Packing lunches for kids is becoming more popular because cafeteria choices are often unhealthy or unappetizing.

You control what you send to school with your child, and if you pack the ultimate school lunch, you know he or she will get the best possible nourishment while enjoying it at the same time. Here are some guidelines to help you pack the ultimate school lunch.

Fresh Is Best

The main purpose of lunch is to provide midday nourishment so your child can continue on with a busy afternoon of learning. An unhealthy lunch bogs a youngster down, while healthy food provides a boost.

Avoid processed foods and select the freshest possible options for the ultimate school lunch. That means fresh fruit instead of fruit cups (which can be soaked in sugary syrup) or homemade soup instead of something from a can (which is usually high in sodium).

Make sandwiches with fresh sliced meats instead of bologna or other processed lunch meats and real cheese instead of “cheese food” slices. Eschew white bread for wraps made with whole wheat tortillas for a healthy, easy-to-hold option.

Stores are stocking better alternatives to salty snacks like potato chips and corn chips. Look for things like hummus, pita chips, whole grain chips and flavored rice cakes. Rice cakes even come in kid-friendly varieties, like caramel and apple cinnamon. If your child really loves traditional chips, buy healthier versions like baked tortilla or potato chips.

Keep It Simple

A lunch doesn’t have to be elaborate to be nutritious and tasty, and you don’t have to spend the whole morning preparing it. Make homemade soup, chili, or another hearty dish the night before so you can quickly heat it and fill a thermos. Used sliced beef, ham or turkey that’s left over from a previous dinner. Keep fresh apples, oranges, cherries, strawberries and other fruit on hand so you can grab a piece from the fridge when you’re packing the kids’ lunch boxes.

Make It Fun

Just because a lunch is nutritious doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun. Kids appreciate finding a treat in their lunch boxes. It doesn’t have to be something big. A snack-sized candy bar or pudding cup or a small packet of cookies is a tasty little goody that acts as a sweet, rewarding end to the nutritious meal.

You can also make the healthy choices more fun by choosing themes. For example, have an international week with a lunch item from a different country each day. Have a circle day and use tortillas, oranges, rice cakes and other round food items, or use a color theme like red or green.

Provide Options

Kids are independent little people. Almost as soon as they learn to talk, they’re ready to express opinions. They want to choose what they play with, wear, and watch on TV. Use this desire to involve them in planning their ultimate lunches.

Of course, many kids would have a lunch consisting strictly of something like Doritos and Oreo cookies if they had their way, so you need to set parameters. Do this subtly by giving several healthy choices instead of simply asking, “What do you want for lunch tomorrow?” Instead, ask, “Would you rather have an apple or some cherries? Do you want chicken or turkey in your wrap?” You can also create a list of lunch items and let your child mix and match them throughout the week.

Nourish the Body and Soul

Your child’s lunch should nourish his or her body, and it can also feed the spirit. As Jesus said in his confrontation with Satan:

But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4

The Word of God is important, but for your children, your parental words of praise are just as nourishing to the soul. Add a little note to the kids’ lunches. It doesn’t have to be something elaborate. Just a quick note that says “Don’t forget that I love you” or “I’m so happy to be the mom of the world’s greatest kid” means a lot, especially if your child answered a question wrong in class or got teased by a classmate. That note can turn the whole day around and repair his or her damaged self esteem.

For younger kids, dress up the note with a colorful sticker or simple drawing. For older kids, it’s mainly the thought that counts, so let your warmth shine through in your words.

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