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Dietitians Dish: Packing fun nutritious school lunches

Aug. 23, 2011 at 3:23 a.m.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld

By Elizabeth SommerfeldHi ho, hi ho, it's back to school we go ... it is that time of year again.

Kids are back in school.

School lunch is a relatively new thing in my family. This will mark the first year that my child will go to school and have a choice about what to eat at lunch.

Am I worried? Well, maybe a little. I am sure there will be some days when we send box lunches to school.

As a full-time, working mom with two small kids, finding the time to pack a lunch will be challenging. Oh yeah, and they usually don't get to use the microwave to warm up leftovers. So, what's a parent to do?

Luckily, we got a trial run this summer for a weeklong camp and, luckily, my kiddo is not too picky, but here are a few ideas to help make packing a lunch easy and nutritious.

Low-fat deli meats cut up - even turkey pepperoni ... my kids love this. It is lower in fat than regular pepperoni and I don't know too many kids who don't like pepperoni.

Cut up veggies into small pieces. Celery, carrots, bell peppers, broccoli and cauliflower cut up well and hold consistency well. You can send these with low-fat ranch, peanut butter or hummus. Remember ants on a log? Celery stalks with peanut butter and raisins down the middle. Yummy.

Prepackaged fruit cups (in juice or light syrup) - little kids might need help getting these open at school, but it's an easy way to get in a fruit without it being all banged up in the lunch box. Of course, there is always your fresh fruit, such as grapes, strawberries, melon or bananas, which can be washed and sent in containers. Even making a fruit salad can be fun.

Yogurt, string cheese or low-fat cheese cubes are good ways to get dairy foods in your child's diet. Remember, not all meals have to have meat. Yogurt and cheese are also good sources of protein.

If you find yourself wanting your child's lunches to look more exciting, check out Bento lunches. If you do a search in your favorite search engine, you will find lots of ideas and items to make lunch fun and even get you excited about packing a lunch.

If your kid plans to eat lunch at school, post the menu at home and talk about which foods would be better choices.

Planning ahead helps to prevent poor decisions in the spur of the moment when they are starving, as I have heard children describe their hunger when it's time to eat. School lunches are trying to improve their reputation, help them by promoting the healthier foods at home, as well. Together, parents and schools can help raise healthy students.

Elizabeth Sommerfeld is a registered and licensed dietitian and has a master of science degree. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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