(Chester County Moms)

Now that the kids are back in school for a few weeks, you might be scrambling to get packed lunches together right before they head out the door. It's easy to get stuck in a lunch-packing rut, too, by sending your kids off with the same thing day after day, because it's what you know they'll eat. However, packed lunches are a good place to introduce different foods to your picky eaters, because if they're hungry, they'll eat!

Kim Knipe, Coordinator for Community Nutrition and Outreach at Chester County Hospital, emphasizes the importance of healthy lunches for school-aged children. "Healthy eating habits begin early. Involve your children when packing lunches so that they begin to understand how healthy choices affect them." Kim adds, "Explain to your kids that choosing foods with lean protein and whole grains will keep them full throughout the day."

To get you started on your packed-lunch transformation, this post will suggest supplies to help make packing easier, guidelines for healthy foods, and new munchies that your kids will love.

Simple Supplies
Having the right equipment makes packing so much easier. Gear up with these common items to get rid of the lunch-packing headache - some of these may even score you "cool mom" status.

Divided Containers
With a place for each food, it's easy for you to plan out what goes in each section and keeps one food from touching another - ew!

Cupcake Liners
If you don't have divided containers, make your own by placing cupcake liners in an old container. Use all those leftover liners you have hiding in your cupboards or try out the silicone versions that can be reused. Holiday prints, birthday designs - oh, the possibilities!

Insulated Lunch Bag
Keep lunches cold and choose one big enough to fit your container. There are even certain designs that are lined with freezer packs and can be placed entirely in the freezer for quick packing (and extra-cold lunches).

Ice Packs
Flexible packs are best, so stuff as many as you can in the lunch bag to prevent food from spoiling. You can buy sheets of small, individual packs and cut them to whatever size you need.

Thermos Jars
These jars open a whole new window of opportunity for lunches. Heat up soups or leftovers in the morning, and they will stay warm in the thermos until lunchtime.

Fun Toothpicks
Spear sandwiches or fruits with neat toothpicks - your kids won't be able to resist their cheese cubes with cute toothpicks inviting them to chow down!

Packing Essentials
Choose something to pack from each section below - each food can go in a separate segment of that nifty divided container you have.

Sandwiches are staples for a reason - they're convenient, easy to make, and so yummy! Switch it up by using whole wheat bread, wraps, or pitas, and be sure to use ice packs when including meats, dairy products, or eggs. Always include a source of protein in each sandwich, and then fill it up with healthy toppings.

Skip the boring chips and add a colorful fruit salad or veggies with dip. Cheese sticks are a good source of calcium and go great with sandwiches, too. Leftover cold salads are usually better the next day, so sending some extra pasta salad may be a treat for your little one. Another side that kids love is yogurt - all the flavors out there make it impossible for your son or daughter not to have a favorite!

Hot Foods or Sweet Treats
If you invest in a thermos jar, your child can enjoy warm soup, lasagna, mac and cheese, or sauteed vegetables for a soothing lunch during colder months. If you're packing for a sweet tooth, include a cornbread muffin or small whole wheat pancakes as a special treat.

Brilliant Bites
Even the best sandwich accompanied by a handwritten note can get boring sometimes. Make lunchtime exciting for your kids by trying some of these clever ideas.

Cut a wooden skewer to fit inside your container and load it up with cheese cubes, fruit, chunks of bread, and veggies. Everything tastes better on a stick!

Banana Tortilla
Spread peanut butter on a whole wheat tortilla and wrap it up with a banana in the center. Serve it whole or cut into bite-sized pieces and secure with toothpicks for "sushi."

Apple Sandwiches
Core an apple and cut it horizontally to make "slices" for your sandwich. Pick a spread and topping that your kid loves - like peanut butter and a little cinnamon - and put it between two apple slices.

Meat & Cheese Rollup
Lay out two pieces of lunch meat and top it with a slice of cheese. Roll it up and secure with a toothpick for a breadless alternative.

Tattooed Banana
Write your little guy or girl a message on the skin of a banana - the ink won't affect the fruit! Draw a funny picture or leave a note by using a pen directly on the skin. The message will darken by lunchtime for a fun surprise.

These ideas can help give lunches a complete makeover - and may even make lunch-packing enjoyable for you, too. Involve your little chefs while packing as a new after-dinner activity each night. This way, your kids are excited to chow down on whatever they created, and you're not throwing something together while they're on their way out to the bus.

Pictures and instructions of ideas in this post can be found on our Pinterest page (plus other ideas for advanced lunch-packers). With a little preparation, school lunches can stop being such a chore, and your kids may even look forward to seeing the surprises you snuck into their lunch sacks.

This healthy post was provided by Chester County Hospital to ChesterCountyMoms.com. Follow the Hospital on Facebook,Twitter (@cchosp) and Pinterest!

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