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Planning your own lunches can be fun and educational

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By RALPH HANCE

Selections from the school cafeteria don’t always tickle the taste buds. So, if you are a do-it-yourself kind of person who wants to pack your own lunch, here’s how.
Plan ahead. Write down ideas for each school-day menu and review them with mom or dad to come up with a week’s worth. Go grocery shopping so you can help pick foods you like or want to try.
Prepackaged foods aren’t always your best choice; they taste good and are easy to prepare., but many contain excessive quantities of calories, fat and salt.
A well-balanced meal helps keep you alert and at your best throughout the school day. Pack an item from each of the five food groups: bread, meat or protein (cheese, eggs, peanut butter), fruit, vegetable and dairy. Include a snack if you stay for afterschool activities. Fruits, juices, crackers or a small candy bar are good energy boosters.
All breads, crackers and cookies all count as bread choices.
Fresh vegetables make great munchies and can be prepared the night before or even a couple of days in advance. Cut up peppers, broccoli, carrots, celery and cucumbers and store them in small bags until needed. Add a few cherry tomatoes.
Mix dried fruits – raisins, apricots and cherries – with nuts or sunflower seeds and package ahead of time. Anything prepared the night before saves time in the morning and may prevent you from missing the school bus.
Protect against food-borne illness by taking precautions. Prepare sandwiches the night before and store them in the refrigerator. Keep mayonnaise and salad dressing in separate containers to add just before eating.
If your school does not have a refrigerator to keep lunches, add an ice pack and store lunchboxes out of direct sunlight and heat sources.

Ralph Hance is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for 4-H and youth development. This week’s source: Janet Mullins, Extension food and nutrition specialist.