Holly Ebel: It’s in the bag

September 12, 2018

Making kids their lunches to take to school is, honestly, something I don’t miss. Coming up with a lunch that is tasty as well as nutritious can sometimes be more challenging than what to fix for dinner.

Millions of parents face the dilemma of packing lunches every day with the the hope the kids will eat it and not throw it away. About $4 million in food is thrown away every day in schools. That’s about 67 pounds per year per child.

Putting together a packed lunch is a big job, even if you are just making the same thing every day, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. There are also many prepared products which can make packing a lunch easier, but while they are convenient, many are neither nutritious nor healthy.

It’s so important for kids to get a good lunch that will keep them going through the rest of the school day. Chips and Oreos are not going to do it. Pack what you know they’ll eat, not what you wish they’d eat.

With the school year just barely underway, here are some interesting ideas and suggestions from parents and kids themselves.

One, take children with you to the grocery store to choose what they would like in their lunches. This may take some guidance, but as a parent you can steer them in a healthier direction.

As you might guess, peanut butter and jelly is the most popular of the sandwiches, but a sandwich doesn’t always have to be two slices of bread with some kind of filling in between. Change it up. You can add interest by using tortillas, wraps, pita bread, even leftover pancakes.

If regular bread is what you use, a former teacher suggested cutting off the crusts, since she noticed those are often left uneaten. (Save the crusts for bread pudding or Thanksgiving stuffing.)

If you have time, try cutting bread into shapes using cookie cutters. Younger eaters especially like that.

There are other tasty suggestions for lunch-packing duty:

• Use small wooden skewers and alternate cheese chunks, deli meat, maybe some grapes or other fruit.

• Layering deli meat or cheese, or both along with some lettuce rolled up in a flour tortilla and cut into pinwheels can be appealing.

• Put together a variety of fresh vegetables — baby carrots, slices of cucumber and red sweet pepper, maybe pea pods, and include a small container of either ranch dressing or hummus.

• A nice treat might be a bag of popcorn with raisins and nuts mixed in.

• Most like a little sweet so maybe a mini Snickers will do it. By all means, avoid Little Debbie anything.

• Pre-teens and teens might do well with chicken, tuna or egg salad tucked into a pita. You can also turn last night’s leftovers into today’s lunch — chicken, a stew, soup and pasta work especially well. Here’s where a thermos comes in handy.

• If reheating, do it on the stove rather than the microwave — that holds the heat better.

• Salads also make a great lunch — think pasta, taco, chicken or a grain salad. Small ice packs are available to keep things cold.

• While a paper sack has worked for generations, as have lunchboxes, the bento-style boxes seem to work the best. The different compartments make it easier for kids to get to their food rather than struggling with plastic wrap.

• The food should be easily accessible. Something as simple as peeling an orange might not be so good — pack a Cutie that peels in a nanosecond instead.

• Another thing to keep in mind is that youngsters of whatever age or grade don’t have much time to eat, and want to get to the playground or hang out with friends.

• Finally, be environmentally friendly. Use Tupperware or the Glad plastic containers that come in all sizes. Noosa yogurt also has excellent re-usable containers. Keep that in mind as you pack lunches.

And here’s some quick figuring I did: If you pack a lunch for three children every day, that’s 75 lunches a month. Over nine months of the school year you’re packing roughly 675 lunches a year. Just thought you’d like to know.

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