Planning ahead helps to make good choices. Write down ideas for each school day menu. Review your menus with a parent and plan to go along for the grocery shopping. One week’s worth of menus is a good starting point to learn what foods you enjoy most and what works well in your lunchbox.
Remember that prepackaged foods may not be the best choice, even though they taste good and are easy to prepare. Many prepackaged foods contain excessive quantities of calories, fat and sodium or salt; much more than your body needs. If you are unsure about a selection, talk to a parent or another adult about the nutritional value of your lunch choices.
Good nutrition is important, not just for your growing body but also for your mind. A well-balanced meal helps keep you alert and at your best throughout the school day. A good rule of thumb is to pack an item from each of the five food groups. These include bread, meat or protein, fruit, vegetable and dairy. If you have after-school activities, include an extra snack to keep you going later in the day. Fruits, juices, crackers or a small candy bar all are good energy boosters.
Examples of proteins include lunch meats, eggs, cheese and peanut butter. Prepare sandwiches the night before and store them in the refrigerator. Keep mayonnaise and salad dressing in separate containers to add just before eating. Homemade soup is a good protein source. Hot foods should be held at 140 degrees. If it isn’t possible to reheat food at school, try the following tip: before school, fill a thermos with hot water and let it sit for several minutes. Pour out the water and pour in the hot soup. The heated thermos helps maintain a safe temperature.
Different kinds of breads, crackers and cookies all count as bread choices. Fresh vegetables make great munchies and can be prepared the night before or even a couple of days in advance. Cut up peppers, broccoli, carrots, celery and cucumbers and store them in small bags until needed. Add a few cherry tomatoes.
Mix dried fruits like raisins, apricots, and cherries with nuts or sunflower seeds and package ahead of time. Anything prepared the night before saves rushing around in the morning and maybe missing the school bus.
Protect against food-borne illness by taking precautions. Safety is an important ingredient in any do-it-yourself lunch. Always wash hands thoroughly before handling food. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water to remove dirt and residue. If your school does not have a refrigerator to keep lunches, add an ice pack and store lunchboxes away from direct sunlight, radiators and other heat sources. Plan to purchase fresh milk or place a juice box or water in the freezer the night before to add to the lunchbox. It should thaw and still by cool by lunchtime the next day.
Follow these guidelines and you can have lunch every school day just the way you like it. For more information on the subjects of food and nutrition, contact the Logan County Cooperative Extension Service.
Source: Janet Mullins, Food & Nutrition Extension Specialist