Back To School 1
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By Emily Parks, Contributing Writer

The start of school also means the start of packing school lunches. After spending the summer grazing on whatever got thrown into the pool bag or could be found in the pantry, it’s time to come up with a plan. But where to start?

Simplicity is key. Susanna DeRocco, certified health coach and nutrition counselor and owner of Healthy Bodies Healthy Minds consultancy, suggests “take your usual lunch item, and deconstruct it.” She notes that the components of a salad, sandwich or parfait can be packed to become un-sandwiches, un-salads and un-parfaits. A ham sandwich deconstructed becomes slices of rolled up ham and a handful of whole grain crackers with slices of cheese. A un-parfait becomes a container of Greek yogurt packed with fresh fruit, granola, roasted nuts or dried fruit. “Lunch kebabs are also easy and fun, putting fruit, cheese, leftover grilled chicken, or roasted vegetables on a stick,” she adds. Packing a smoothie frozen in a silicone container to defrost before lunchtime is another easy option.

Be flexible. Letting kids pack their own lunches ensures their lunches will adapt as their tastes change. According to Melissa Baker, author of the Facebook and Instagrampage titled Food Belly and mom to Liam, 11, Maya, 9, and Camden, 4, giving your kids a say in what lunch items get packed can improve your chances for lunch success. She keeps the fridge stocked with options such as pre-cooked package chicken, lunch meat, hummus, vegetables and fruit and lets them choose what they want to pack for lunch. “Fun finger food lunches at my house include pieces of chicken, cucumber, tomato, lettuce and a pita wedge eaten together or separately,” she says.“We also do ‘walking tacos’ and pack taco meat leftover from the night before in a thermos with sides like cheese, a tortilla and vegetables. Or it is as simple as soup in a thermos.”

But don’t feel like you have to come up with new, exciting lunch items every day. DeRocco advises that “it’s OK to pack the same thing every day if it means the lunch won’t come back home in the lunch box – if you’ve found success, stick with it.”

Healthy eating also means healthy snacking. “Most of the time, kids will grab a lunchsized bag of chips just because it’s quick, it’s easy and it’s there,” says DeRocco. Setting aside an afternoon to slice some veggies can make it just as easy to grab apple slices instead of pretzels. Baker agrees.“If you cut it, they will come,” she says. “If I have sliced vegetables or fruit on a platter with olives and cheese, they’ll eat it because it’s there.”

Making sure the snack has the right components is key. “PFF (protein, fat and fiber) is your BFF,” counsels DeRocco.“Options that are satisfying and filling include apple ‘sandwiches’ with nut or seed butter, hummus or bean dip with raw vegetables, or a piece of nitrate-free turkey lunch meat wrapped around a pickle or piece of Romaine lettuce, to name a few.”

And no need to pack those delicious, nutritious lunches in a plain, brown paper bag. Lunch boxes and lunch bags are a great way for students to make a fashion statement and show their own personal style. Your fussy eater might not want the crusts on their sandwich, but they will want to show off their favorite lunch box.

For the tween set, Vera Bradley offers both fashion and function with their stylish lunch boxes and bags in lux fabrics and patterns that feel more like an accessory than a necessary school supply.

Roomy lunch boxes and bags from L.L. Bean ensure there’s plenty of space for lunch items, yet are durable and water-resistant with an easy-clean lining. The storage lid for the L.L. Bean Flip-Top lunch box holds drinks, insulated containers, or that extra cookie. “There’s enough room for everything they should eat and everything they want to eat,” says L.L. Bean spokesperson Mary Rose MacKinnon.“Still, it’s compact enough to fit easily in a backpack.”No small feat!

This season, Target offers whimsical patterns for their lunch boxes and bags that are guaranteed to liven up any lunch table. Flamingos, palm tree smiley faces, florals and geometric designs all show the silly side of lunch.

Bento containers are environmentally friendly and convenient. Jacqueline Linder, founder and CEO of Lunchbots, explains how “our Trio 2 medium bento container has separate sections for food, which encourages healthy eating by making it easy to pack a variety of colorful, healthy foods (just fill and go!)” Plastic-free and made of the highest-quality stainless steel, they are easy to clean and strong enough to last a lifetime.

Taking just a small amount of time to plan and make thoughtful, healthy food choices will take packing lunches from fussy to fun! •