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By: Emily Yu, Intern, American University   Date: 8/8/11 
With the school year right around the corner, I know many parents are once again starting to think about the dreaded question of what to pack in school lunches. I recently spoke to my colleague, Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, who not only is a registered dietitian, but is also the mother of 3 kids. She had plenty of good ideas to turn a headache-inducing question into hopefully a sigh of relief. Here are a few of her tips:

Make Meal Planning a “Family Affair”

Consider involving your child(ren) in the grocery shopping and meal preparation process (or at least talk to them about it – as shopping with 3 little ones in tow can be stressful). This will give your child a sense of “ownership” in making their own food selection and helps build their confidence and life-long healthy eating behaviors. 

Your Pantry is Your Child’s “Grocery Store”

Stock your pantry and refrigerator with lots of nutrient-rich foods:
- Fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juice are all good choices)
- Whole grains, such as brown rice, whole grain bread, tortillas and pita pockets
- Lean protein sources, including meat, poultry, as well as fish and nuts, and low-fat dairy products.
If you pack your pantry with delicious (and nutritious) options, your kids will automatically be consuming those healthy food items!

Power Up with Breakfast

A nutritious breakfast can help your kids pay attention in school, and they will also be more likely to meet their daily nutrient requirements. Easy-to-make breakfasts include:
- High-fiber and low-sugar cereal with fruit and low-fat or fat-free milk
- Whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and low-fat or fat-free milk
- Yogurt poured on whole-grain waffles topped with berries
For additional breakfast ideas, download Putting the Fast in Breakfast.

Pack a Lunch That Has “Staying Power”

This means selecting foods that combine high fiber carbohydrates and protein, both of which take a little longer to digest.
- Fruits and vegetables, whole grain bread, crackers or tortillas for fiber
- Lean protein sources such as nut butters, hummus, sliced chicken and turkey
- Low-fat dairy products such as yogurt and cheese.
Don’t forget to always keep in mind food safety measures especially when packing lunches that include ingredients that might need refrigeration. Try out these creative, kid-tested lunch recipes to spice up your mid-day meal! 
Packing Lunch Can Be FUN!

From their lunch bag to what’s actually inside, let kids “play with their food.”  Embrace your inner child and make food fun – not a fight - for everyone. 
- Pull out the stickers, markers and glitter glue – brown paper bags are inexpensive and removable decals can work for reusable containers too.
- Kids like cutting food into fun shapes with cookie-cutters, rolling things up (think tortillas), and calling things funny names (i.e. Wendy’s kids call broccoli “dinosaur trees”). 

You’re a Role Model

Even if kids do not say or act like it, they are constantly looking to you for what and how they should eat. For ideas and tips on how to be a role model for your child download “Real-life Guide for Parents: Helping Your Kids Eat Right and Be Active”.

When trying to pack a nutritious lunch for your kids, do you remember to also pack a healthy lunch for yourself?

For more resources to keep your child healthy and active, visit, a healthy eating and active living website for kids between the ages of 9 and 12 and their families.

Also, to learn more about food safety when packing school lunches, visit


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