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Are You Packing?

Use colorful foods and interesting shapes to make lunches fun! Photo credit:  Jen Bradshaw

Use colorful foods and interesting shapes to make lunches fun!
Photo credit: Jen Bradshaw

Lunch, that is. Yes, it’s back to school time. Whether the words “back to school” make you happy or sad, it is that time of year. One thing we can agree on, though, is that a healthy, safe, attractive lunch our kids will actually eat makes everyone happy. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re packing school lunches this year.

Healthy – Be sure to use foods from all five food groups:

  • Fruits and Vegetables – Just like MyPlate, try to fill up half the lunchbox with fruits and veggies. Buy in season to be more economical. Use fresh, frozen, canned, dried, and juiced. All forms count. A variety of fruits and vegetables looks more appealing and adds loads of nutrients.
  • Grains – a variety of breads, tortillas, pitas, crackers, popcorn, rice, etc. – try to make at least half your grains whole to get the healthiest benefits.
  • Lean proteins – turkey breast, tuna in water, peanut butter, and bean dip are all healthy choices.
  • Low- or no-fat dairy – provide everything they need to make a parfait – low- or no-fat yogurt with a couple of drops of vanilla, fruit, and low-fat granola. A thermos of milk or a string cheese stick works great.

Safe – Keep cold foods like lunch meat and yogurt cold by adding freezer gel packs to the lunch box. Keep hot food, like soup, hot by using an insulated container in an insulated lunch box. For more information on safely packing food to be eaten later, check out

Attractive and Fun – Create a theme in the lunchbox. Try: a rainbow of colors, a favorite sport, the circus, shapes, animals, things that are crunchy, or all the foods from a certain country. Cut sandwiches into shapes using cookie cutters. Since we eat with our eyes, use fun containers of different colors and shapes to hold food. Put in chopsticks, straws, and napkins with fun designs for something different. Get the kids to help you. They’re a pretty creative bunch if you give them the chance. And most kids who help make their own meal are proven to be better eaters. And whenever you can, include special notes to let them know you care.

Are you getting ready to start packing lunches? Make them healthy, safe, and fun. You and the kids will both be so glad you did. For additional information on packing lunches, contact your local Extension Office.