To balance out this month’s focus on candy & sugar, I wanted to pull in some tips I’ve found from experts on healthy and safe school lunches. The enthusiasm toward those small metal containers full of hot food definitely varies by kid, by age, and by the menu options available. I love to look out for creative lunch additions, and so these tips caught my eye as good ideas to pass on…

First, it may not surprise you, that a Nestle study that included partners such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Feeding Infants and Nutrition,” found that “French fries are still among the most popular ‘vegetable’ among toddlers.”

Packing Bag Lunches Safely

Courtesy of NSF International, The Public Health & Safety Company:

· Consider packing foods that are nonperishable and won’t require refrigeration.

· If you pack perishable foods such as luncheon meats or prepackaged cheese & crackers, include a frozen gel pack or a frozen juice carton with the food in an insulated lunch bag or box. (Editor’s Note: I like to freeze Gogurts, the yogurt in a tube, because it doubles as an ice pack and then a cold yogurt treat).

· Don’t reuse packaging materials such as paper or plastic bags, aluminum foil, etc. as they can contaminate other foods and cause foodborne illness. Have your child discard all used food packaging and paper bags after lunch.

· Before eating lunch or snacks at school, be sure your child knows to wash his or her hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Handwashing is one of the best ways kids and parents can protect health and stop the spread of germs.

Also, on the theme of eating healthy, I came across this “42 Day Challenge” where a free online program helps you motivate your kids to “make small changes every day…and develop eating habits that last a lifetime.” Very neat – check it out!

Aviva Goldfarb, efficient meal guru and mom blogger friend, shared some creative school lunch add-ins below – I’ll share some of my faves:

–> Leftovers like pasta, tortellini with tomato sauce, pizza, chicken, turkey sausage or steak (kids don’t seem to mind eating them cold). Save little condiment packages from takeout food to use as dips

–> Healthy soup or chili in a thermos (MomTini addition – I find that adding hot water to the thermos for a few minutes before adding the food keeps it nice and warm. I also put the thermos inside a Ziploc bag to avoid backpack spills).

–> Healthy dried cereals (milk is optional) (MomTini note – Why not? Breakfast is the new lunch! A good mom friend – shout out to Jackie O. – serves waffles for dinner sometimes – yum!)

–> Baby carrots, celery, sliced cucumbers, red bell peppers and pita chips with hummus or other dip

–> Popcorn (a kid-friendly whole grain), alone or mixed with raisins and nuts

–> Low fat yogurt or cottage cheese with fresh fruit and granola or other cereal (keep them separate and let your child combine them at lunch)

–> Proteins like cheese sticks or cubes, hard-boiled eggs, nuts and chickpeas, edamame, or other legumes

What tips do you have for additions to a healthy lunch?