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Healthy school lunches

Kids who eat a healthy lunch are ready to learn. While hectic family schedules can be a challenge to manage, taking the stress out of making school lunches is as easy as getting the kids involved and planning ahead. Here are a few simple ideas to get your family started.

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Five tips for packing healthy lunches

  1. On the weekend, plan school lunches with your kids for the week ahead. Try to include three of the four food groups in every lunch.
  2. Stock up on healthy grab-and-go foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grain pita pockets, yogurt, and hard-boiled eggs.
  3. Use dinner leftovers to make quick and easy lunches the following day.
  4. Prep as much of the lunch as you can the night before.  Spend a few extra minutes when preparing dinner to cut up extra veggies and fruit for tomorrow's lunch.
  5. Get the kids involved. Let them plan the menu, write the grocery list, shop for food, and make the lunches… with your help of course! Kids who help make and pack their lunch are more likely to eat it too.

Need some menu ideas for lunch?

Healthy grab-and-go lunch ideas

Stock up on easy-to-grab snacks that can be put together in a pinch for a picnic-style lunch.

  • ready-to-eat veggies like carrots and  cucumbers
  • fruit like apples, bananas, or oranges
  • fruit cups (fruit salad packed in juice, applesauce, mandarin oranges, pears, peaches)
  • single servings of lower-fat milk or 100% fruit juice
  • lower-fat yogurt
  • small packets of dried fruit like raisins or cranberries
  • whole grain crackers or mini-pitas
  • hard-boiled eggs (they keep for one week in the fridge with their shells on)

Healthy cafeteria options

Making lunches for your kids helps fuel their bodies and minds at school. But if you know they plan on eating in the cafeteria or getting take-out, it's a good idea to share these tips to help them choose a healthier lunch.

  • Make your order healthier by asking for extra veggies (raw or steamed).
  • Order a smaller portion or share your meal with friends.
  • Order foods that are lower in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium. For example, choose salad instead of fries, or grilled meat and fish over fried chicken fingers and fish sticks.
  • Ask for gravy, sauces, and salad dressing "on the side," and use only a small amount.

Keep foods safe to eat

Young children (ages five and under) are at an increased risk of food poisoning. Older kids can get sick because of harmful foodborne bacteria too. Here are a few tips on packing safe school lunches to help keep all your children happy and healthy.

  • Use insulated food containers to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  • For hot foods, fill your insulated container with boiling water and let it sit for a few minutes. Heat hot foods until piping hot. Empty the water in the container and fill with the heated food.
  • For cold foods, use mini ice packs or pack a juice box that has been frozen overnight. The juice should defrost by lunch, just in time to drink.
  • Wash fruit and vegetables before packing.
  • Keep lunches in the fridge until you're ready to leave for school.
  • Throw out any perishable foods that come home. They are not safe to eat.
  • Wipe lunch bags daily with hot, soapy water.

Learn more about food safety for young children.

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