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Tips for healthy lunchbox

Another school year is here and along with it the daily dilemma over how to pack a healthy lunch that the kids will eat.

Studies have shown that eating a well-balanced lunch helps keep minds sharp and prepares kids for an afternoon of learning. However, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, even though your child's school cafeteria is required to match federal government nutrition guidelines, schools often take the easy fast-food route -- burgers, pizza and other fried or fatty foods -- every day.

According to the Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals, only 2


The YMCA's website offers more tips and some recipes. 

percent of school-age children meet the Food Guide Pyramid recommendations for all five food groups.

Hulda Majnster, healthy lifestyles and wellness director with the YMCA of Greater Miami, offers these tips for keeping kids happy and well-nourished:

  • Get kids involved: Make grocery shopping a family affair. Help guide your kids to make good choices by limiting the snack options to food like granola bars, pretzels, fruits and raisins. Many of these products add fiber, calcium and other nutrition that kids won't even notice.
  • Include favorite foods: If kids are eating a healthy, well-balanced lunch, it is OK to have a small sweet treat. There is no need to deprive kids of treats, just keep them in moderation.
  • Buy in bulk: It is OK to stock up on staple items like whole grain crackers, fruit cups and granola bars. Not only will it save some money, but lunch bags can get packed quickly. Also pack an extra item as an afternoon snack to help keep kids away from the vending machine.
  • Make it fun: Use cookie cutters to shape sandwiches or cut apple slices into the shape of French fries.
  • Cook a bigger dinner: By making extra the night before, the fixings for a great lunch are ready to go, such as leftover turkey for sandwiches.

FamilyFun magazine offers these tips for fighting kids' top pet peeves with what's inside their lunchboxes.

"I can't stand soupy yogurt and warm drinks.''

Solutions: Use a frozen juice box to keep yogurt and other foods cold by wrapping the two containers together with a piece of aluminum foil.

The night before, fill a freezable drink container halfway with the beverage (noncarbonated) you plan to pack. Freeze the liquid overnight. In the morning, fill the rest of the bottle with more of the same beverage. By lunchtime, your child's drink will be just cold enough.

"I hate when sandwiches are soggy, like egg salad on mushy, wet bread.''

Solutions: Use cream cheese flavored with herbs or spices instead of mayonnaise. If you do use mayonnaise -- in tuna salad, for example -- add just enough to bind the ingredients.

Pack condiments separately or butter the bread before adding condiments.

For PB&Js, spread peanut butter on both pieces of bread and a layer of jam in between.

"The fruit's always squashed, and the lettuce is wilted.''

Solutions: Pack fruit salad (instead of loose fruit) in a sturdy plastic container. And save overripe bananas for banana bread, which makes a great lunch box addition.

Pack lettuce, sliced tomatoes and other veggies separately so kids can add them to their sandwiches at lunchtime. Another plus to this method is if your child decides last minute that he doesn't want veggies on his sandwich, he can simply leave them off instead of trashing a perfectly good sandwich.

"I won't eat it if I don't know what it is!''

Solutions: Don't get radical. By all means, try changing the presentation to spice things up a bit, but stick to variations of foods you know your kids like.

For example, try using bagels, pita bread or even date nut bread instead of the usual white or wheat. Or cut a sandwich into puzzle pieces. But don't pack a tomato and pickle salad or meatloaf on rye unless that combo has already passed muster at home.

Consider setting up a system where your kids get to pick sandwiches, snacks and beverages from a predetermined list of choices. After all, they're more likely to eat their lunch if it includes items they've requested.