Lunchbox Makeover: How to Pack a Healthy Lunch

While school cafeterias are striving to make more nutritious meals, sending the kids off to school with a homemade lunch helps to ensure a healthy meal and saves money at the same time.

It’s tempting to toss a pre-packaged cheese and cracker box from the store into a backpack or lunchbox, and that will do in a pinch, but it’s not exactly the healthy lunch choice your child deserves. Instead take a few extra minutes and make every bite count.

For starters, ditch the white bread. Instead use whole grain bread, wheat pita pockets, bagels and tortillas. Substitute a leftover drumstick or a thermos of stew or soup every now and then for variety. Packing a healthy lunch is easier than you may think.

Here are a few ideas for a healthy main dish:
* Make a cheese quesadilla with sliced apples and cinnamon sprinkles. Hot or cold, this is a delicious and simple entr�©e.

* Use pita bread for pocket sandwiches. Stuff with spinach leaves and a mixture of cubed chicken, apples, raisins, celery and plain yogurt. If your child will tolerate a little spice, add a touch of curry powder to the mixture.

* Use whole wheat or specialty tortillas to make wraps, pinwheels and rollups. Even the classic peanut butter and jelly takes on a new twist when it’s spread on a tortilla. Be careful with peanut butter, some schools discourage or even ban peanut products if they have allergic students.

* Include bits of hard boiled egg, celery and chopped apple to tuna salad. Pile alfalfa sprouts on top and serve on a bagel or whole wheat bread.

To make sure the fresh fruit you so lovingly packed doesn’t head straight for the trashcan, make it easier to deal with in the first place. Peel and separate orange slices and place in a baggie. Instead of packing a whole apple, substitute a cup of applesauce. Or toss apple slices in a zippered bag along with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar for a yummy treat. A plastic container of fruit salad works well too. Make it fun and the kids won’t even know you’ve packed them a healthy lunch.

Provide water, milk or 100% fruit juice instead of punch or soda. Every so often, throw in a carton of fat-free chocolate or strawberry milk.

For a healthy snack, try including fat-free pudding cups, baby carrots and dipping sauce, pretzels, graham crackers, string cheese, dried fruit, fruit leathers or rollups, a pre-peeled hard boiled egg, trail mix or fig newtons.

Finally, top of the healthy lunch with a love note or a sticker to remind your child how much you care.

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