Packing school lunch boxes each day becomes tedious quickly, but easy and quick does not have to mean unhealthy. Take time to prepare lunches with foods in all food categories. Because the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Choose My Plate guidelines state that half of each meal should be fruits and vegetables, be sure include fruits and vegetables with school lunch boxes.
To make the morning routine easier, pack refrigerated items the night before but be sure to keep them below 40 degrees all night. Freeze water bottles to pack in lunches as a drink that keeps lunches cool and helps you avoid the need for other ice packs. Wash all fruits and vegetables, then store them already cleaned in the refrigerator so they can quickly be grabbed. Purchase foods that need no refrigeration and can be quickly packed, such as individual packages of trail mix, applesauce and whole-grain crackers. To save money, many items such as trail mix can be homemade days ahead or bought in large packages. Take time to divide the entire container into individual zippered bags and you save time when packing lunches later.
Kids need a hearty main course in their packed lunches to nourish them through the school day. Though deli-meat sandwiches on whole-grain bread are quick and easy to make, protein does not have to mean a traditional sandwich. Kids might enjoy a sandwich on nontraditional grain items, such as pita bread or bagels, spread with a tasty mayo alternative such as ranch dressing. A quick and easy idea other than a meat sandwich is packing a container of peanut butter to spread on fruit or whole grain crackers. A hard-boiled egg, cheese, nuts and yogurt also contain protein.
You want to be sure the fruits and vegetables you pack are eaten, so take the time to cut them into kid-size strips or chunks after you bring them home. This saves time when each morning, or even the night before, you can just reach into a large container of ready-to-go fruit or vegetables to place in an individual container or plastic bag. To make the chunks or strips more appealing to kids, include a small container of dip. Use cream cheese for fruits. Cheese, salsa or ranch works well as a dip for vegetables.
Make your own healthy, quick substitutes for chips. Lightly spray popcorn with low-fat margarine substitute then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese or cinnamon. Spread pita bread slices or or thinly sliced sweet potatoes lightly with olive oil then bake in a hot oven about 20 minutes. Season them prior to baking to create flavored "chips." Dried fruit, rice cakes and sugar-free gelatin or pudding cups are also quick, easy and healthy lunch treats.
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