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Last week we enjoyed many aspects of the Wayne County Fair. I was able to share some thoughts on Monday regarding packing lunches and thought it might be an appropriate topic to share with my readers as well.

Lunchtime is the meal of the day that many eat away from home, and we generally have two options – either spend money and eat at a restaurant or bring something from home. Whether we’re packing for our kids for school or for ourselves, let’s explore some tips to make it a little easier.

When choosing a lunch bag, look for one that is insulated and large enough to hold all of your food and one or two cooling sources. If possible, let the kids choose their own as this may make it more attractive to pack and eat.

Choose reusable food containers. It is a better choice to save money and the environment. Look for sturdy plastic, stainless steel, glass, or silicone containers in a variety of sizes that can be easily washed for reuse. Don’t forget small containers for dips or sauces and reusable utensils.

It is recommended to eat two cold sources (juice, water, yogurt that can be frozen). Keeping several in the fridge is a great way to grab and go in the morning. If your workplace has a refrigerator, place your lunch container in it until your meal time.

For hot items, fill a thermos-type container with hot water and leave it for a few minutes, then empty it before adding hot food to it. Many jobsites and perhaps some schools have microwaves available for heating foods. If so, use microwave-safe containers and keep the food cold until it is ready to heat and eat.

The next question is what to pack

This can vary as much as you want. Some of us like routine and look forward to eating the same salad, sandwich or soup every day. Others like to be surprised when they open the container. Have a discussion and see what works best in your family. If possible, involve children in planning their lunches. Designate a shelf in the cupboard and in the refrigerator for lunch items and allow them to choose foods from there as they pack their bag. This becomes a life skill that will help them save money as they become more independent.

If possible, take your children with you to the grocery store. Allow them to choose items for their lunch, such as fruits, vegetables, sweets, yogurt, and juice. Ask them to make a list of items they’re looking for, and if you’re really invested, give them lots of money so they can pack lunches for the week.

Take time in the evening to prepare lunches for the next day. If children have a special interest in lunch, they are more likely to eat it. If you start when they are young, and work with them, as they get older, it will be easier to let them take responsibility for their own meals. Let them watch you pack your lunch to set a good example. Don’t forget to put your packed lunch in the refrigerator overnight.

Are you still trying to come up with some ideas? Read this list and see if something sounds appealing?

Here are some ideas from my co-worker Kate Shoemaker in Holmes County:

  • Celebrate special days. Plan lunch menus for special occasions or crazy food days. For example, pack an all-red brunch in honor of Valentine’s Day or include a pumpkin cake on Pumpkin Day (October 26).
  • Switch up the same old sandwich routine. Try making sandwiches with whole-grain croutons, English muffins, or tortillas for a fun change.
  • Make a “grazing box.” Put together a brunch version of a charcuterie board! A selection of whole-grain crackers, small bites of meat and cheese, and vegetables and fruits also make nutritious lunch options.
  • Add some vegetables for a nutrient-packed lunch. Try mixing fruits and vegetables together in one bowl, so that a little sweetness from the fruit is reflected in the vegetables, such as baby carrot slices mixed with a few raisins or dried cranberries, or celery sticks with apple slices.
  • Individual packages It’s easy to pack raisins or other dried fruits, candy, canned fruit, applesauce, gelatin, and yogurt.
  • Fresh fruit is the original fast food. Make fruit easy to eat. Apples, peaches, pears, bananas and grapes are ready to go. For oranges or other messy fruits, you may want to prepare them into chunks, slices, or wedges.
  • Serve pre-sweetened cereal as a “dessert” item.
  • Choose unrefrigerated items. Include options that do not require refrigeration such as trail mix, cereal, granola bars, bread, nuts, seeds, carrots, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, whole fruit, dried fruit, single-serve applesauce, whole grain crackers, and peanuts. Butter and jelly.

Getting into a routine is the hardest part. Don’t forget to clean the container well before packing it for the next day. Working together makes it more fun and we all know that “many hands make light work”.

Melinda Hill is a family and consumer sciences instructor at The Ohio State University and can be reached at 330-264-8722 or hill.14@osu.edu.

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