School Lunches on the Go

— Written By Joanna Rogers and last updated by
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With summer coming to an end and school starting soon, many of our children will be packing lunches to take to school. Some mornings are hectic, rushing to get ready and out the door on time. This leads to many families turning to prepackaged lunch items high in sodium and sugar.

In the 4-H Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), we teach our youth participants the importance of reading food nutrition labels. They learn how to read and understand each section on the labels and the importance of picking foods full of nutrients they need. According to “MyPlate” we need to eat the following amount of each food group daily:  2 cups of fruits, 2 ½ cups of vegetables, 5 ½ ounces of protein, 3 cups of dairy, and 6 ounces of grains.

Using MyPlate as a reference will help make sure your child is getting the recommended number of vegetables, fruits, protein, dairy, and grains in their lunch. First, create a go-to lunch planning guide. Use this an opportunity to talk about incorporating healthy options and how you can get the most out of your lunch. Creating lunch plans also gives you a sense of ease for children with food allergies.

Second, create weekly or monthly menus. This will help save money on unnecessary buys when grocery shopping. Also, look for which fruits and vegetables are in season; sometimes you can find in-season fruits and vegetables on sale. Designate an area in the cabinet for non-perishable lunch side options to be placed in a basket. In your refrigerator, make an area for all cold food options to be placed. I have personally found prepping certain items such as fruits, vegetables, and even some chips in storage bags can make a great grab-and-go option. Having these areas and items ready to go can help on those hectic mornings.

Last, let’s talk food safety. When it comes to packed lunches, remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. An insulated lunch box is the best way to keep food safe. Freezer packs, or what most of us call ice packs, are a great way to keep cold foods cold, but did you know frozen plastic water bottles or frozen juice boxes can also be an option when you don’t have one? Cold foods should be held at 40°F and below. When foods reach 41-135°F, this is the temperature danger zone. Bacteria thrive in this range and double every 20 minutes.

Healthy eating habits help make for a healthy mind and body. Planning healthy meals together as a family will be educational and gives the family a chance to make changes together. Also, take the time to discuss options they may have at school. Making great nutrition choices now will make a big impact on their future. As a final special touch, add a personal note for them to read.