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To pack a school lunch your child will enjoy, you need to balance nutrition with fun, likable foods. Kids throw away a lot of food at lunchtime, both from purchased school lunches and lunches brought from home. Even the most lovingly packed lunch can become trash can fodder if its contents make the child or his friends say “Yuck!”

How do you pack a school lunch that your child will eat?

Children have distinct likes and dislikes, especially when it comes to food. The best homemade lunches are the ones that have the foods your child really likes. If there are certain foods your child will not eat at home, do not send those foods in their lunch. If they do not eat it at home, they will not eat it at school.

When packing your child’s lunch, avoid packing the sandwiches you enjoy or enjoyed as a kid, unless you are certain your child likes it. Your favorite school sandwich may have been ham and cheese but your daughter might prefer ham and mustard without the cheese. It is important to pack nutritious foods in our children’s lunches but if we know they hate raisins, do not send raisins. Instead, opt for something they do like, perhaps sliced apples.

The best way to pack a school lunch your child will eat as well as love is to get your child involved with the lunch-making process. During summer break, pay attention to which sandwiches and foods your child really enjoys that also meet your nutritional requirements. Keep a running list of these foods. Before the first full week of school, talk to your child about what he or she may like to have for lunch at school. Bring out your list and see which items your child is still enthusiastic for and which ones he now considers boring.

Brainstorm ideas for lunches and create a list of parent and child approved lunch items. Keep the list posted in the kitchen. When it comes time for lunch packing, a quick glance at the list will ensure that the lunch packed will contain food your child will enjoy and eat. This list can be kept on hand for reference when you are making out your shopping list. It can also have items added or deleted as favorite foods come in and out of favor for your child.

Be aware that some packaged foods and juices are difficult for children to open. Always make sure your child can open each part of her lunch. Even if she likes the food, she won’t be able to eat it if she cannot get it open. Likewise, if you know your child is a slow eater, do not pack lunches that have more than he can eat during his allotted lunch time.

When packing a school lunch, do not forget to add a treat or a bit of fun. While a healthy lunch is important, treats in moderation can really make a child smile at lunch time. You do not need to pack a full-size candy bar or jumbo bag of chips but a snack-size piece of candy or a small container of caramel dip for apple slices can make a kid’s day. If you have baked cookies the night before, send one for your child’s dessert to let her know that mom or dad was thinking of her. If she always sits at lunch with the same best friend, send two and a note telling her the second cookie is for her to share with her friend.

Other ways to add fun to your child’s packed lunch is by enclosing a small note or card. It can be as simple as a sticky note with a big smiley face. Younger children may also enjoy a cheerful sticker tucked into their lunchbox. Another fun way to leave a note, and this has even amused middle school kids, is to write a fun message or quote on the skin of a banana packed in the lunch. If your sports fan missed last night’s scores, write them on the banana. You can even wish them good luck on an upcoming afternoon test.

If your family does a lot of rushing around in the morning, prepare and pack your child’s school lunch the night before. This way you are sure you have taken the time to pack a lunch they will appreciate and enjoy. Also be sure to know your school’s lunch policies. Some schools restrict certain foods due to students with food allergies.

Homemade lunches do not have to be ho-hum. When you pack a school lunch with your child’s preferred foods and a little fun, you can be sure the food will be enjoyed and not trashed.