Thinking Outside the Lunchbox

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It's no secret that the choices offered in most school cafeterias leave something to be desired, both nutritionally and taste-wise. And convenience "kid" lunches-you know, those pre-packaged cracker, cheese and meat slice combos you find in the refrigerated section at the store-aren't a great alternative. They're loaded with sodium, artificial flavors, preservatives, extraneous packaging and do little to teach your child about healthy eating habits.

Instead, why not send your children off to school every day armed with a homemade school lunch that is packed with vitamins, lean protein and other good stuff to feed their growing bodies and developing brains?

Of course, the nutritional value of the lunch you pack for your child is null and void if it ends up getting tossed in the trashcan or traded for a pack of Double Stuf Oreos. That's why you need to think outside the lunchbox when putting together a midday school meal that will really make the grade.

Guidelines for Assembling an A+ School Lunch

The most important thing is to plan out meals each week or at least the night before. If you feel rushed in the morning, you're more likely to be forced to throw together an unappetizing amalgam of the week's leftovers or yet another sloppy PB&J.

Choose meals that are appropriate for your budget, your child's tastes and that are realistic for your time constraints. Listed below are a few guidelines for assembling a winning school lunch:

  • Invest in a cute/cool insulated lunch bag, a Thermos and a few reusable containers in a variety of shapes and sizes;
  • Chances are good that your child won't have access to a refrigerator or microwave, so choose foods that don't require either;
  • Use ice packs for any items that need to stay cool;
  • Pick foods that aren't likely to spill or require too much assembly on your child's part;
  • Kids love things that are bite-sized or miniaturized and are more likely to enjoy something that is tailored to their small hands;
  • Throw in an individually wrapped antibacterial hand-wipe and a napkin;
  • Know your child's school policy on peanuts and whether they are banned from kids' lunches and snacks; and
  • Be sensitive to your child's humiliation factor and don't pack anything "stinky" (hello, egg salad!).