The rules that we have implemented for packing lunches are not always easy to decipher. In order to comply with State regulations we have to make sure that every child has each food group covered in their snacks and lunches, so that we can ensure they are meeting nutritional standards, and getting the right kinds of foods to give them the energy that they need to get through a long school day. Here are some tips and ideas for understanding these regulations, and making sure that your child has healthy lunches and snacks that he or she will actually eat.
We have snack twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Each snack has to contain food from two separate food groups, however, for snacks 100% fruit juice can fulfill the fruit requirement. We suggest filling two small water bottles with 100% fruit juice, your child can drink one at morning snack and one at afternoon snack, and you have already fulfilled one of the food groups.
Some other great ideas for snacks include snack crackers (graham cracker, goldfish, ritz sandwich crackers with cheese, cheez-its, etc.), raw veggies such as cucumber slices, celery sticks, or green pepper slices, a small container or tube of yogurt, string cheese, or veggie-based baked chips (veggie chips, veggie straws, sweet potato chips, etc).
If you choose not to include a 100% fruit juice, some snacks that contain items from two food groups include graham crackers with cream cheese or a non-nut based spread (wow butter, flavored cream cheese, cheddar cheese spread, etc), raw veggies with a dipping spread (ranch flavored cream cheese spread, wow butter, hummus), a combination of raw fruit and cheese, crackers and cheese slices, or toast or a tortilla with jelly or apple butter.
Lunches must include vitamin D fortified milk. If you would like to bring a gallon of milk in for your child we can label it and store it at the school, or you can fill a thermos or re-usable water bottle with milk each day.
Lunches also have to include 1 protein. This could be lunchmeat slices or a protein spread (wow butter, hummus) on a sandwich, tortilla, or crackers. Most beans also fall into the protein category (black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, edamame, etc), so if your child will eat a cold bean dip feel free to use that as a protein, with tortilla chips. Tuna fish is also a great protein source, you could make your child a tuna sandwich or include a tuna salad dip that they can eat with crackers. Eggs are another protein source that people often forget about, you could include a cold omelet (make one large omelet and cut it into quarters – lunch for your child for four days), if you add cheese and green peppers or celery to the omelet then you have covered 3 different food groups.
A lunch also needs to have a vegetable and a fruit, or two fruits ( 100% fruit juice does not count as a fruit for lunch). Raw veggies are always a great choice, but some other ideas include a tomato salsa that includes a variety of other vegetables, lettuce and tomato on a sandwich, or a small salad. Raw fruit is also a great choice, but remember that if you send grapes they should be cut into quarters so that they do not pose a choking hazard. Other ideas for fruits include apple sauce or a fruit cup, dehydrated fruit, or natural jams and jellies.
Finally each lunch should include a grain. If you have packed a sandwich, the bread would be the grain, but you could also include crackers, a tortilla, tortilla chips, or cereal, cold oatmeal, or a bagel.
These suggestions should help you get started, packing lunches shouldn’t have to be stressful!