Health Break | Published September 18, 2006 | Written by Jennifer Fleming, MS, RD, LDN

How To Pack A Power Lunch

Kids who eat a nutritious lunch are better prepared for a successful school year

Come late August or early September, school-age kids all across the country may start their mornings like this:

  • Alarm … snooze … alarm … snooze … mom comes in to wake them up.
  • Brush teeth.
  • Shower.
  • Get dressed in newly bought back-to-school clothes.
  • Grab book bag and new school supplies.
  • Grab breakfast as they are running out the door to catch the bus.

The morning routine seems to check out okay. But, often missing from school kids' priority lists and parents you're guilty too are power-packed lunches.

While you know what your child eats (or does not eat) for breakfast, lunches are often left to the rumblings of an empty stomach that may fall victim to Johnny's sweet tooth and his desire for Hostess cupcakes. To kids those cupcakes might seem like a good bargain for the $2 their parents supplied them to buy a more healthful meal. The trick to preventing this lunchtime sugar overload is learning how to pack a lunch that combines good foods with foods kids will actually eat.

To start, try packing lunches the night before, to avoid the morning hassle. A good time is immediately after dinner, when the family is still in the kitchen together. If a child helps to make his own lunch there is less chance he will throw it out. A good lunch should balance proteins, carbohydrates, good fats, vitamins and other nutrients while offering variety to keep kids interested.

In general, every child needs about 2 to 3 ounces of lean protein; two servings of a fruit or vegetable (one small piece of fruit and a palm-size serving of carrots or celery); and two grain servings (two slices of whole-grain bread, or one whole-wheat pita).

Helpful Hints for Packing a Lunch with Punch

Mix it up

Sandwiches are nutritious and easy to make, but kids may tire of them quickly so provide lots of variety. Mix fresh (or frozen) berries and granola into low-fat yogurt; spread peanut butter and banana on a low-fat wheat tortilla and roll it up; have your child help make a trail mix with items like low-sugar cereals, nuts and dried fruits, add some string cheese or cottage cheese and you have a complete lunch.

Keep cold foods cold

Freezer packs are useful in preventing spoilage, or simply freeze bottled water or 100 percent juice drink, pop it in an insulated lunch box and by the time lunch arrives the water or juice is ready to drink and the foods are still cold.

Variety

In general, the more choices the better. For example, giving a child an apple every day would be a healthful choice. Giving them a different fruit daily would be even more healthful, as it introduces your child to new foods while also providing different vitamins and minerals. Similarly, try whole-wheat tortillas, pita breads or whole-wheat mini bagels to replace the standard sandwich bread.

Sweet Treats

Granola bars can be a good choice. Look for those that use whole grains, nuts and real fruit. Better choices are those that are low in sugar and do not have any hydrogenated oils. Chocolate graham crackers, vanilla wafers and animal crackers are nice substitutes for cookies.

Make it fun

For the younger ones in the family, get your children involved by using cookie cutters to create fun shapes with sandwiches. Or try spreading vegetable cream cheese and turkey on a low-fat tortilla, then cutting it into little pinwheels. Also, keep in mind fun doesn't have to come from the food. Try drawing a smiley face on their napkin and the kids might find lunchtime just became much more palatable … you never know, this may work for spouses too.

Jennifer Fleming is a registered dietitian and clinical dietitian at Mount Nittany Medical Center.

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