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Tips for Healthy, Affordable Lunches

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As students head back to school, parents are challenged with packing more nutrition and less junk food while still keeping choices affordable.

Compared to a typical lunch -bologna sandwich, chips and cookies - parents can cut dozens of grams of fat and sugar from children's lunches. The County Health & Human Services Agency offers tips for parents to keep costs and calories low:

PLANNING

  • Create a weekly lunch menu and add it to your shopping list. Look for bargains on healthy items - buy more and freeze for later.
  • Freeze cups of green beans, peas or corn, or berries and yogurt to pack each morning. These will thaw by lunchtime.
  • Pack low-salt, low-fat popcorn and pretzels, or whole-wheat crackers into containers on Sundays to add to lunches during the week.
  • Make double recipes of your healthy dinners and freeze in single size portions for quick meals later in the week.
  • Set aside small amounts of ingredients from dinner recipes: slice extra green and red peppers when preparing a salad, and pack them for munching. Or, pack cold cooked pasta (which is inexpensive and comes in fun shapes), with a tasty light dressing to dip into.

GET THE KIDS INVOLVED

  • Pack identical lunches. What’s good for the kids is good for you and your budget.
  • Grow your own fruits or vegetables. The kids will enjoy picking what they helped grow. Try cherry tomatoes and lettuce to start.
  • Make sure children actually eat their lunches, avoiding waste, Use shapes - sandwiches in hearts, cheese in cubes, and apples in circles - to add fun to the lunch box.
  • Try healthy substitutes to keep kids away from costly doctor and dentist visits:

    Instead of:

    Consider:
    Fried chips and snacks

    Jicama with lime juice, trail mix, low-salt/fat air popped popcorn, veggies & light dip, baked chips

    Cookies and sweet snacks

    Trail mix, yogurt, or low-sugar home-baked goodies such as oatmeal cookies or fruit muffins – or a stick of cheddar cheese. Prevents cavities!

    Mayonnaise spreadAvocado spread

To avoid foodborne illness or spoiled food, be sure to prepare and store lunches safely. The County Department of Environmental Health advises parents to:

  • refrigerate fruit and drinks overnight so they can be used as insulation in a child’s lunch
  • pack an antibacterial wipe in the lunch box to be used before handling food
  • and throw away used storage