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Publix GreenWise Market Magazine - August 2007

Pack a Perfect School Lunch

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School LunchTrade this lunch? No way! How to pack in taste - and nutrition - any kid will love.

One of the first things to write on your child's back-to-school supply list should be "nutritious lunches."

Kids who eat well are more likely to head to class with the energy, stamina, and self-esteem needed to be successful students. Of course, even a nutritionally "perfect" lunch isn't ideal if the youngster doesn't eat it, notes Sandra Nissenberg, R.D., author of Brown Bag Success: Making Healthy Lunches Your Kids Won't Trade.

To keep your brown bagger's lunch out of the trash, be sure it's made with his or her preferences in mind. "Get your kids involved in choosing what goes into the lunch and in helping to make it," Nissenberg says. Ask what shape to make a sandwich (try using large cookie cutters) or involve your child in making banana bread for the next day.

If your little one is stuck on peanut butter or some other type of sandwich, don't fight it. Instead, serve it on different types of bread - whole wheat bagels, English muffins, or pita bread. Add an extra ingredient, such as banana slices or shredded carrots with peanut butter, or sliced tomatoes with cheese.

Keep both the type of food and the portion size in mind when packing lunches. "Most parents think kids need the same amount of food an adult needs," says Nissenberg. "But too much food is a turn-off for a kid."

Most grade-school children can fill up on a half sandwich (with one to three ounces of cheese, deli meat, or peanut butter), a third to a half cup of vegetables, a half or a small piece of fruit, ¾ to 1 cup of milk, and a small cookie or two. Remember that most kids want to eat their lunch as quickly as possible and head to the playground, so you're better off offering small amounts of a variety of foods.

Also, pay attention to the colors, textures, and flavors in the lunch box. A colorful selection - carrot sticks and green grapes - can make the lunch more appetizing. Fresh vegetables or popcorn, whole wheat pretzels, and whole wheat crackers add crunch appeal. Packing foods with flavors that complement each other - apples and cheese, for instance - also helps make lunch more palatable.

Lunch packers should also be sensitive to developmental stages that can affect food preferences, advises Nissenberg. Consider that a child with a loose tooth may not want to bite into an apple, and a child with braces probably won't go for popcorn.

Finally, don't forget the follow-up. Ask your child whether he enjoyed the lunch you packed together. Even if you don't always get a straight answer, it's a good way to start a conversation aimed at discovering your child's lunchtime "sweet spot" and packing a school lunch he wouldn't dream of trading.

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