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Ideas for Packed School Lunches

By Denise Stern

Many of us remember the days of metal lunchboxes and brown bag lunches. These days, thousands of kids go to school with prepared lunch packets purchased from the sandwich meat section of the local grocery store or eat at the cafeteria. However, to save money and to guarantee that your children are getting the best nutrition, many parents these days are going back to the basics and give their kids a brown bag that offers not only the best in nutrition and balance but can be fun too. Brown bag lunches go way beyond the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and apple and can offer salads or stews as well as some fun foods like hot dogs and tacos.


Sandwiches need to be different every day to keep your child from getting bored and tossing it in the trash. Instead of making him the same peanut butter and jelly, try grilled cheese wrapped in foil once a week. Offer him chicken or tuna salad, deli sliced Hoagies or submarine sandwiches filled with his favorite meat and cheese combination.

Hot Dogs and Hamburgers

Hot dogs with buns, with disposable packets of mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup or relish saved from your favorite fast food joint will give a child a break from sandwiches. If you want a healthy alternative, choose whole wheat hot dog buns and turkey franks. Hamburgers can be make with vegetarian burgers or lean ground beef. Place the meat in a separate bag from the bun and pack another bag with onion and tomato slices so your child can build his or her own at lunchtime.

Hot Foods

Fill a thermos with spaghetti, stew or soup that your child can pour into the thermos cup or a small plastic container you place inside the brown bag or lunchbox. Most lunchboxes these days come with gel packs that keep drinks cold. You can also keep foods warm by dipping the thermos in hot or boiling water in the morning before the children leave for school to keep the food inside warmer longer.


Mixed nuts, chips, pretzels and other snacks can be doled out in small portions every other day to keep lunches fun. Offer fruits and vegetables for the child that are easy to eat. Cut celery sticks and fill with peanut butter or low fat cream cheese or offer dips for fruits and vegetables like raw broccoli or carrots. Kids like things that crunch.


Drinks come in all shapes and sizes. Punch cartons, sodas, bottled water and Kool-Aid are kid favorites, but don't forget the nutritious value of milk. If your child doesn't want plain white milk, buy low fat chocolate milk or strawberry flavored milk in small plastic containers, or make a milk mix at home using strawberry or chocolate or added vanilla flavoring to fill a thermos. Milk is loaded with calcium and vitamin A. Encourage your child to drink milk every day.


Keep the lunch menu colorful. Colors not only provide adequate nutrients to the packed lunch, but keep it bright and cheerful too. It's okay to give the child a small bag of chips or cookies for dessert, but make sure the rest of the lunch is balanced and nutritious. After a week, ask your child what she liked best about the lunches during the past week and listen to complaints or suggestions so the next week is better.

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