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How to Create a Healthy Meal for School, Part II

Healthy Alternatives for School Lunch

Now that you have some ideas for what to put in your child's lunchbox, find out proper ways to store the food, clean the lunchbox and other tips for lunchbox success.

Lunch Box No-Nos

Not all food is fit for the lunchbox. Ely says to avoid anything that is difficult to eat or messy, like spaghetti with long, uncut pasta. "And don't put bananas in cold lunches – they turn brown and your children won't eat them."

Many parents worry about putting mayonnaise on sandwiches for fear of food poisoning. Ely says there are risks if the lunch is not stored in a cooler. "You minimize the risk by making sure the child's lunch is always in a cooler," she says. "No cooler, no mayo should be the rule." But if your child won't eat his sandwich without mayonnaise, frozen juice boxes work well. The drink will keep the sandwich cold and thaw out by lunchtime. Simply throw the drink in the freezer the night before.

Storing the Goodies

Should you send the goodies in sandwich bags or plastic storage containers? "The containers don't always make it home or, if they do, it's two weeks later and you have a seriously gross science experiment going on," Ely says. "I would use a combination of both – sandwiches in bags and dips, etc. in containers." Many parents send sandwiches wrapped in aluminum foil, which works, as well. If you do send aluminum foil, ask if the school has a recycling program and a place for your child to deposit the used foil.

Cleaning the Box

Whether your child has brought home a "science experiment" in his lunchbox or not, all lunchboxes eventually develop a funky odor. Ely suggests "good 'ol baking soda. Make a baking soda paste and scrub it into the box and let sit – maybe even overnight. Rinse well and air dry. It should be fine after that. If not, try vinegar or lemon." Be sure to rinse out the lunchbox with soap and water every day to keep it clean and ready for the next day's lunch.

Surprise!

Another way to keep the lunchbox exciting for your child is to hide little surprises in it from time to time. Stickers, a new eraser, a funny card, a personalized pencil, a "question of the day," a coupon from something special when they get home or a note are good ideas. "Notes are great, especially when you know they have a test or something that day – or even a flower is a nice touch," Ely says. Another idea is to send a questionnaire for them to fill out about how they liked the lunch you sent. This not only gives them something fun to do, but lets you know what they liked and didn't like about the lunch.

Don't sing the homework blues this year. Remember that nutrition is key when packing your child's lunch, and if you make it fun, they will eat it!

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CeReality: 5 Families, 5 Stories, 1 Critical Meal

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