Meadville Tribune

August 12, 2013

Tips you can use — local expert walks you through packing healthy school lunch and making healthy snacks

By Rosanne Rust
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Dare I say back to school? It’s August already, and in a few weeks, lunches will need to be packed again, and after-school snacks planned for. Keep it simple — pack a protein, a grain, a fruit and/or vegetable, and an occasional small treat. Encourage your child or teen to buy milk with lunch every day. Have fresh fruit, cheese and crackers, cereal with milk, nuts or a sandwich available for after school snacks. Involve your kids — you don’t have to do all the work. Even young children can begin to help pack lunches or get items ready the night before.

What should you have in your pantry come Aug. 27?

Lean meats (baked ham, roast turkey, tuna fish)

Peanut butter. It’s a simple staple protein source that requires no refrigeration. Go for natural types or brands with limited ingredients. Peanuts should be the first ingredient

Whole wheat bread and wraps. Use small whole-wheat tortillas or flat wraps. Add a spread of cream cheese, a slice of ham or turkey, a lettuce leaf, and roll up. You can also refrigerate ahead, and then slice into pinwheels in the morning. Pack with an ice pack. If your child is going through the “I don’t like crust” phase, just trim it off. They will eat more of the sandwich if you trim ahead than if they eat around the crust.

Cheese chunks. Cube cheese and place in a reusable container. Pack with apple slices or grapes and whole grain crackers.

Fresh or packaged fruit. Large bags of apples are usually more economical. Look for smaller apples to avoid waste. Bananas ripen quickly and can get “mushy” in a lunch box, so they may not be ideal. Grapes and berries travel well in small plastic containers. Slice oranges into four wedges for quick and easy eating. Flavored or cinnamon applesauce has more added sugars, so choose those once in a while, and choose unsweetened applesauce more frequently.

Veggies — baby carrots, cucumber slices, pepper slices, celery sticks. Add baby spinach leaves or chopped lettuce to wraps or sandwiches.

Go green, save money

There are many packaged items at the store to choose from. However, these are more expensive and also produce a lot of paper, plastic and waste. Sure, sometimes you are time-stressed and want the convenience, but other times, consider your wallet and the environment and waste less by using reusable containers and flatware. The reusable containers also prevent the food item from getting smashed or bruised. Even using small, snack size zipper bags creates less waste than buying individually wrapped packages all of the time.

Raw veggies like baby carrots or bell pepper strips can be packaged into a small container. Go green and pour dip into reusable containers instead of buying packages that are often not completely used and thrown away.

Nuts. Put a few tablespoons of nuts into a small round container.

Use leftovers. A hard cooked egg or a leftover chicken drumstick is often welcome in a school lunch box. Some lunchrooms may allow students to microwave. If not, consider investing in a hot thermos.

Make your own yogurt parfait kits. Instead of buying the pre-made parfait or yogurt with ‘crunchies,’ buy large containers of low fat vanilla yogurt. Scoop some out into your reusable container, and pack granola, sliced fruit or fresh blueberries into small snack bags for your child to assemble at lunchtime.

Pack a homemade sandwich, fruit and cookie instead of relying on packaged lunch kits (there’s not only less waste, but a lot less sodium).

Try a Bento Box. These neat contraptions are partitioned containers that are reusable and pack each food group neatly into its spot. You can find one at numerous stores and online.

Small treats are OK

There is sort of a war on sugar going on. I’m awaiting the next one: the war on salt. Sugar is nutrient-free and an unnecessary part of your diet, but it tastes good and many foods containing it are enjoyable. Balance and moderation is important — choose the basic foods first (protein, grain, fruit, veggie, milk), then allow the treat. When you pack a treat into your child’s lunchbox, keep small portions in mind. Two cookies are enough, one cupcake, a one-ounce bag of chips, or a bite-size piece of candy will add some fun to your child’s lunchbox, but keep calories, sugar and sodium in check.

Rust, a local registered dietitian and author, can be contacted via her website,, or by emailing her at