To preserve food quality, wait to slice fruits and vegetables until packing a lunch in the morning. Pack lettuce and tomato separately from the sandwich; your child can add them to the sandwich before eating.
Freezing will help protect a sandwich's quality. It is still important to follow the food safety rule of discarding, rather than eating, perishable food left at room temperature for more than two hours (or for more than one hour if air temperature is 90 degrees or warmer).
Cookies and bars can be made ahead, wrapped as a single serving and frozen. Nonperishable foods such as trail mix or dried fruit also can be divided into individual servings and packed in advance.
Check with the school to see if there are guidelines for packed lunches. Some children have food allergies to foods such as soybeans or peanuts, and at least one Tri-State school is asking parents to be cautious when packing their child's lunches.
Keep cold thing cold
Ask about your child 's lunch schedule. He or she might have to store a lunch bag or box in a locker for an extended period of time. Consider an insulated lunch bag or box, a small cooler, reusable insulated containers or hot and cold packs to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Buying reusable snack-size containers rather than using more expensive disposables will offer a savings.
Know your child's preferences
Ask your child to help make a grocery list and to help with the shopping. Does he or she prefer a peanut butter and apple sandwich? Fruit and cheese wrap? Leftover pizza or chicken and rice casserole that can be reheated? Applesauce, apple slices or a whole apple?
Vary the menu. Make sandwiches with wheat bread, raisin bread, bagel or pita. Think seasonally. Tuck into the lunch bag cut-up fruits or vegetables, a pumpkin bar in October and sugar or ginger cookies toward the holidays.
Make lunch fun, and your child will eat more and learn more.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.