11:23 AM

5 Keys to a Healthy School Lunch

By Emily Shiffer

Packing a healthy lunch for your kids is one of the best ways to set them up for success while they’re away from home. And while it’s easy to stock your fridge pre-packaged and processed foods, a little planning goes a long way when it comes to getting the most nutrients into your child’s midday meal.

We asked Kimberly Procaccino, RD, LDN, MBA, registered dietitian and Sodexo Nutrition Director at LVHN, for her tips on how to pack the healthiest lunches for your kids.

1. Pack the night before

Not only does this take less stress out of weekday mornings, but it can also help avoid food poisoning.

“Try to pack lunches the night before because it will keep your child’s food nice and cold overnight,” says Procaccino. “If you pack in the morning, the food is likely to be sitting out at room temperature for longer during prep, which can increase the chances of food poisoning.”

2. Remember to clean lunch boxes

If your kid has a lunch box, make sure to disinfect it after every use.“Cleanliness of the bag you’re putting the food into is crucial for food safety,” says Procaccino. “You can use dish soap to wash it out and let it dry out overnight, or use a bleach wipe.”

3. It’s all about the veggies

“Parents should recognize that veggies should be half of a child’s plate,” says Procaccino. Wondering how to fill up that 50% without a fight? Focus on the veggies you know they already enjoy, says Procaccino, “Always have 1 veggie you know they like, and introduce another into the lunch so there is less pressure to try the new one.”

4. The more colors, the better

“Color is key,” says Procaccino, “All fruits and veggies incorporate different colors, which will offer different vitamins and minerals to your child’s diet.” This is according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate.gov, which creates the Dietary Guidelines each year for Americans: The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

5. Skip juice

Procaccino suggests avoiding juices that have added sugar. And even if it contains zero added sugars, she’s a fan of fruit in solid-form rather than juice. “I always suggest packing water. You can even partially freeze a bottle overnight to act as an ice pack,” says Procaccino. Milk is also acceptable, especially if your child doesn’t consume dairy easily or often--just be sure to keep the milk cool if storing in a lunchbox.