Dust Off The Lunchboxes, It’s Back-To-School Time

Cabot, VT — With summer winding down and a new school year coming up, it's time again to dig out the lunchboxes (Ick, is that peanut-butter-and-jelly from June?). And maybe even more daunting than figuring out what kids will want to eat at school, parents have to plan on rising extra early to make a healthy breakfast, and prepare an afterschool snack – work added to Mom's already heavy schedule. That's why Cabot Creamery, the Vermont farm-family-owned dairy cooperative best known as makers of the "World's Best Cheddar," have put together two delicious make-in-advance meals to take the stress out of cooking at the end — or beginning – of a long work day.

"We thought we'd take a different approach," says mother-of-two and National Nutrition Communications Manager and Registered Dietitian Regan Jones. "Getting lunches packed for your children can definitely be a chore before a long work day, but finding enough hours in the day to also prepare breakfast and a nutritious afterschool snack for your children can feel borderline unrealistic. That's why meals that can be prepared in advance are a must.

"For a great afterschool snack, I like Cabot's Bean-Cheese spirals, because they can be prepared beforehand and refrigerated until you're ready to serve," Jones says. "Or, if you find getting breakfast on the table a challenge, try Breakfast Pinwheels with Cabot Reduced Fat Sharp Cheddar. It's a breakfast option that can be made the night before and served straight from the 'fridge the next morning.

"Plus, with the time saved by preparing breakfast and an afterschool snack in advance, you can spend more time packing your kids a healthy, balanced lunch that they will actually eat," Jones promises. How? With ease, if you follow these five basic steps:

1. Get kids involved

Children learn by seeing, touching, tasting, smelling and listening. Allow your kids to get in on the action by not only helping select foods while grocery shopping, but also choosing what goes in their lunch box each day. Older kids can help take the burden off Mom and Dad by packing lunch themselves. Designate a shelf in the pantry and the 'fridge where lunch staples can always be found and let children do the prep and packing. Don't stress if what results is something that seems less than appealing to you. As long as you've designated only healthful choices, how they decide to pull them together shouldn't affect the nutritional quality.

2. Remix the Meal

Rules for "what" should make up a lunch are really only bound by your imagination. Some children may have a special affinity for breakfast, for instance, whereas traditional lunch foods don't appeal to them. A lunch consisting of a whole-grain muffin, yogurt and fruit is a fine choice — no one ever said sandwiches were sacred in the school lunchroom!

3. Fill with a Little Fun

Nothing is more disheartening than learning your child is actually trashing most of what you send to school. Consider ways to make lunch something your child looks forward to. For instance, try cutting sandwiches into fun shapes by using cookie cutters. A turkey and cheddar sandwich seems a lot more appealing to a small child when it's crafted into a "Turkey Train" using a train-shaped cutter. Or create fun-but-healthful trail mixes composed of dried fruits, pretzels and a few chocolate chips to give children a taste of something sweet, without the added calories and fat of heavily processed, traditional mixes.

4. Keep it Simple for the Small Ones

Young children who may be eating lunch in a group for the first time really could use Mom's extra effort in the kitchen before lunch ever begins. Given how little time children have to eat during their break, it's helpful to send foods that are ready-to-eat. That doesn't, however, mean that you have to purchase a lot of expensive, pre-prepared foods. Peeling an orange into segments ahead of time, for instance, is a simple way to ensure the best part of lunch doesn't end up in the trash.

5. Offer, then Ease Up

Last, but not least, remember that your job as a parent is to offer healthful foods to your children — their job is to choose what they will eat. This is an important balance between parent and child that experts say is critical to raising children who make smart choices. Aim to pack lunches that are well balanced by including at least three of the five food groups (whole grains, dairy [milk, yogurt and cheese], fruits, vegetables and lean meats/meat substitutes), but let them choose what they eat. It's a small step toward developing good, healthy eating habits for life.

For more back to school inspiration, like our Bean-Cheese Spirals or Breakfast Pinwheels with Cabot Reduced Fat Sharp Cheddar, visit here.

Source: Cabot Creamery Cooperative