Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Healthy School Lunches by Kelly Wilson

Back to school doesn't have to mean boring, or "junk-laden" lunches for the kids.  Check out my guest blogger, Kelly Wilson, (an editor for Teaching Resource Center), healthy suggestions for back-to-school lunch boxes. 
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If your kids are sick of sandwiches, here are some tips to help provide healthy and fun school lunches!

Gather Opinions

What they eat for lunch is pretty important to kids, and they will let you know what they think whether you ask or not. Take advantage of their interest by writing down and buying some of the healthier options they would like to pack.

Getting your kids’ opinions will also help you introduce some options they may not have considered, like carrots and hummus. It will allow you to provide a wider variety of choices when it comes to healthy snacks your kids can eat at school.

Easy to Transport

One of the tricks to getting kids to pack healthy choices is that foods must be easy to transport. I have a bunch of small containers with lids in a low drawer that they can grab for hummus or peanut butter. To help my kids remember to bring the containers back, I pay them a small amount – like a penny or nickel – each day for every returned container. This routine lasts through the first few weeks of school and again in January, and helps get my kids in the habit of bringing the containers back.

There are also healthy pre-packaged food choices, like fruit leather, string cheese and crackers. If you don’t like the idea of putting those packages into your local landfill, turn the packages over to an organization like Terracycle - they upcycle this kind of packaging into products that we can use every day. Turn your kids’ school on to this idea by starting your own brigade!

Shop In Season

One of the most affordable ways to provide healthy lunch choices is to shop in season. Now through early fall, fresh summer fruit will be available at reasonable prices. As fall fades into winter, however, fresh local fruit and vegetables become scarce.

At that point, I rely on fruits like bananas or apples, which remain affordable throughout the year. Switching to vegetables like baby carrots and to different varieties of dried fruit is also inexpensive. These foods are also easy to transport, which makes them ideal to pack in school lunches.

Highly Nutritious Options

The following are foods that I like to have available. The guideline that I use with my kids is that they must have one choice from each category, and they can have up to two for more variety. Whatever doesn’t get eaten at school stays in the lunch bag to be brought back home, along with containers or packaging to send to Terracycle.

Salty Snacks

There are salty snacks that are higher in protein, requiring smaller portion sizes to satisfy the desire to snack. Some of these saltier options include:

*  Pretzels
*  Beef Jerky
*  Low-Fat Pepperoni (usually a turkey variety)
*  Pistachios
*  Sunflower Seeds
*  Puffed Rice products
*  Pita Chips or Carrots and Hummus

The Dairy Group
Dairy items provide kids with necessary nutrients as well as being filling snacks. Some of these include:

*  String Cheese
*  Yogurt packaged in tubes - Gogurt has a all-natural alternative, and you can also make and package your own
*  Cubed and cream cheese and crackers or fruit
*  Hard-boiled eggs

The Bread Choices

Whole-wheat bread options are filling and work well for school lunches. Foods included in the bread group are:

*  Bagels (with cream cheese or hummus)
*  Pita bread
*  Whole wheat crackers
*  Sandwiches made from whole wheat slices of bread
*  Pretzels or pita chips
*  Sweet Snacks

These sweet snacks are more nutritious than candy but are just as satisfying:

*  Fresh Fruit - Blueberries, Strawberries, Bananas, Apples, Grapes, and other budget-friendly fruit that's in season
*  Dried Fruit - Mango, Raisins, Apples and Fruit Leather
*  Dense, Multi-Grain Granola or Granola Bars (Kashi is a great brand)

I like to give my kids the option of buying milk at school or packing 100% juice products. Water is also a great choice!

Kelly Wilson is an editor for Teaching Resource Center, a Teacher Store and resource for free Teachers' Lesson Plans.

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