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To make smart school lunches, think like a kid

StatePoint

Making school lunch can feel like a thankless job, but it doesn’t have to be a major chore. Here are some ways to make school lunches successful, not stressful:

Don’t overpack

Does your child come home with untouched food? For a distracted youngster, lunchtime flies by in an instant. By the time the bell rings, little Suzie has barely peeled the top off her yogurt. Keep portions kid-sized, and don’t include more than four or five items in the lunchbox.

Think food groups

Think of the lunchbox as a four-piece puzzle. The basic components are protein, grain, fruit/vegetable and dairy.

Try making lunch kebobs with cold cut slices and chunks of cheese (your dairy and protein groups), add a handful of grapes (fruit) and a bag of popcorn (grain). Or pack hummus, carrots and a wheat pita (protein, grain and veggie), along with applesauce (fruit) and a cheese stick (dairy). Olives or pickles add extra flavor without too much extra fat or calories.

Let them assemble

Pack individual ingredients kids can assemble, which makes them feel like they’re more in control of what they eat. For example, include a half bagel with a container of shredded mozzarella, tomato sauce and some sliced olives or pepperoni slices so they can make their own pizza. Add a piece of fruit to round out the meal.

Pick portable foods

Nothing’s worse than a lunchbox explosion. Whenever possible, opt for dry foods and tight lids. Pack trail mix, dried fruit, granola bars or snacks in single-serve cups. Such foods usually have the added advantage of not spoiling, which means they can be saved for afternoon snacking.

Keep snacks in the car

Kids always seem to want an after-school snack. If home is a bit of a drive, keep snacks on hand. Nuts, trail mix, single-serve olive cups and fruit are better options for a ravenous child. Keep in mind, hungry kids are more likely to try novel foods they might otherwise be reluctant to try.

Get input

If your child is not eating enough, find out why. Ask your child to create a list of foods every few months, as tastes change and broaden. Add favorites to the rotation. Remember, just because your child eats a certain food at dinnertime doesn’t mean it will be a popular lunch item.

Get cute

If you’re feeling ambitious, cut sandwiches into shapes. Sliced cherry tomatoes or olives make easy eyes, buttons and mouths. A simple sticky note with a smiley face or “love you” will go a long way toward brightening your child’s day.

Lunch isn’t rocket science, but creating meals children will love every day can get tricky. Simple strategies can help ensure kids return from school with empty lunch boxes and satisfied tummies.

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