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With the new school year starting soon and schools opening, it is time to think about lunch. The best way to make sure your child has fun and healthy lunches is by packing them at home. 

Why would you want to pack a lunch for your child? Over the past 30 years, childhood obesity has risen greatly. Packing lunches at home can ensure that your child is eating healthy meals that will help their immune system work to its full capacity. Packing meals at home also can be a fun experience for children.

How do you go about packing a lunch that your children will enjoy? First, sit down with your child and make a list of foods that they enjoy eating. This will give you a starting point of items that you can pack.  You can rotate those items so that lunch does not become boring.

Another suggestion is to take your child with you when you are shopping. Let them help pick out the items they want in their lunches. Encourage them to try new fruits and vegetables. If they help pick them out, they are more than likely to eat them. You also want to look for items with low sodium and less sugar to decrease their salt and sugar intake.

Here are some foods you can include:

Proteins: Slices of low-fat meats, nuts, string cheese, hummus, yogurt, boiled eggs.

Fruit: Sliced apples, grapes, bananas, strawberries, or dried fruit, such as apricots.

Vegetables: Carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumbers, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper sticks.

Grains: Whole-wheat crackers, mini bagels, granola bars, low-fat granola, small tortilla shells.

Healthy snacks: Air popped popcorn, oatmeal raisin cookies, granola bars, chocolate covered raisins, graham crackers, pretzels.

Additional information can be found at https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-to-pack-a-healthier-school-lunch-for-your-child.

What about something to drink? Sugar-sweetened beverages have been linked to chronic obesity and poor dental health. It has been recommended that children stick to drinking low-fat milk and water. If juice must be incorporated into their lunch, make sure that it is 100 percent fruit juice. One great idea to keep the food cool and give your child a cold drink is to freeze a bottle of water and include it with the meal. 

Presentation is always a helpful way to get children to eat. If their food looks fun, they are more than likely to eat it. One idea is to purchase a bento box to put your child’s food in. A bento box is a Japanese lunch box with multiple compartments. It will help keep the food separated and assist in portion control. You can make kebabs from foods your child likes and incorporate fruits and vegetables on them. Have a theme for each day such as Mexican, pizza or “Eat the Rainbow.” You can use cookie cutters to cut out shapes from fruit and vegetables.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks parents run into when thinking about packing lunches for their children is how to find the time to do it. There are several things that you can do to ensure packing lunches goes easier. Prepare the fruit and vegetables ahead of time and store in plastic baggies. Have your children help.  Prepare lunches the night before and allow your children to assist, which has several benefits. The first is that they will feel ownership in their lunches and will be more likely eat their food. The second is you will have helping hands, which will make things go faster for you. Have fun! Your children will thank you and so will their health.

Adrian Kohrt is a family nutrition coordinator for Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For questions, she can be contacted at amkohrt@alaska.edu or (907) 474-7930.