It is back-to-school time — time for books, new teachers, friends, the return to a schedule, extra-curricular activities and school lunch.
Some parents opt to purchase school lunch for their children, while others prefer to pack food for them to take from home. In either case, the children need a good solid, nutritious lunch that will satisfy their appetites through the rest of the school day.
It used to be so simple to pack a lunch: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple and some chips and they were on their way.
But there are considerations in choosing foods for that lunch.
First off, peanut butter should not be taken into schools because of food allergies. While your own children may fare well with peanut butter, there are children in the schools with such serious allergies to peanuts that they literally cannot touch peanut butter — or even be touched by fingers that have handled it. The reactions can put such children into the hospital.
A tricky consideration is providing what the child likes to eat. There is no point in buying food to pack into a lunch only to find out that your child is throwing it away every day. Some parents scan the school lunch menu for the week and choose the days to send sack lunches based on the child’s food preferences.
Another matter is cost. Sack lunches can save money by using leftovers, homemade foods, and carefully selected purchased items. There are lots of convenience foods out there that are easy to toss in, but very expensive to purchase.
Safety is always a key issue. Perishables need to be kept cold somehow. Finger foods in a paper bag are convenient because everything can be tossed after lunch, but if you want to include meats or other perishables, you will need some special equipment.
Ice packs are handy — simply freeze them overnight and toss into the lunch in the morning. Plan ahead and prepare lunch the night before and refrigerating it until morning makes the ice packs even more effective because they don’t melt down to cool warm items. Freeze items that can be frozen such as juice and sandwiches. They will thaw by lunchtime. The frozen liquid items will help keep everything else cool until time to eat.
With a good, tight container, home-canned fruits are a good option and so are pork and beans. Keeping the food cool does matter, however to avoid spoilage.
There are containers with freezable lids that keep the contents cool and there are all sorts of variations on the old fashioned thermos for keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
In the Tooele County School District, children have the option to purchase milk at school, eliminating the challenge of keeping milk cold until lunch. Don’t forget that cheese, a very carryable item, is also a dairy product.
Nutrition is the key to a good sack lunch and to your kids’ health and success at school. Nutrition really matters for kids to achieve their best in school whether they are involved in sports or after-school activities.
A formula suggested by the USDA is to include the following:
• One to two servings of whole grain or other complex carbohydrate
• Two to three ounces lean meat or protein
• Three servings of fruits and/or vegetables
• One serving of dairy
Planning ahead makes it much easier to see that the lunch is nutritious. It allows shopping and cooking other meals with lunches in mind. Leftovers can be pretty tasty for the next day’s lunch.
Planning allows time to think and prepare. There is much to do in the morning to get kids out the door or on the bus for school. When packing a lunch is a last-minute morning afterthought, it becomes a matter of grabbing whatever is handy and sounds good right then and tossing it into the lunch before sending it off.
Taking care of nutritional needs is not just fluff. It is very important. Kids who eat a good healthy lunch have more energy and think more clearly. That translates to better success at their studies as well.