Make school lunches fun … and healthy

Students eating healthy school lunch
Mary Parra Healthy Back to school lunches
Mary Parra, Mom to Mom, an Ahwatukee mother of four and a local journalist.

It’s difficult for my kids and me to part ways after spending the summer together. But putting a little fun in their school lunches is a small way for me to feel like I’m helping them get through the day. I also believe in packing healthy lunches to give them the fuel they need to succeed. Each lunch contains a fruit and/or vegetable, a protein source, and a carbohydrate.

So what can you pack?

  • Pack something to mix up. Vanilla yogurt with granola. I put it in two separate containers and let the kids mix it at lunch.
  • Pack CC&J instead of PB&J! Cream cheese and jelly sandwiches are a great alternative if your school prohibits peanut butter. I have a sandwich cutter that I just love! It cuts off the crust and seals the sandwich into what my kids call a “pocket sandwich.” When I have extra time, I use a whole loaf of bread to make as many sandwiches as I can. I put them in sandwich bags and freeze individually. That way, we take one out every morning and it’s thawed by lunchtime.
  • Pack variety! Change up the sandwich experience with mini bagels. Stores have so many varieties such as blueberry, brown sugar cinnamon, plain, wheat and cinnamon raisin. You can pair a bagel with one of the many varieties of cream cheese flavors that are in stores, including strawberry, vegetable or pineapple. Or add sliced turkey or any other of your kid’s favorite meats or cheese.
  • Pack kabobs! I use party toothpicks and put three pieces of fruit on each one. Alternate grapes with cheese cubes and avocado. If you feel you’re tired of packing the same old fruits and vegetables, try kiwi, red peppers or cucumbers. In the winter, when there aren’t as many options for fresh fruit, dried fruit or yogurt covered raisins are good options.
  • Pack some fun. I like to buy cute napkins or themed ones (cars, dinosaurs, etc.) that I see on clearance at the dollar store or at the party store. I also try to include plastic silverware that coordinates with the season—orange for October, brown for November, red and green for December, etc. If we’re close to a holiday, I try to pack little surprises—like sprinkling in their lunch boxes some ghost-shaped confetti close to Halloween, glitter in December, or small hearts on Valentine’s Day. There are a lot of inexpensive options at party stores. I just make sure it’s not something that will take away from their eating time.
  • Pack encouragement. If the kids have a test, I include a little note encouraging them to do well. Post-It notes have lots of fun shapes that are sure to give your kids a smile.

When the time comes to send your kids out the door, it’s comforting to know you’re sending them off with a lunch filled with healthy foods and packed with love. And don’t forget their water bottles!

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