“Proper nutrition is also a key ingredient for school success because it fuels brain cells and gives your child the energy and nutrients he or she needs for optimal learning,” said Damaris Karanja, University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist.

“Proper nutrition is also a key ingredient for school success because it fuels brain cells and gives your child the energy and nutrients he or she needs for optimal learning,” said Damaris Karanja, University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist.
“Packing your child’s lunch lets you know exactly what he or she is eating,” Karanja says. She offers these tips to save money while providing your child a nutritious, enjoyable lunch. Adults can also use these tips.
She advises to invest in a good container. Choose an insulated bag and freezer packs to keep food at a safe temperature. Use washable and reusable containers. Buy in bulk and avoid single-serving packages. Slice your own meat or grill chicken breast and cut it into strips or cubes. Avoid prepackaged lunches. Send leftovers. Invest in a good insulated food container to keep food warm. Homemade soup is always a good option.
Make it nutritious. Pack a rainbow. Provide a variety of options — the more color, the more nutrients. A healthy lunch should contain foods from each of the five food groups: carbohydrates, protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Choose whole-grain products like bread, tortillas, pita bread, bagels or whole-grain crackers. These have more fiber, vitamins and minerals, and keep blood sugar steady for optimal learning.
Select protein foods wisely. Use lean meat like chicken or turkey breast, hard-boiled eggs, tuna packed in water, beans or peanut butter. Protein in every meal helps keep blood sugar steady.
Buy fruits and vegetables in season and serve them creatively. Examples include baby carrots with yogurt dip, or other cut vegetables with low-fat dip or hummus. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products like yogurt, milk and cheese. For side items,  choose carrots sticks, celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins, apple slices with peanut butter, fruit salad, whole fruit, raisins or pretzels.
For dessert, try whole-grain graham crackers, gingersnaps, raisins, unsweetened applesauce, homemade muffins or fresh fruit. Choose a beverage that hydrates, like water, or choose low-fat or fat-free milk for additional protein, calcium and vitamin D.
Include the kids in the preparation process and give them choices.
“A nutritious lunch does not have to be boring or cost you a fortune,” Karanja says. “Making small changes can save you money. Try one or two tips each week and soon you should see some relief in your grocery bills. Remember that well-nourished children have a greater chance of success at school because they have the fuel and the energy they need to play and learn.”
For more food and nutrition information from MU Extension, go to extension.missouri.edu/nutrition.