A new school year brings many exciting changes. As parents, one way you can add some excitement into your young person's school day is by mixing it up when it comes to their lunch.

You might be thinking there is nothing exciting about packing a lunch, but with a little planning and preparation, it can even become fun for you.

Planning and preparation is key to making your school lunch packing routine work. Make a weekly or monthly menu to help you navigate the grocery store and give your child something to look forward to each week. Let them help you create the menu. Use the weekend to prepare for the week by prepackaging certain items like crackers, baby carrots and berries. If your young person is old enough, have them help you place things in their lunch box either the night before or in the morning.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPlate, young people between 4 and 13 years old need 1.5 cups of fruit, 2 cups of vegetables, 5-6 ounces of grains, 4-5 ounces of protein and 3 cups of dairy each day. You can use their lunch to help them get their recommended servings from each food group and present them in interesting ways.

Here are some suggestions:

• Make the old sandwich new by switching up the bread. Try using breads like whole wheat, multigrain, raisin, pita pockets, bagels, rice cakes and English muffins. Use cookie cutters to cut the bread into different shapes.

• Serve hummus with carrot sticks, celery sticks and a cubed whole-wheat pita for dipping.

• Core an apple and stuff the inside with peanut butter. Top with raisins, nuts, sunflower seeds or toasted coconut. The filling keeps the apple from turning brown.

• Make a sandwich filling by combining low-fat cream cheese and jelly or spread bread with cream cheese and top with dried fruits like raisins, apples or apricots.

• Make trail mix by combining foods like healthy breakfast cereals, dried fruits, pretzels, popcorn, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds in a plastic bag.

• Use "filler" vegetables like lettuce, onions, tomatoes and peppers on sandwiches to help your young person meet their daily vegetable requirements.

• Make healthy muffins with pumpkin, banana, zucchini, walnuts or crushed pineapple. Another nice treat is oatmeal cookies with raisins.

• Give them the ingredients in their lunch to build their own sandwich, wrap or taco.

• Include extra surprises like stickers, riddles, comics or notes inside their lunch box.

If your young person is not consistently eating a particular portion of their lunch, you should have a conversation with them about why they keep leaving that particular food. Use this information to adjust their lunch accordingly. For food safety reasons, it's usually best to discard any perishable foods that return home.

(Source: Heather Norman-Burgdolf, extension specialist in food and nutrition)

Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.

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