeal.

Home-made "lunchables": "My kid loves Lunchables," Pregnancy.org member, Bonnie shares. "But I like the the choice of being able to create my own at a fraction of the cost, and with meats we have on hand for the rest of the family. This is one lunch item that never comes home."

  • Slice the meats and cheeses into square pieces.
  • Round crackers? Use a round cookie cutter, or donut cutter to form meats and cheeses into circles (save left-overs for your lunch).
  • Send a selection of meats and cheeses -- cheddar, jack, swiss, ham - any combination works. Mixing and matching meats, cheeses, and crackers adds interest.

Smoothies: Blend a smoothie the night before and freeze the concoction. This fruit-filled treat will be perfect to slurp by lunchtime and it acts like an ice pack.

Inside-out sandwiches: Fun to make and eat (or unwrap and devour). Start by putting a strip of mustard down a thick pretzel or pretzel rod. Wrap meat and cheese around it. Tada! An inside-out sandwich. Send the invention along with veggie sticks. This will be a popular item in the lunch box that other kids will be asking their moms to make.

Wraps: Begin with your favorite wrap or tortilla. Layer with cream cheese or hummus and add leftovers or lunch meats. Top it off with a healthy, vegetable crunch. Our personal favorites are chicken, bacon, spinach with ranch; or cream cheese, ham and shredded carrots. No matter what the combination, it's sure to be an change from the standard sandwich fare.

Grilled goodies and leftovers: Pizza, lasagna, and sandwiches are great the next day. Last night's dinner can be your child's lunch as well as your own.

leftover cheese sandwichWe overslept the alarm one morning. All I had left over in the fridge was last night's meal of grilled cheese. It went into the lunch box with an "Oh I hope he eats this." He came home that afternoon with "Mom that was a great sandwich, can I have it again?" Now I make extras for lunch the next day. ~Bonnie, Pregnancy.org Mom

Dipping day: Think of bite-sized and items great for "dipping." Ideas include grilled chicken bits with honey-mustard sauce, carrots and celery with hummus, sliced fruit with yogurt dip and baked pita slices with salsa.

Money and Time Savers

Tempted to grab the "individually wrapped" packages of snacks, fruits and veggies? You'll pay heavily for that convenience! Taking a little extra time saves you cash and eliminates potential additives and sugars.

  • Make it from home! Just about any sweet snack your kiddo desires can be made in your own kitchen. You'll not only save money, but control the ingredients, too!
  • Buy reusable containers. They may cost more upfront, but the investment will save you money. Newer items on the market, like reusable cloth snack bags, come in adorable patterns to suit your child's personality and are machine washable. It's an earth-friendly choice!
  • Pack what they'll eat. Many moms "over-pack" their kid's lunch in hopes that they'll eat something -- anything! Be reasonable with your portions and don't overdo it with the snack foods.
  • Talk with your children. Ask them what they really want for lunch, you may be surprised.
  • Avoid sugary juice drinks. Instead, put in a reusable water bottle and lemon or lime wedges. Kids have a blast making their own drinks! There are plenty of stylish BPA-free bottles these days.
  • Use the cafeteria facilities. Many lunchrooms have a microwave available for student use. Send leftovers for a change of pace.

Safety IS a Lunch Box Issue!

In a recent Texas study, 98% of home-packed meals were over the safe temperature limit by lunchtime. Somewhere around recess those bacteria are creeping into the food, threatening your child with potential illness. No reason to panic. Making it safe is easy as can be!

  • Chill all items before packing, even something you wouldn't typically refrigerate (like an apple). This lowers the overall temperature in the lunch bag. Juices can be put in the freezer the night before.
  • Use insulated bags! They'll keep the food cooler and protect from outside elements. Plus your child's more apt to bring home leftovers, containers and utensils with this handy sack.
  • Double up on ice packs. According to the study, one ice pack did not keep lunches cool until mealtime. Two packs, however maintained the desired minimum 40 degree temperature.
  • Pack smart. Place foods with the highest potential for spoilage (such as dairy) closest to, or directly on the ice packs.

It's time to think outside of the peanut butter sandwich box, and keep those lunches full of fresh food and ideas! If you focus on variety, you can beat the lunch box blues.

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