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Healthy School Lunches

Now that it is “Back to School” time, the old topic of school lunch has come up again. Here is an earlier article which might help!

Q: My daughter just started school again, and I’m freaking out about how to provide healthy lunches for her. Last year I relied on the microwave at her school. From reading your previous article on microwaves, I really want to quit using them. Do you have any suggestions to help us with this transition?

A: Yes, I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve to help! My first suggestion is to sit down with your daughter and go over with her what your plan is. I’ve found that the more the kids are involved in planning the lunch menu, the easier the whole thing goes.

Make a list of her favorite dinner-type foods, soups, fruits, vegetables (if you’re lucky enough to have a child that eats these), and munchy type foods. As much as possible, steer the discussion toward real food vs. processed or take-out foods.

The next thing to make this workable are the right packing containers.

I’d recommend two wide mouth thermos type containers in different sizes. These are great for soup, stews, pasta with sauce, and stir-fry meals. All of these can be set aside from the previous night’s dinner. (That’s where the favorite dinner food comes in.)

If you eat at a restaurant for dinner, one option is to order on the heavy side and use the take-out portion for your daughter’s next day’s lunch.

Getting back to the “older days”, sandwiches are still very workable lunch basics. On a day when you’ve got the time you can roast a chicken or turkey and package up the meat in small freezer portions. These can be pulled out and easily defrosted for lunch makings. This avoids the lunch meat preservatives that many of us grew up with. It is best if you get your poultry from a source that uses no antibiotics, hormones or preservatives and allows the animals to roam freely. They are frequently available through your local health food store, and some of the large chain grocery stores carry them also.

One of the tricks to sandwich success is to think beyond traditional bread. Pita bread pockets are fun and easier to hold everything together. Mini pita breads are especially great if your daughter is young and has pre-school sized hands.

Another bread option is wheat tortillas. You can put any sandwich fixings inside, and roll them up for a fun change from the traditional sandwich.

On a day when you and your daughter are well fed, well rested and have plenty of time, go to your largest health food store and look for different lunch options. Many of them have turkey and chicken hot dogs with no chemicals added, and pot pies that are easy to pop in the oven while morning showers are happening. Tons of versions of rice cakes and other snacks are available. You can make it a game with your child to try new foods with a sticker reward for each new food tested.

If you have enough options in her lunch, even if she doesn’t like one thing there’ll still be enough food to keep her from passing out during her afternoon studies.

Although my family is totally fine with eating many of our foods at room temperature, very few kids will do this. It’s important to use the thermos containers and ice packs appropriately so a perfect lunch doesn’t get ignored because it wasn’t the right temperature. Also, depending on what you are packing, it is an important safety item to keep in mind. I have found that the ice packs that are available at a lot of chiropractors’ offices are great for lunch box packing. They are reusable and flexible, which is the key. They can be wrapped around and between foods very easily and don’t take up as much space in the lunchbox as traditional freeze packs.

Top all of this off with a bottle of spring water (in a plastic container that is marked inside the recycle triangle with either #1, 3 or 7 – this is important as the #5’s actually test as toxic!) and you’ve got a great lunch happening.

As you and your daughter are venturing into this new territory be sure to get a lot of feedback from her regarding what she liked or didn’t like in each day’s lunch. That way you can gradually get a very workable lunch scene going for both of you.

Your desire to provide healthy lunches is commendable. Although it can be very time-intensive at first it should ease up soon and it can make a big difference in your daughter’s ability to study as well as her overall health.

Dr. Susan Player