Just like there are winners in the lunchbox, there are sure losers as well. The school cafeteria is more than a place to eat lunch; it’s a social scene. You don’t want the lunch you carefully packed to boomerang back uneaten. So sometimes the dilemma is not so much what to pack but what not to pack.
Kids dribble and are likely to spill on the clothes they have to wear for the rest of the day. The older they get, the more embarrassing it is. Minimize items that cause stains such as ketchup, salsa and yogurt in a tube.
•No-no’s on the school’s list
Your child will bear the consequences and might go hungry if you send items that aren’t allowed. Follow the school’s rules about what to avoid, which might include peanut butter, nuts, candy, gummy/fruit snack, soda and chips.
•Items they need help with
You have good intentions packing fruit cups or string cheese, but if youngsters struggle and can’t open them and a teacher is not there to help, they’ll miss out entirely. Adults may not mind peeling an orange, but children are more interested in socializing at lunchtime. Go with easy-to-eat foods or finger foods for the younger ones.
•Improperly packed foods
Beyond the obvious safety concerns, foods like string cheese and yogurt simply aren’t appetizing at room temperature. And a smushed sandwich may taste the same, but is likely to get the heave-ho into the trash. Get a quality lunchbox designed to keep foods at the right temperature. Meat, poultry and fish can quickly spoil in a lunchbox that sits in a backpack all morning with no refrigeration. Younger tummies are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses than adults, and they can get sicker if exposed.
•The same thing every day
When you find a crowd-pleaser, go with it! But even PB&J’s can get monotonous. Try almond butter or tuck a few apple slices into the sandwich for variety.
•Smelly or uncool foods
Remember the lunchroom is more than a place to eat but also a social scene. Give your child’s lunch a sniff. Foods such as tuna, garlic, liverwurst, stinky cheese, and leftovers or ethnic foods might attract unwanted attention and be embarrassing.
Don’t be tricked by labels that promise health benefits, or fun, colorful packaging that your son or daughter will love. Fruit roll-ups seem like the childhood dream food, but they have three types of sugar listed in the first five ingredients and some brands also have trans fats and artificial colors, which may lead to hyperactivity in some kids. Choose all-natural fruit leathers with simple ingredient lists and no added sugar or artificial colors.
Juice pouches have attractive packages, but water and high-fructose corn syrup are the first two ingredients on some versions containing only 10 percent juice. Opt for either 100% juice drinks, or better yet, drinks that have water as the first ingredient and juice as the second ingredient. These will be lower in calories and sugar.
Packaged lunches include all the fixings like crackers, cheese and lunchmeat, or even pizza or chicken nuggets, along with a drink and a treat—but they are loaded with saturated fat, salt and sugar.
Yogurt-covered raisins may sound like a healthy combination, but they’re more of a candy-like snack because the yogurt is mainly oil and sugar.
Granola bars are actually very high in calories, taking up an even higher percentage of a child’s ideal caloric intake for a day. Grade-school kids only need around 1,400 or 1,500 calories.
Last but not least, don’t pack foods they don’t like. Surprises are generally not welcome and oftentimes get tossed. Don’t try foods they haven’t experienced at home. Have your kids help so you can get the low-down on what they really want. At least you’ll feel a little more confident that they’ll start their school afternoon with satisfied, full tummies.
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