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Lani By Lani Telian, health communications specialist at DPH

All across Massachusetts, you can hear the school bells ringing again. If you’re a parent, you know what that means – busy mornings getting the kids ready and out the door with backpacks and lunch bags in hand. With just a little planning, you can help your child make healthy food choices throughout the school day.

School meals and snacks are big topics of conversation this year, and students have already started to see healthier options popping up in the cafeteria. By serving healthy foods and drinks at home, you can help your kids learn how to choose healthy options when they’re away from home.

Packing lunch is another way to make sure they’re getting the right foods and drinks. It’s not always easy to get up in the morning, make breakfast, get ready for work, get the kids out the door AND pack a lunch without feeling frazzled. It may be helpful to pack lunches the night before, either after dinner or before the kids’ bedtime. Encourage your children to help by choosing foods they like to eat, and packing them in a lunch bag or lunchbox. When kids help make it and choose it, they’ll most likely eat it!

When it comes to drinks, water is always the best choice. Adding fruit (like raspberries or lemon) or packing plain or naturally flavored seltzer water are two ways to mix things up a bit.  It’s best not to send flavored milk, which is packed with a lot of added sugar. Instead, send them with low-fat or non-fat plain milk.

Don’t be afraid to experiment.  Include a variety of foods for lunches and snacks that you’ll feel good about packing and your kids will love eating.

Stuck for some new ideas?  Make things easier by choosing one food from each category below to make a delicious and healthy lunch or snack.

Whole Grains:

  • Whole grain bread
  • Whole grain pita
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat pasta

Proteins:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Ham
  • Tuna
  • Eggs
  • Peanut butter

Vegetables:

  • Cucumbers
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli

Fruits:

  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon

 Snacks:

  • Low fat yogurt
  • Whole grain granola bars or crackers
  • String cheese
  • Popcorn
  • Whole grain pretzels
  • Baby carrots

Drinks:

  • Water
  • Seltzer water
  • 1% low fat or non fat plain milk
  • 4-8 ounces 100% fruit juice

Here are a few combinations you could use:

  • A turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with lettuce/tomato/sprouts and mustard, baby carrots, an apple, and 1% low fat milk.  Pack a whole grain granola bar for snack time.
  • Tuna salad with low-fat mayonnaise in a whole wheat tortilla with lettuce and red bell pepper strips, a sliced up orange, and lemon flavored seltzer water.  Pack natural low-salt popcorn for a snack.
  • Peanut butter and an all-fruit spread on whole wheat crackers, sliced cucumbers, a banana, low-fat yogurt (drinkable or regular), and water.  Pack whole grain unsalted pretzel sticks for a snack. 

The key to good nutrition is to eat a variety of foods. Every time you pack a lunch with foods like fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products, you’re doing something positive for your child’s health. As an added benefit, good nutrition also improves your child’s ability to learn and succeed in school. So, what will be in your child’s lunchbox this year? 

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