Back to School: Keeping your Cool Packing Lunch

Published on: 08/16/2023

Welcome to the start of an exciting new school year.  This month tends to bring about a quicker change of pace, new classrooms, and lots of….lunch packing for parents!  Coming up with lunch ideas can bring on some unnecessary stress.  Here are some tips to keep your cool when making school lunches.  

Keep it safe: The USDA says foodborne illness can happen between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F.  Popular lunch favorites like cheese sticks and yogurt pouches tend to lose their cool quickly.  It’s best to   use an insulated lunchbox and two thin ice packs to keep perishable foods cold and out of the temperature danger zone.  Retailer have recognized the importance of a safe lunch and have created lunch box brands with a removable freeze-tray that encases the lunch.  Need an ice pack in a pinch?  Try freezing a water bottle and using it to keep foods at a safe temperature.  

Keep it balanced: Proper nutrition is essential for your child’s growth and development.  Research shows the importance of nutrition for a child’s focus and being wellbeing at school.  Include a balance of nutrients from a variety of foods groups by using the ChooseMyPlate method in your child’s lunchbox.  This means including protein, starch, fruit, veggies, dairy, and fat in the meal.  A simple example could be an unconstructed taco.  Use leftover lean ground beef, 2% cheese, tomatoes & lettuce, a few whole corn tortillas and small portion of cubed avocado.  Pack a piece of fruit on the side.            

Keep it simple: We live in an Instagram-worthy world with lots of comparisons.  Believe me, dietitians love the fancy food and taking photos of foods more than most, but we value even more simplicity and consistency.  As the parent, you know your child best.  What are their favorite foods that they enjoy eating?  Do most foods come back in the lunchbox at the end of the day uneaten?  Knowing this information can help you pack what works for your children.  Simple ideas such as a sandwich, fruit, yogurt, and bottle of water can be a great lunch option.  

Be mindful: Some schools and daycare centers are “food allergy aware” and follow a nut-free policy or feature allergen-free tables in the cafeteria.  According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), one in 13 children have a food allergy.  Please know your school’s policies and stay educated on food allergy safety for all children.  Save time: Mornings can be hectic, and you may save a good deal of time by preparing lunches the evening before school.  If your family enjoys leftovers, after dinner, divvy up the contents in everyone’s lunchboxes for the next day.  Cut up fresh fruit and veggies in advance to save time at mealtimes.  Preparing household favorites (like muffins) in advance will help you stay prepared. 

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Kim is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who specializes in Food Allergies, picky eating, and lifestyle.

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