What Not to Pack in a School Lunch

A child choosing between a hamburger and an apple

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  • 01 of 08

    7 School Lunch Mistakes: What Not to Pack for Lunch

    The fact is parents have very little influence as to what happens in the school lunchroom. So the question parents must consider isn't only what to pack for lunch, but what not to pack.

    Just like there are some sure winners in the lunchbox; there are some sure losers as well. So if you want your children to start their school day afternoon with full bellies, don't pack these 7 items.

  • 02 of 08

    Don't Pack Messy Foods

    No messy lunches

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    If your child is a messy eater and you don't want to spend your evenings and weekends getting stains out of school clothes, this is a no-brainer. But really, this is not just for messy eaters. Any kid can dribble, and then they have to wear that spill for the rest of the day. The older they get, the more embarrassing that is. Minimize the items that leave big stains.

    Avoid anything red, such as ketchup or tomato sauce, and drinks or other liquids (such as yogurt in a tube) with bright dyes. And go easy on the mustard.

  • 03 of 08

    Don't Pack Foods That Are Not Allowed

    A girl holding up a peanut

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    Know the school rules and follow them, even if you don't agree. Your child is the one who will bear the consequences (and possibly go hungry when served an "alternative" lunch) if you send items that aren't allowed.

    Avoid whatever the school doesn't allow, which might include peanut butter and nut products, candy, gummy/fruit snacks, soda, juice, and chips.

  • 04 of 08

    Don't Pack Items Kids Need Help Opening

    Two girls sharing cookies

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    Kids only have so much time for lunch, and teachers and lunchroom aides can only open one item for one child at a time. By the time your kindergartener has his fruit cup opened for him, lunch may be over. And if he tries it himself, he may slosh it into his lap. Tall bottles are also easily knocked over by little ones. Of course, as kids get older this is less of a concern, but practicing opening items at home will speed up this skill for little ones.

    Avoid fruit cups, yogurt cups, cheese sticks, bags of chips, bottles with caps that you need to break a plastic ring on first open, etc. until kids can open them without help.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Don't Send in Anything Not Properly Packed

    A pair of children packing lunches

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    Take care to pack lunches carefully. Nothing will ensure that the lunch you packed goes uneaten more than a spilled juice bottle. Although parents know a crushed sandwich tastes the same, kids will throw them aside. If you plan to pack foods that need to be hot or cold, get a quality lunchbox designed to keep foods at the right temperature. Beyond the obvious safety concerns, stuff such as cheese sticks or yogurt is pretty unappetizing at room temperature.

    Be sure to tighten all lids, pack crushable items in hard containers, use only containers with a tight seal, check that water bottles' spouts are in working order, and that rubber rings on Thermos-type containers are intact.

  • 06 of 08

    Don't Pack the Same Thing Every Day

    A child having taken a bite out of an apple

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    After all, variety is the spice of lunch! Of course, there are certainly a few kids for whom this doesn't apply. Those kids may eat the same thing day in and day out, but eventually, even they may get tired of PB&J after six months of it. Most kids prefer more variety than that.

    Be sure to alternate both the main entree and the snacks on a weekly, or if possible, daily basis; otherwise, that "favorite" could lose its luster and end up in the trash.

  • 07 of 08

    Don't Pack Embarrassing, Smelly, or Uncool Foods

    An unhappy child in front of a packed lunch

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    The lunchroom is more than just a place to consume food; it is a social scene. And it can be hard enough for a kid to navigate even without an embarrassing lunch. While there's no reason to teach kids to always conform to the silliness of grade school social conventions, it's best not to make it worse either. Give your child's lunch a sniff to see if it might attract unwanted attention.

    Avoid tuna, garlic, liverwurst, stinky cheeses, and leftovers.

  • 08 of 08

    Don't Pack Stuff Your Kids Don't Like

    A wide-eyed child eating a banana

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    It might seem obvious, but for parents of picky eaters, hope springs eternal. It's tempting to try to slip in something new or something previously rejected. But surprises are generally not welcome at school lunch. Sometimes, though, it is simply that a parent doesn't remember who likes what, and so kids go hungry because mom put grape jelly on the sandwich instead of strawberry. A lot of kids toss what they don't like to avoid a "Why didn't you eat the carrots?" conversation.

    Tip: Have kids help pack school lunches, so you can get the low-down on what they want for lunch.