It’s back to school time for Northern Michigan Kids and with that comes packed lunches! Check out the list below for some tips and tricks from the MyNorth staff on how to pack the best lunch yet.


  • When it’s time to handle food for your child’s lunch, remember to always keep it clean. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.  Use hot water and soap to make sure food preparation surfaces and utensils are clean.  Show children how to wash their hands with warm, soapy water before they eat, which is even more critical to help stop the transmission of disease like influenza.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Blot dry with a paper towel before packing them in your child’s lunch.
  • Your child’s lunch could include perishable items (sandwiches, fresh fruit) and shelf-stable items (crackers, packaged fruit cups). Perishable items need to be kept chilled to reduce risk of foodborne illness.
  • Insulated, soft-sided lunch totes are best for keeping perishable foods chilled.  A cold source, such as a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box, should be packed with perishable foods. Frozen gel packs will keep foods cold until lunchtime, but are not recommended for all-day storage.


MyNorth Staff Tips:

Parents around the MyNorth office share these recipes for healthy lunches:

Healthy Chicken Wraps: Maddy, 11, makes her own wraps with whole wheat tortillas, half a can of canned chicken, lettuce and diced tomatoes. She likes heirloom tomatoes and September is peak season for these yummy veggies. She might add black olives or diced cucumbers. She rolls these up in wax paper twisting the ends. When she eats them, she tears away the paper as she eats and keeps the juices from spilling out the bottom.

Munchables: One of our moms couldn’t abide by the excessive, environmentally unfriendly packaging of the kid-coveted Lunchables–and the expense. So she bought normal sizes of cheese, salami, ham and crackers. She sliced them into the smaller size and stacked them in a Tupperware. Voila, mom-made Lunchables are Munchables.

Fun Fruit: One mom makes sure she packs one fresh fruit or veggie every day. And she uses a set of fancy slicers to make apple spirals or waffle-cut carrots. Presentation is everything! Think Japanese bento boxes.

Tastier Water: Instead of sending water to drink at lunch every day, this mom brews a pot of herbal or fruit tea (low in caffeine or caffeine-free) in the morning and—depending on the weather—fills her child’s Thermos with hot or cold tea. Her child drinks the rest of the pot when she comes home from school.

Caprese Salad the Easy Way: One household pairs fresh mozzarella balls with cherry tomatoes fresh from the garden (or the grocer in winter).

Healthy Jello-Yogurt Cups: Here’s a real favorite: make Jell-o with plain yogurt in lieu of the cold water. So, it’s still junky Jell-o, but the yogurt redeems it a bit. Plus, it makes for a much creamy texture that kids love. And you can make it ahead. Put up several 1/2 cup plastic containers for the lunchbox.

Grab and Go Options: One MyNorth family has lots of 2 and 4 oz. containers filled with almonds, dried fruit, jerky, peanut butter-filled pretzels. Keep these at the ready, so one can just grab it for a lunch box or sports snack in a hurry.


Incorporating healthier food into a lunch…

  • Choose the goodness of whole grains. Whole-grain bread, bagels or crackers taste great and add fiber to your child’s diet, which is necessary to maintain a healthy digestive system, and makes you feel full longer, limiting the urge to snack. Check the ingredients to make sure whole grains, like whole wheat, are listed.
  • Include milk, cheese or yogurt to add much-needed calcium, protein and vitamin D to the lunch. The intake of dairy products is especially important to bone health during childhood and adolescence, when bone mass is being built. Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) dairy products. They have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but fewer calories and less saturated fat.
  • Include vegetables and fruits every day and choose a variety of colors. Different colored fruits and vegetables contain different vitamins and nutrients. By “eating a rainbow” of fruits and vegetables, you can help your child get a wide variety of the nutrients necessary for healthy growth and development.
  • Cut back on foods high in solid fats, added sugars, and salt. Use these foods as occasional treats, not everyday foods. If you do include a treat in your child’s lunch, keep the portions small and make sure they understand they need to eat their “growing foods” first and save the treat for last. This way, if they get full before they finish their lunch, they will still have eaten a well-balanced meal.
  • Substitute water instead of sugary drinks in your child’s lunch. Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks are a major source of added sugar, and calories in American diets.
  • Have your kids help pack their lunches and talk to them about making healthy choices.

More Northern Michigan Kids

Kids Triathlon in Traverse City

Northern Michigan Bike Trails for Kids

Healthy Exercise Habits for Kids

Photo(s) by R. North