09/23/2009 05:12 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How To Make a School Lunch

A school morning is usually a pretty hectic time in any household. Ours can be nice and mellow or crazy and chaotic. Getting four people awake, fed, dressed and out the door on time is a challenge. Add to that, making a school lunch, and you can tilt over the edge. Unless, you are well prepared and have a simple method to follow. Luckily I have a husband/partner that will help me in the AM but there are many times during the school year that I am on my own. I do have a priority in my house and that is I want my kids to be healthy and if I give them the right food I am headed consistently toward that goal.

I've wanted to do a show on school lunches for a while. It's such a hot topic right now and it should be. A few years ago I watched a British TV show hosted by Jamie Oliver where he went into the London public school system and tried to change it. The challenges that he faced were huge! From spending less than 1 dollar on the whole lunch, to getting something actually prepared in a current day cafeteria kitchen, to most of all, trying to get the kids to eat healthy food when they are used to chicken fingers and french fries. Well I hope we in America are ready to face that challenge. Childhood obesity has hit critical numbers (1 in 3 African American, 1 in 4 Latin and 1 in 5 Caucasian children are reported to be obese by the CDC). The crazy thing is it's not like we have to invent a cure for cancer to cure this epidemic. It's caused by what the children are eating and the amount of exercise they do. It's that simple.

As a parent I can control what I feed my kids. That's my responsibility. I know that if a child is in poor health they will not function well at school. A diet that is high in fat, sugar and salt makes it really hard for a body to function efficiently.

I know there are a lot of people talking about changing the food in the public schools and we must do this. Alas, in the meantime I have found it necessary to make sure my kids get a healthy and delicious lunch that will give them the nutrition they need to focus and have fun in school, and so we make it ourselves.

In the morning before school I can make sure they eat a nutritious breakfast. I came up with the Lego food pyramid to teach my son Davis about eating a well balanced diet. He was having a problem with his digestion and the doctor said he was eating too many starches so I tried to talk to him about the food pyramid. He was 5 and had no idea what I was talking about. The current food pyramid online is hard to understand so I made him one out of Legos.


He got it in less than 5 minutes. Every kid I have shown this to really begins to understand how it's important to eat a balanced diet and what a food group is. We can look at a plate of his food and choose the Legos that correspond. I use it myself in meal planning for the kids. It's the basis of how I build a lunch for them and it should really help you too.

First make sure you have all the right equipment.

1. Lunch Box. You need a lunch box that your kid can open and one that they like. I used to buy them vintage ones on eBay and that's cool but you really have to pay attention to the latching device. A simple fall can pour a lunchbox contents all over the floor or street. Zippers work the best for us and also Velcro sacks are pretty good. It's best to make sure they are insulated. Because that's the second item.

2. Ice Packs. A lunch box can be a dangerous place. Harmful bacteria can start to grow after less than 2 hours with perishable food. I thought I was all safe because we don't eat meat, but even eggs, cheese and mayonnaise can put your child at risk. Use an ice pack and if you want, freeze a yogurt squeeze or a juice box and add that to the lunchbox for extra protection. Your child's lunch box probably sits on a shelf in 70 degrees for 3-4 hours before it's consumed.

3. Reusable Containers. Use reusable containers when packing up the lunch box. This will save you! If you buy in bulk that can start to really cut down on the cost of all those little bags of food and all the trash they accumulate. When we went to Point Dume Elementary they banned items in your lunch box that had to be thrown away and you had to use the school supplied containers and lunch box. It was fantastic! Also, invest in a stainless steel drinking bottle and use that as your child's beverage container. You can fill it with water or half water and half with juice and save big on all those juice box items. This is really where an environmental practice can save you money.

What do you put in the Lunch? This is so personal depending on your kids likes, but try not to let them limit your creativity. If you keep offering them new things, they try new things. If you only offer them the same thing they will only eat the same thing.

My sister always asks me what I'm putting in the kid's lunch box. Mostly us moms (and dads) just need some inspiration. We might have forgotten that the kids like quesadillas. Try to keep them interested in food. We use the basis of the food pyramid and build the lunch from those items;

Protein - main course usually also gets the Grain category
Fruit and Vegetable - one serving each
Dairy - one item or if they are dairy free use a soy or other substitute
Sweet and Savory - one cookie or homemade item and some pretzels or crackers
Beverage - water, coconut water, juice and water mixed. Refreshing and not too sugary

In addition to the show above, which has a bunch of ideas for what to put in to the school lunch I am attaching a card I made up that is filled with tips and recipes. Maybe you can print this out: