Lunchboxes-Essential for a Good School Year

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Purchasing your child’s lunch box and supplies is as important as school supplies and clothes. Well-insulated bags, insulated bottles for hot and cold foods, and several days’ supply of freezer gel packs are essential to serving your children safe lunches from home.

Buying the lunchbox is easy; deciding what to put in it can be the challenge! Finding the right combination of foods that are nutritious, that will not be a food safety concern, and that your child will eat can be your biggest challenge. Get your children involved in making some of the decisions and preparation and the task will be much easier!

Fueling our children’s lunches with good nutrition is an important part of a healthy school lunch.

Homemade Healthier Lunchables

Homemade Healthier Lunchables

Stock up on shelf-stable foods that will be good for them. Choose foods which are low in sodium, fat, sugar, and are high in fiber. Avoid packing lunches that are full of foods that are high in fat and sodium such as cookies and chips.

Try a few of these healthy swap outs instead. Pack apple slices instead of an apple pie snack. Choose baked chips over fried potato chips. Choose cookies and cupcakes that supply vitamins, minerals and fiber in addition to calories, for example oatmeal cookies, fig bars and pumpkin cupcakes.

Some other ideas are to try canned fruit or puddings with pop-top lids, applesauce, peanut butter, crackers, fresh fruit, bottled water, and boxes of 100 percent fruit juice. Treat cookies and chips as a treat that children enjoy in controlled quantities rather than at each meal.

When choosing a beverage, remember nutrients. Low fat milk and skim milk supply protein, calcium, riboflavin and calories. Fruit juices (look for 100 percent juice) supply vitamins, minerals and calories. Vegetable juices also supply important nutrients but are often high in sodium. Fruit drinks are often fortified in nutrients, but may be high in sugar.

Next, let’s talk about getting your child to eat what’s in the lunch box.

Let your child help shop for their lunch box foods! Teach them how to select a balanced lunch from food items you purchased or prepared together.

Try putting pre-packaged or home-packaged nonperishable lunch foods on the counter or in a cupboard within your child’s reach. Put packaged perishable food on a low shelf in the refrigerator. Group foods in bowls or boxes by food group and then let your child build their own lunch. A balanced lunch might include a sandwich containing a high protein food, one item from the vegetable group, one item from the fruit group, and a beverage. If the beverage is not milk, consider adding a tube or carton of yogurt or a stick of string cheese, with an ice pack of course.

Kids like variety and are sometimes bored with the same foods, so keep exploring different options in each food category. Add pizzazz by packing something extra a few times a week. For example, instead of a sandwich every day, try turning into a wrap, burrito, or pinwheels. The same fruit can be eaten in many forms. An apple can be fresh, sliced, with peanut butter, as applesauce, or as dehydrated apple chips.

Once you have decided what to pack, now it is time to think of safety. Start with fresh, clean food. Wash your hands, food preparation surfaces, and utensils with soap and water before you prepare food.

Keep perishable foods cold and hot foods hot. Insulated lunch boxes are the best way to keep foods cold until lunch. Pack perishable foods like meat, or dairy products next to a frozen gel pack, a frozen applesauce cup or a frozen juice box.

Freezer gel packs will keep food cold until lunchtime, but generally not all day. To extend the length of time a gel pack will keep food cold, pre-pack everything in an open insulated lunch box minus the gel pack the night before and refrigerate. In the morning add the frozen gel pack and close tightly.

Remember to pack something extra. Add a new pencil, eraser, printed napkin or sticker. Consider adding a coupon for an extra book before bed or 15 additional minutes on the computer, TV, or phone. A special note from you, an age appropriate cartoon strip clipped from the paper, or a coloring page and crayon, can also make lunches a big hit. Have a great school year!

For more information, contact the Yadkin County Extension Office, 336-849-7908 or visit us in Suite 201 at the Yadkin County Agricultural Building. N.C. Cooperative Extension is an equal opportunity provider. We are online at, on Facebook at N.C. Cooperative Extension Yadkin County, or on the web at

Homemade Healthier Lunchable!

Start with lean turkey or ham and cut into squares or circles. Slice a favorite cheese and cut into shapes using small cookie cutters. Add whole-wheat crackers and you are ready to pack.

You can make a pizza variety using sandwich thins as the crust. Make your own sauce or try a low-sodium canned. Add grated cheese and favorite toppings, like miniature pepperoni slices, ham, pineapple, or green peppers.

Add raw fruits and/or vegetables to round out the lunch. Package them in snack-size zip lock baggies or you might even pack the items in a divided plastic container.

Of course, you are not limited to lunch meat, crackers & cheese or pizza. Try chicken strips with a smoothie or turn a boring sandwich into a pinwheel. You can fill them with all sorts of yummy things. Send with a ranch-style dressing or salsa.

As seen in the Yadkin Ripple.