Back To School: Getting Down To Lunch Basics


Sandwiches don't have to be the same old thing. Try different types of bread to boost your fiber intake.

In fact, lunch doesn't have to be a sandwich at all. It can be leftovers or a collection of ingredients that please you or your family.

Let your child make his or her own lunch—just send the ingredients. Cherry tomatoes, chunks of pineapple, pieces of cheese, and slivers of ham are the components for kabobs. Include pretzel sticks for skewers, a juice box, or a small water bottle, and you've covered the main ingredients of the ready-made lunch kits.

When you make your own lunch though, you know exactly what's in it. That's great if you're watching your weight by counting carbs and limiting fat intake.

Go for quality instead of quantity. Skip the usual American cheese in favor of fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and tomatoes. Pack fresh fruit and nonfat vanilla yogurt for parfaits that have more appeal than the preserves-on-the-bottom kind. Dress lunch up with a slice of date-nut bread and a little cream cheese to avoid another humdrum meal.

Add a pretty napkin, a personal note, or other treat and you can make a child's day—or an adult's, for that matter. A couple of chocolate Kisses tucked into a lunch box can mean more than a whole bag of candy.

The time you save by not waiting for service at lunch can be put to better use. Take a walk or climb the steps several times.

Meaty tips for lunch

  • Make it a kit. You don't have to make the sandwich before you leave the house. There's nothing worse than the soggy mess you get from putting a beautiful ripe tomato on bread the night before. Pack your ingredients in snack-sized plastic bags or small plastic containers instead.
  • Say "cheese melt." If your lunchroom has a toaster oven, you can create a do-it-yourself cheese melt. Add a tomato slice or other veggies to a small amount of cheese. An ounce of cheese is about a one-inch cube or a quarter-cup shredded.
  • Pack leftovers. You can have a great lunch by making extra food for dinner. If your lunchroom has a microwave, serve it hot. If not, add meat or vegetables to brown rice, boiled potatoes, or pasta for a salad. Just add some low-fat dressing.
  • Make it kid-friendly. Commercial meals have kid appeal, but work with your child on healthier, homemade versions that limit calories, fat, and sodium. One commercial boxed lunch for children has 800 calories and 38 grams of fat!
  • Watch the portions. Some lunch-sized foods offer more than you need. For example, what looks like an individual container of ranch dressing may actually contain 2.5 servings—a total of 200 calories.
  • Just chill. Freeze a water bottle or juice box (no glass, please) and you'll have something to drink later. Defrost time will vary, however, and that drink may become a late-afternoon treat instead of a lunchtime beverage.
  • Fork over milk money, and make it clear the money should be spent on milk—not soft drinks. If white milk doesn't cut the mustard, try chocolate. It is certainly better than a soft drink or other high-calorie flavored drink.