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Take guess work out of packing lunch

September 1, 2016
Amanda Bohlen , MOV Parent

The new school year can bring some very stressful times when it comes to packing lunches and after school snacks. We want to make sure our kids are getting the best nutrition possible. One thing I like to do is stop at the dollar store and pick up some inexpensive baskets. I buy five baskets, one for each food group. I then fill the baskets with food my children like to eat. When it's time to pack lunch for the next day your child can pick an item out of each basket. This way you know they are getting items from each of the different food groups and they have a healthy balanced meal. When it comes time for an afterschool snack let them pick out of 2 or 3 baskets. They are getting a balanced snack in a smaller size as to not spoil their next meal. This allows the child to feel they have a say in what they get to eat and it gives them a little control. They nice part about the baskets is that it takes all the questioning out about what to pack. Depending on the temperament of your child you may want a lot of a few choices. It may also be in your child's best interest to help pick what goes in the baskets but then you, as the parent, pick what goes in the lunch every day. Below is a list of some items you can put in your baskets. Please make sure to tailor to your child's tastes.

Fruit can be fresh, frozen, canned or dried served whole, sliced, cut in half or cubed. Try to serve whole and cut-up fruits as they have more fiber and less sugar than their juice counterparts. If buying canned fruit, make sure the item is pack in juice or water.

Fruit: Apple slices, Mini banana, Sliced grapes, Cutie, Mandarin oranges, Peaches, Pears, Pineapple, Applesauce, Raisins

Make sure to have a variety of different color vegetables for your child to pick from. The variety gives your child the nutrients and fiber they need for good health. Different colors provide different nutrients so try and aim for a rainbow approach when picking colorful vegetables.

Vegetables: Baby carrots, Celery, Cucumber, Pepper strips, Broccoli, Cherry tomatoes, Edamame, Hummus

Try to provide mostly whole grains rather than refined grains. Whole grains give your child B vitamins, minerals, and fiber to help them feel fuller longer so they stay alert to concentrate.

Grains: Bread, Tortilla, Pita, Crackers, Pretzels, Popcorn

The below protein items provide many nutrients including protein and iron. Cheese, tofu and yogurt can count as a meat alternative.

Protein: Chicken, Turkey, Ham, Roast beef, Hot dog, Peanut butter, Beans

Dairy items should be low-fat or fat free items. Children need the calcium, protein, and vitamin D found in milk for strong bones, teeth and muscles.

Dairy: White or chocolate milk, Yogurt, Cheese slices or sticks, Sour cream based dip

My recipe for this column is an easy rice cereal snack mix. You can find the recipe on What's Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl website. The recipe is great for getting kids in the kitchen as it only requires the use of a microwave. It makes a great nutritious breakfast on the go.

Cinnamon-Raisin Breakfast Mix

Makes: 10 Servings


1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup margarine, tub-style

1 1/2 cups square, whole-grain corn cereal

1 1/2 cups square, whole-grain rice cereal

1 1/2 cups square, whole-grain wheat cereal

1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries


In small bowl, mix sugar and cinnamon; set aside. In large microwavable bowl, microwave butter uncovered on High about 40 seconds, or until melted. Stir in cereals until evenly coated. Microwave uncovered 2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute. Sprinkle half of the sugar mixture evenly over cereals; stir. Sprinkle with remaining sugar mixture; stir. Microwave uncovered 1 minute. Stir in raisins or dried cranberries. Spread on paper towels to cool. Scoop portions into small bags and serve.

Amanda Bohlen is the new family and consumer science educator for The Ohio State University Extension in Washington County. She received her bachelor's in family and consumer science education from Ohio University and her master's in curriculum and instruction from Ohio Valley University. For the last seven years she has been in the classroom teaching high school students' financial education, child development, nutrition and culinary skills.



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