Healthy School Lunches


August is traditionally back to school month, and you are most likely thinking about picking out school supplies and backpacks. This is also a good time to consider new healthy lunch ideas for your kids. A healthy school lunch should be well balanced, including a whole grain, lean meats and protein, low-fat dairy, vegetable and fruit. This combination provides lasting energy for optimal learning and play.

Key lunch staples include:
• Whole Grains: whole wheat bread, tortillas, bagel or pita
• Lean meats and protein: hummus, nut butters, black bean dip, sliced turkey or ham, lean roast beef, tuna pouch, hard -boiled egg
• Low-fat Dairy: squeezable yogurt tube, string cheese, low-fat milk
• Vegetables: Lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, carrots, celery
• Fruits: bananas, apples, raisins, applesauce

Food safety is important when planning school lunches. Start off by washing lunch boxes with warm, soapy water after each use. Next, wash your hands before, during, and after preparing lunches and be sure food preparation surfaces are clean. Fruits and vegetables are important to incorporate in a healthy lunch, but be sure to wash them to eliminate harmful bacteria. Before your children eat lunch, remind them to wash their hands, or pack a moist towelette or hand sanitizer in their lunch container.

Perishable foods, such as yogurt, meat, and cheese, should not be left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. Since most students don’t have access to a refrigerator at school, keep your child’s lunch safe by including an ice pack to keep cold foods cool. Otherwise, you can pack foods that don’t require refrigeration, such as trail mix, cereal, granola bars, bagels, carrots, celery, fresh fruit, dried fruit, applesauce, whole-grain crackers, tuna pouches, beef jerkey, and nut butters.

Before you plan the weekly lunch menu, ask your child to identify a few favorite food items that he or she would like to see in the lunchbox. Encourage your kid to participate in the planning, preparing, and packing of the meals, creating a balanced menu. Including your child in the process improves the chances that the lunch he or she will be more likely to eat the meal and to try new foods. Getting kids involved teaches them about well-balanced and nutritious meals, which is important to develop health habits early on.

Try these fun lunch ideas this year:

Lunch Box Tacos
4 thin slices roast beef (about 3 ounces)
4 (6-inch) soft flour tortillas
1/3 cup shredded cheese
1/4 cup guacamole
1/4 cup salsa
2 tablespoons sour cream

Fold 1 slice roast beef inside each soft tortillas and sprinkle with cheese. Pack in the biggest compartment of the lunch box. Pack other compartments with guacamole, salsa, sour cream and other favorite toppings. Seal and send off to school.

Turkey Pinwheels:
4 whole-wheat tortillas
2 cups baby spinach
1 (8 ounce) package sliced turkey breast
1 sliced tomato
½ cup low-fat vegetable cream cheese

Place the whole-wheat tortillas on a work surface and spread a thin layer of cream cheese. Add turkey slices, tomato slices, and spinach leaves. Roll the tortillas and use a serrated knife to cut into 1-inch slices. Use a toothpick to keep the rolls in place.

Peanut Butter and Strawberry Sandwich
2 sliced whole-wheat bread
1 tablespoon peanut butter
2 medium strawberries, sliced
1 teaspoon honey

Spread peanut butter on one slice of bread
Arrange strawberry slices on top of the peanut butter.
Drizzle the honey on the berries and then place the other slice of bread on top. Cut into quarters.

Pizza Roll Up
1 8-inche whole wheat flour tortilla
2 tablespoon pizza sauce
12 leaves baby spinach
3 tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese

Place tortilla on a plate and spread pizza sauce over it. Top with spinach and cheese. Microwave on High until the cheese is just melted, about 45 seconds. Carefully roll the tortilla up. Let cool for 10 minutes. Slice into pieces

Frozen Fruit Cups
16 ounces strawberries
12 ounces orange juice concentrate, thawed
2 (20 ounce) cans crushed pineapple, undrained
2 (11 ounce) cans mandarin oranges, undrained
6 bananas, diced
1/3 cup lemon juice
16 ounces blueberries

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl
Portion in 1-cup increments, and allow to freeze overnight.
Place in lunch box in the morning, and will be a slushy consistency by lunch time.


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