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Brown bagging doesnt have to be boring. Here are some exciting school lunch tips
Making school lunch for your child doesn't have to be boring. Here are some nutritious and exciting ideas for your child's next take-from-home lunch. - photo by Dann Goff

When youre buying school supplies for the upcoming school year, dont forget to consider what youre doing for your childs lunch. School lunches try hard to be nutritious, but serving hundreds of students each day on a low budget is difficult and very rarely as interesting as what you can send from home.

When you pack healthy lunches for your child, you know what theyre eating. Kids can help pack those lunches, which means theyll be more likely to enjoy lunchtime and learn better skills that will last for the rest of their life. Instead of peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese, use these tips to find healthy meals that will fill up your child while tasting great and providing much-needed nutrients.

Sandwiches and wraps

To add variety to your childs lunch, use whole grain breads or crackers. Switch up the types of bread, meats and cheeses to make it more fun and unique. Instead of mayo on the bread, switch it up with some healthier choices such as pesto or hummus, which add moisture and flavor without the extra fat. Look for deli meats that are less processed, such as roast turkey or chicken.

Smoothies and soups

Pick up a thermos that keeps food hot or cold and ditch the sandwich all together. Smoothies are a great addition to your childs lunch and a great way to make sure they get fruit and dairy that they need for growing bodies. Use Greek yogurt for added protein to keep them going all afternoon. When the weather turns cooler, hot soup at lunch is comforting and nourishing. If the thermos is wide enough, spaghetti and meatballs or macaroni and cheese could be an option, too. When you make a healthy version and send leftovers for lunch, you dont have to worry about what your child is eating.

Cold foods that are supposed to be hot

Adults are usually more particular about hot and cold foods, but kids love cold pizza, a quesadilla, or grilled cheese sandwiches. Wouldnt you love to send them off with a pizza that includes a whole grain crust, low-fat mozzarella cheese and plenty of fresh vegetables? Just make it for dinner and prepare extra for lunch the next day. If youre roasting a chicken, save the drumstick to send in your childs lunch. Make sure that you can keep the items cold so that bacteria doesnt grow. A small frozen pack inside an insulated lunch box is sufficient to keep food at the right temperature until lunch.

Japanese Bento Box Style

At one time, the Bento box lunch was a sign of wealth in Japan. After World War II, it was phased out but saw a resurgence in the 1980s. Its become quite popular in the United States, as more parents want a way to send a variety of foods to school with their child. Before you buy a lunch box, look into one with compartments for different foods. Fill it with a variety of items from fresh vegetables and fruits with a dip, boiled eggs, nuts (if allowed in the school), trail mix and any other items your child would enjoy.

Bento boxes do take a little longer to plan out and make than a simple sandwich, but having the ability to send a variety of foods keeps your child engaged with lunch and learning to eat a wide variety of foods of different colors and textures. Salads pack nicely in Bento boxes because you can separate the parts to keep them crisp or crunchy until the child is ready to eat. Think outside the box. Japanese parents send edamame, udon noodles and rice balls in their Bento boxes. Pick up fresh fruits in season and chop them up to fit in the small containers. In the smallest containers, offer new items for your child to try, maybe jicama with chili seasoning or papaya. Its a great way to introduce different foods.
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