Brown paper bags may be convenient and inexpensive, but they rip easily and don't help keep cold foods cold or hot foods hot. They're fine for a peanut butter sandwich and an apple, but not for much else.
Metal or plastic lunch boxes with insulated beverage containers are one step up from the brown bag because they are sturdier. Your child can take a hot or cold beverage with his lunch, but it is still difficult to control the temperature of the foods -- so food choices are still limited.
Insulated lunch bags are the best choice for school lunches. Some insulated bags are equipped with freezer packs, or you can also buy freezer packs separately. There are bags with two or more compartments that let you keep foods and beverages separate.
Insulated bags can be very fashionable. Some look more like a trendy purse or tote bag, and there are plenty of novelty bags to please any boy or girl.
The insulated bag and freezer packs will keep your child's lunch cold, safe and fresh. But who wants to eat cold food every day? You'll also need insulated food jars for hot foods. Pick up a few plastic containers in smaller sizes and sandwich bags, too, and you'll be prepared to offer your child a variety of hot and cold foods.
Sandwiches are a popular choice for school lunches. Remember that meats, dairy products, and eggs are perishable, so be sure to use a freezer pack to keep them cold. Choose whole grain bread, wraps, or pitas.
If your child resists whole grains, use bread that is made with some whole grain, but still has the flavor and texture of white bread. Each sandwich should have a protein source and healthy toppings.
- Tuna sandwich wrap with light mayonnaise, lettuce and tomatoes.
- Egg salad sandwich on whole grain bread.
- Peanut butter, cashew, or almond butter with a 100-percent fruit spread on whole grain bread.
- Sliced turkey, lean beef, or chicken breast meat from the grocery store (or left over from last night's dinner) with light mayonnaise, mustard, and a slice of cheese.
What should you send along with the sandwich? A piece of fresh fruit is healthy but can get a bit boring after a while.
Skip the greasy chips. Choose these healthier options (remember to keep perishables cool with a freezer pack):
- Send a salad in a covered plastic container. Keep the dressing on the side in a separate, smaller, container.
- Cheese sticks go well with sandwiches and are a good source of calcium.
- Whole grain snack crackers add a nice crunch and lots of healthy fiber.
- Make a fruit salad with grapes, melons chunks, and blueberries.
- Dried fruit, like raisins, dried cranberries or banana chips.
- Nuts like almonds, cashews, or walnuts.
- Pack a cold pasta salad, cole slaw, or potato salad.
- Baby carrots with a small container of vegetable dip.
- Crunchy raw green beans with a small container of ranch or french onion dip.
- Prepackaged flavored low-fat yogurt.
Think Beyond the Sandwich
With insulated food jars, you can send hot foods to school, too, like leftovers from that delicious meal you made last night. Make sure the foods are heated up to at least 140 degrees before you load them into the insulated jars.
Here are some hot food ideas:
- Beef and vegetable stew with a hard roll.
- Chicken noodle soup and whole grain crackers.
- Lasagna with a salad and bread.
- Chicken casserole with carrots and vegetable dip.
- Chili with whole grain crackers or bread.
- Left over stir-fry or sautéed vegetables.
"Keeping Bag Lunches Safe." United States Department of Agriculture. September 27, 2006.