Arkansas

School has started, and each week day children leave home with backpacks and lunch boxes. Whether your child carries a crinkly brown bag or a colorful lunch box, here are a few tips to make your child's lunch worth bragging about.

When packing your brown bag meals, be sure to make it safe to eat, nutritious and interesting. Keep everything that touches the food clean--bowls, countertops and hands. If your child can't refrigerate their lunch, use a frozen 100 percent fruit juice box or insulated freeze gel to keep items cold in the lunch box. The fruit juice will thaw by lunch time as well as help keep other foods cold and safe.

Many times, sandwiches are the mainstay of the brown bag lunch. Add variety to the lunch by trying different kinds and shapes of breads. Breads made from whole-grains, such as whole-wheat, multi-grain, rye and pumpernickel. Bagels, biscuits, rolls, tortillas and pita pockets lend different shapes to sandwiches. Let children get creative using cookie cutters on bread.

Simplify sandwich-making by relying on great tasting, versatile meats. A three-ounce portion of cooked, sliced beef provides nutrients, vitamins and protein. It also provides one of the two to three servings your child needs daily.

For a new twist to an old favorite--the cheese sandwich--send cheese cubes and pretzel sticks for kebabs. Simply freeze the cheese cubes the night before and they will thaw by lunch time, still safe to eat.

Add variety to the old standby--peanut butter and jelly--by replacing the jelly with slices of fresh fruit like bananas or apples. Or make a peanut butter and banana "dog." Spread peanut butter between raisin bread to make another tasty sandwich. Peanut butter; however, is high in fat and sodium and should be used sparingly. Remember two tablespoons of peanut butter is the equivalent of one serving from the meat group.

Children think they need chips to go with a sandwich. Instead of chips, which have no or very little nutritional value, why not send along pretzels. With pretzels, they receive one serving from the breads group while chips are placed in the fats, sweets and oils group.

Send some nice crunchy raw vegetables like carrots, broccoli or cauliflower, with dipping sauce. They might enjoy a crunchy apple, pear, kiwi or a box of raisins. A sandwich, fruit, pretzels and a carton of milk from the cafeteria make up a well-balanced lunch.

To avoid the same hum-drum lunches, create variety by letting your child help with the food shopping and preparation. If they help prepare it, they are more likely to eat it.

Be creative to keep your lunch toter happy and always surprised at what they find. Include a cheerful note or words of encouragement. A simple smiley face drawn on paper can brighten anyone's day.

Tried and True Tip: Be sure to clean lunch boxes daily with hot soapy water and allow to air dry overnight. Discard brown paper bags after each use. Bacteria like to hide in warm, moist environments and lunch boxes and bags are the perfect site.

For more information about healthy eating contact your local county Extension office.

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