It’s that time of year again, and the age-old question of what to feed your children for lunch while they at school is upon you once again. With all of the talk about the poor quality of school lunches, you may decide to start sending a lunch with your children. But if they are like most kids, their first choices may not be the healthiest or the least expensive.
To recharge them after a long morning and get them through the day, avoid sugary foods and provide at least one source of protein. Remember to pack a dairy product, use whole grains, and give them at least two veggie or fruit items.
Here are some simple ideas for keeping them healthy and strong while keeping your budget under control.
* Sandwiches - Peanut butter, deli slices, cheese, or even leftover meat loaf or roast beef all make great sandwich fixings. Pair them with whole grain bread, pitas or tortillas. Add the complimentary condiments in separate containers to keep the bread from getting soggy, and include a plastic knife for preparation.
* Jello - Most children adore a Jello snack in their lunch box, but purchasing these pre-made can get pricey. Instead, buy boxes of Jello powder and mix it up over the weekend to dole out each day. Use fruit juice in place of water or add canned fruit to the mix to take care of one of your daily servings of fruit. Invest in some small plastic containers that are about the size of the pre-made Jello cups to make it easier.
* Fresh fruit - Toss an apple, orange or banana into the lunch box each day. If it isn’t eaten at lunch, chances are it will get eaten after school. Fresh fruit is better than canned fruit and if sent whole it doesn’t require a special container of its own.
* Fresh vegetables - Baby carrots, celery slices, broccoli pieces, cherry tomatoes and even salad are easy to carry in a lunch box and can stand alone or go well paired with dip or dressing in a separate container.
* Soup - Mix up a batch of home-made soup or stew over the weekend or open a can of soup and heat it up to boiling before school. Pour it into a thermos and it should still be safely hot by lunchtime. Pair it with items that do not need to be cold to ensure everything in the lunch box remains at a safe temperature.
* Chips - You can avoid regular potato chips and still have a cheap, healthy addition to your child’s meal. While pricier, whole grain and baked chips will provide a nutritional advantage over the white flour and fried varieties. Purchase large bags of chips and dole them out in baggies or washable plastic containers each day to keep costs down.
* Milk or yogurt - Many schools will allow your child to purchase a container of milk, or you can send along a thermos of ice-cold milk. Send a container of yogurt; if frozen overnight it should be nicely thawed by lunch time and will help keep other items cold during the morning.
With many of these options, refrigeration or heating is required but probably not allowed. Investing in a good quality thermal lunch box, a freezer pack and a thermos to keep items hot or cold is well worth it. Use washable containers for each item instead of disposable baggies to keep your long-term expense down.
Making wise choices for your children’s lunches this school year will keep both them and your bank account healthy and strong.