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Lunch to Go: Kids Eating Healthy at School

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11/01/2011 - There's been a lot of attention lately on how healthy school lunch menus are for our kids. It is true that to keep lunch economical, especially when everyone including the schools are short on funding, food choices are not always as nutritious or as balanced as they could be. Some parents and kids have decided packing lunch is cheaper, healthier, and in many cases, better tasting than the institutional version.

Unfortunately, food-borne illness is a problem since lunches are packed before leaving for school and the kids go for hours before they can eat them. Following are some tips that will keep kids safe and healthy when choosing to pack and take lunch from home.

I grew up on the traditional brown paper bag lunch - not your best insulator or protection of contents from bottoms dropping out of the bag from time to time, but I made it through years of school guarding and salvaging my lunch each day without a trace of dysentery or food poisoning. How did I manage all those years?

First, my parents knew not to pack heavily- mayonnaised sandwiches that start over-ripening the moment they are made. Parents – it's up to you to pack something that won't kill your child after eating it. Keep the flavor or it'll get traded or trashed once at school, but help your kids make good choices.

Insulated lunch bags or totes have become popular over the last few years but, again, don't overdose on the mayo then, either. Wrapping temperature-sensitive items in foil rather than plastic storage bags will also extend the 'healthy' time. The insulated containers also allow for packing of ice/cold packs inside. Attempting to place a cold pack from the freezer into a paper bag is a noble concept but doesn't keep the bottom of the bag from dissolving after it starts to warm up.

Freezing juice boxes or other drinks ahead of time so they can thaw inside the insulated container helps your child enjoy a cold drink at lunch while keeping container contents cool inside.

Many insulated food containers are now readily purchased at dollar stores and other discount stores so healthy options can go beyond the mere 'sandwich with an apple.' From soups, chili and stews to pasta and casseroles, warm them to 140 degrees F before placing them in the insulated containers and send them on their way with your child.

Side items can and should be much more than potato chips. Include nuts, grapes, oranges, apples, cheese sticks, salad with dressing on the side, dried fruit, baby carrots or other raw veggies with dip, flavored yogurts, etc. And, the all-time, most popular healthy sandwich is still … yep, peanut butter and jelly (unless your child has peanut allergies, but that's another article). Bread, peanut butter, jelly, and no refrigeration – perfect!

You can provide a great selection of healthy foods that are full of flavor while ensuring your child's well-being. Just move up a notch from the paper bag and baggies.

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