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This year I'll be sending both of my children off to elementary school, tear. My daughter will be entering kindergarten and my son third grade. Prior to each month our school provides a lunch menu for the following month. We go through this menu, and I mark on the calendar the days I’ll need to send sack lunches. I'll admit I'm excited when we can go an entire week with all school lunches, but there are some days that I know they won't eat enough of the foods that are being offered. On the days my children eat school lunches, I am pleased, because I know that the meals being offered are nutritious meal. On the days I do pack sack lunches I try to keep them less blah and more fun and nutritious by following these 10 tips.

1. Involve your children in planning what goes into their sack lunches.

This is a great way to educate them about the importance of choosing a food from each of the five food groups at each lunch. The five food groups include the Fruit, Vegetable, Grain, Dairy, and Protein group.

2. Think outside of the box.

You don't have to send sandwiches and chips every day. What about breakfast for lunch? For example I’ve sent cereal, a plastic bowl, a spoon, milk, grapes, and a turkey stick.

3. Spruce up the "sandwich."

Try a different way of presenting sandwiches. Spread peanut butter on a whole grain tortilla shell, add chopped up strawberries, roll it up and cut it into pinwheels or try offering mini whole grain bagels, spread on hummus or vegetables cream cheese, a slice of tomato, and ham.

4. Cold Pizza.

Yep I’m guilty. I've sent leftover pizza in my son's sack lunch before. Sure it has ample fat, but it also has nutrients and calories that kept him full. I also made sure to include a fruit and vegetable as his sides: his favorites, raspberries and carrots.

5. It used to be hot.

I have included other foods that are typically eaten hot, and I've found that most kids aren't as picky about hot and cold foods as adults. I've sent cheese quesadillas, mac and cheese, and spaghetti. I just make sure to properly refrigerate these foods after they have been cooked and keep them at the proper temperature.

6. Offer beverages like water and low-fat milk.

Typically I send water or have my son get milk from the school cafeteria, and I only send 100% fruit juice occasionally.

7. Dip it.

My daughter enjoys dipping her food in salsa, ketchup, Ranch dressing, yogurt, etc. and my son most often skips the dip. So her lunches will include more dips to motivate her to dip and eat her food. Find what motivates your child to try new foods. Maybe they will eat spinach if they can dip it in Ranch dressing or try a kiwi if they can dip it in yogurt.

8. Build Strong Bones and Teeth.

Eating foods that are high in calcium such as milk, yogurt and cheese build strong bones and teeth. Fun ways to add these foods into your children lunch boxes: string cheese, shredded cheese, and low-sugar gogurts. Gogurts are squeezable, no spoon needed yogurt. I choose gogurts that are low in sugar and have no added artificial flavors. My kids enjoy frozen gogurts in their lunch.

9. Woot Woot to Whole Grains.

There are more whole grain food options than ever before. Try different breads, crackers, pastas, chips, cereals, etc. that have the main ingredient listed as, "whole grain." Whole grain foods provide our bodies with more nutrients and keep us feeling full longer. Feeling full longer will help your child learn better.

10. Keeping Sack Lunches Safe to Eat

Sending sack lunches can provide different challenges such as keeping cold food cold and hot food hot to ensure that the children's food isn't in the "danger zone." Bacteria multiply rapidly if food is held in the "danger zone" of 40°F to 140°F for more than 2 hours. At room temperature, just one bacterium could grow to 2,097,152 bacteria in 7 hours! I bought insulated lunch boxes, and ice/gel packs to ensure my children's food stays safe to eat. I remind my children to wash their hands before lunch. Ask your child if it is even possible to wash their hands before lunch, if not then include a wet wipe and a napkin in their lunch box. Make sure to clean and sanitize their lunch boxes after each use. For a quick clean up I use Clorox wipes.

Carrie Miller MS RD

Registered Dietitian from UNL Extension

Carrie Miller is a mother of two and Registered Dietitian with a Master degree in Nutritional Science and Dietetics. Carrie has worked at UNL Extension in Omaha for over 12 years managing the Nutrition Education Program and teaching limited resource audiences. Special interests include feeding children healthy, fun foods, and finding time to get outside and be active. Learn more about Carrie and the other UNL Extension nutrition experts at ...

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