5 Tips For Packing a Healthy and Tasty School Lunch

By Tanya Steel, Epicurious.com

It's back to school time, and that means mostly gleeful parents (as the Staple's commercial reminds us, "It's the most wonderful time of the year,") and mostly sad kids. For me it also means an uptick in television segments--as evidenced in this shot from my kitchen yesterday for a local ABC news shoot--because Epicurious offers a ton of back-to-school articles and recipes, and my book, Real Food for Healthy Kids, has an entire chapter devoted to healthy brown-bag lunches.

Related: Our Complete Back-to-School Guide

As evidenced by Joanne Camas' post, it does seem that initiatives such as Chefs Move to Schools are helping to transform school cafeterias.

But, that doesn't affect those who bring their lunch to school so here are my top five tips to ensure your kids will actually eat any nutritious lunches you send:

1. Seat your Child on the Lunch Board: Get them involved in the planning and preparing of that week's lunches. Take them to the market to choose a few treats as well as peak-seasonal produce, wholesome whole-grains, and lean proteins.

2. Vary the Menu: Even if little Melanie wants a tuna salad sandwich every day, encourage her to have that only twice a week at most, and vary it with other nutritious foods. A child will get bored if allowed to eat the same thing, and then end up choosing high-fat/high-sugar alternatives, so promote to him or her the notion that variety is the spice of life.

See also: Our Ultimate Grilling and Barbecue Guide

3. Looks Matter: Just as adults, kids eat with their eyes first. Let them choose their favorite lunchbox and any containers, and when packing up the food, arrange the food in a pleasing manner so they are more likely to eat it.

4. Keep Cold Food Cool and Hot Food Warm: Ice packs (with your child's name) should be taped or included within your child's lunchbox for any items that need to stay chilled. If you want to send little Ben off with a veggie soup or pasta with basil and mozzarella, fill his thermos with boiling hot water while you heat those hot foods up. Then dump the water and refill with the hot food.

5. Include a Healthy Snack: Trail mix, low-fat granola bars, hummus with baby carrots, Greek yogurt, bags of frozen grapes, Clementine slices, low-fat popcorn, and whole-wheat pretzels are all excellent and tasty treats that will provide wee Josie with the energy she needs.

Do you have any tips of your own?

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