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News Room: ENQUIRER: Brown-bag lunch makeovers

To download a pdf of this article, please click here.

By: Toni Schklar

If you’re a parent, you’ve probably unearthed some pretty interesting (and perhaps gross) uneaten brown bag lunches in the bottom of your child’s backpack.

While cafeteria lunches and prepackaged meals are popular and convenient, they’re also expensive and often less than nutritious.

Here are some brown-bag makeovers with nutritional upgrades that are still tasty and shouldn’t elicit an “ewwwwwwwwww” response accompanied by an upturned nose. Ideally, these ideas will eliminate the need to use long-handled tongs to retrieve leftover lunches from the backpack.

  • Review the school cafeteria menu with your children and determine together which day(s) a bag lunch might be better/preferred over the cafeteria offering.
  • Brainstorm with your child what foods and snacks he or she would like to eat and shop accordingly. Do this regularly to stay current with new likes and dislikes.
  • Invite children to help pack lunches to enhance the likelihood they’ll consume what was packed.
  • Pack the same lunch for yourself and inspire a little competition to see who ate everything at day’s end.

Note: Be sure to check with your child’s school to make sure there aren’t any restrictions on what can be packed in lunches. Some schools are “peanut free."

Make a nutritional difference

Instead of the common foods in bold, consider some of these suggested substitutions:

  • Higher-fat lunch meats: Lower-fat deli meats, such as turkey
  • White bread: Whole-grain breads (wheat, oat, multi-grain), pita pockets, multi-grain tortilla, whole grain bagel
  • Mayonnaise: Light mayonnaise or mustard, hummus or light salad dressing (examples: ranch or chipotle)
  • Fried chips and snacks: Baked chips, air-popped popcorn, trail mix, veggies and dip
  • Sandwiches: Cold-cut roll-ups with lean meat and low-fat cheese. Salad with lean meat or low-fat cheese on top with low-fat dressing. Whole grain bowtie pasta with veggies mixed in.

Go to for additional ideas.

Variety is the spice of life

  • Be creative: Use cookie cutters to make sandwich slices more interesting; put a face on the apple using raisins for eyes, a grape for the nose, and craisins for the mouth. Engage your child to help with the “presentation” of the food choices.
  • Keep it fun: Include a special message on the napkin; hint at something fun they can look forward to after school; include something they didn’t ask for, but you know they like (examples: healthy snack bar or frozen yogurt).

Packing safety

  • Use a thermos for hot foods.
  • For refrigerated foods, use cold packs or freeze some foods and drinks overnight. They’ll thaw in the lunchbox.
  • Wash out lunchboxes every day or use brown paper bags that can be discarded or recycled.
  • Toss in some moist towelettes to remind children to wash their hands before eating.

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