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Healthy Lunchbox Tips

Try these easy ideas for quick brown bag nutrition.
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Practical Lunch Tips

A sandwich made with lean meat, light tuna fish, or peanut butter and jelly; fruit or vegetables; and milk or 100% juice is a fine meal for a growing child's lunch. You can boost nutrition and tantalize a child's taste buds by adding shredded carrot, chopped celery, or water chestnuts to egg salad or tuna salad. Combine chopped grapes with diced chicken and mayonnaise for a tasty chicken salad. And don't forget this popular standby: Add a sliced banana or apple to peanut butter sandwiches.

Here are some other yummy and easy lunches that use foods from at least three of the food groups:

  • Tortilla wraps with shredded cheese, chopped chicken, and cut vegetables
  • Egg salad, whole-wheat bagel, and fruit
  • Whole-grain roll with butter or margarine, 2 hard boiled eggs, and carrot sticks
  • 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt, whole-wheat crackers, and fruit
  • 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter, whole-grain crackers or bagel, and fruit or vegetables
  • 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese or hummus, whole-grain crackers, and cherry tomatoes
  • Bean-based soup or stew in a thermos, whole-grain roll with butter or margarine, and dried fruit
  • 1-2 slices leftover thin crust cheese pizza and fruit or vegetables

Make It a Snap

"Children may have as little as 20 minutes to make it to the cafeteria, find their seats, eat, and clean up after themselves, so ease is the name of the game," Wright says. At some schools, kids eat on the playground, distracted by playing games.

So user-friendly foods are a must for lunch, especially for younger children who easily dismiss hard-to-eat foods that take time to get ready to eat. For example, older kids may be capable of peeling oranges and eggs in a flash, but younger ones are not. Sending a thermos? Make sure your child knows how to use it. Children with braces or other orthodontic devices often do better with foods like applesauce rather than whole apples, and prefer crackers or bread to bagels and bulky rolls, which are difficult to bite.

What's to Drink?

Milk and fortified 100% fruit juice are the best drinks for children at lunch, in that order. Up until age 9, kids need three 8-ounce glasses of milk every day, or an equivalent such as three cuts of yogurt. By their 9th birthday, they require four servings a day. Milk is one of the easiest ways for kids to meet their need for dairy foods. Encourage milk at school by providing milk money or packing containers of milk in the lunchbox. To make it a treat, offer low-fat chocolate milk. If you child refuses to drink milk at school, opt for 100% fruit juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

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