Give your child a say in school-lunchbox contents

Scripps Howard News Service

Must credit Tampa Bay Times


Tampa Bay Times

Face it, folks. The truth is that you never really know what your children eat in the lunchroom. The best-hatched plans, by cafeteria cooks and bagged-lunch queens, can sometimes end up in the trash.

If you're packing lunch for your kids, keep a few things in mind to make the process go more smoothly for both you and them. Impress on them that it's important that they tell you when they don't like something. Tossing or trading solves the immediate problem, but the empty lunchbox indicates that everything was eaten and enjoyed. In other words, they will get that tuna on rye again.

It's their right to not like certain foods.

One strategy is to focus more on breakfast and dinner, and hope the lessons taught there spill over to the noon hour. If children start and end their days with nutritional food, a lapse at lunch doesn't take on disproportionate significance.

If you're sending lunch, think about the different food groups and how you can sneak them in. A high-carb lunch could lead to an afternoon crash and a super crabby ride home. That could result in a trip through the drive-through, adding more fat and carbs to the day and spoiling a nutritious dinner.

What you pack their lunch in might be just as important as what you pack. Soft-sided carriers have plenty of room for frozen packs to keep food and drink cold. You'll want to make sure to prevent any spoilage by keeping certain foods -- mayonnaise, for instance -- the proper temperature. Insulated bags help keep the packs frozen.

Don't forget insulated containers -- generically we call them thermoses -- for chicken noodle soup or leftover chili or lasagna. To get the most out of your insulated container, fill it with boiling water to heat it, drain and then spoon in food that has been heated on the stove or oven, not the microwave. All insulated containers lose some heat, so you want the food to be much hotter than you would actually eat it to start with.

Also, consider drinks. There are lots of empty calories plus carbohydrates in sugary drinks. Flavored waters are a good choice, but the best of all may be low-fat chocolate milk.

And don't forget about fresh fruits.

Meanwhile, stock up on plastic utensils and containers in various sizes for salads, dressings, dips or other foods that need more protection than a plastic bag.

Most important, get your children involved with the planning and packing. If he eats sushi for dinner, what's to say he won't at lunch? Same with asparagus spears (with dipping sauce) and grilled chicken salad (pack the ingredients separately.)

The more they are invested, the more likely they'll eat what has been so lovingly packed. And that will be a big load off your mind.


Sandwich and ...

Do you always pack chips and a cookie with that PB&J sandwich? Consider these alternatives:

Veggie sticks and hummus

.Edamame or pea pods

Olives, green and black

Cherries or grapes

Snack mix (cereal, pretzels, nuts, dried fruit, small amount of chocolate)

Greek yogurt mixed with fruit or honey

Cherry tomatoes and ranch dressing


Soup or chili in an insulated container

Deviled eggs

Dried fruit

Pasta or rice salad

(Tampa Bay Times food and travel editor Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com. For more stories, visit scripppsnews.com.)