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Dinner Tonight has tips, tricks for healthier, safer back-to-school lunches

Suggestions on what to pack for school lunches, add variety to a meal

While time pressures often make it difficult for parents and caretakers to think of lunch ideas or pack healthful lunches, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Dinner Tonight program can help.

“When deciding what to pack in your child’s lunch, choose foods that fall into the five main food groups – dairy, fruit, grains, lean meats and vegetables,” said Chelsea Stevens, AgriLife Extension family and community health agent, Williamson County. “This will provide an energy balance throughout the school day. And providing lower-fat options with a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables will help keep your child’s brain active during the afternoon.”

Stevens said to make the lunch packing process easier, Dinner Tonight has the following suggestions:

  • Prepare vegetables and fruits the night before to save time.

“Also, research has shown that kids are more likely to eat fruits and veggies when they are already cut up,” Stevens said.

  • Add healthy sides such as unsweetened applesauce, cheese sticks made with low-fat milk, crackers, nuts, low-fat yogurt and fruit or veggie cups.

“These are simple and easy ways to add variety to a meal,” she said.

  • Use portion boxes or containers to keep servings at an ideal level.

“These are also a great way to get your child involved by showing them what foods go in each compartment,” Stevens said.

  • Thinking outside the sandwich. While sandwiches are quick and easy, adding variety is key for both adults and kids when it comes to eating healthy.

“Instead of making a sandwich for lunch, try making a wrap or some pasta salad,” Stevens suggested.

While what you pack in the lunch box is important, so is the storing process used to ensure the food you pack is safe, Stevens said. Some tips and tricks from Dinner Tonight to help make sure food is safe include:

  • Using an insulated box or bag instead of a paper bag.

“Perishable food can become unsafe to eat by lunchtime if packed in a regular paper bag,” Stevens said.

  • Before eating, children should wash their hands for 20 seconds or the equivalent time for singing their ABCs twice.
  • If possible, store the child’s lunch in a refrigerator at home and have them store it in a refrigerator at school.

“If your child’s school does not provide a refrigerated place to store their lunch, you can use ice packs in an insulated lunch bag to keep the food cool until lunchtime,” she said.

  • If packing a hot lunch, like soup, chili or stew, use an insulated container to keep it hot.
  • After lunch or when the child gets home from school, discard all leftover food, used food packaging and paper bags.

“Many children like to save some food to snack on later in the day,” Stevens said. “While this is OK for some foods, like most fruits, make sure kids throw out any perishable foods after they have finished their lunch,” she said.

Stevens said to help sweeten up the lunch routine and add creativity to the process, get the child involved in making a healthy dessert, such as Dinner Tonight’s banana apple muffins.

“This will be a fun way to bond, plus it’s also a way for your child to take ownership of their lunch and let the other kids know they helped make the healthy treat,” she said.

To learn more about Dinner Tonight and see its recipes, go to


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