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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

September 26, 2023 - 8:29am --

Last week we enjoyed many aspects of the Wayne County Fair.  I was able to share some ideas on Monday concerning packing lunches and I thought it might be a timely topic to share with readers as well. 

Lunchtime is the meal of the day that many eat away from home and generally we have two choices: either spend money and eat from a restaurant or pack something from home.  Whether we are packing with our children as they are off to school or for ourselves, let’s explore some tips to make it a little easier.

                When choosing a lunch bag, look for one that is insulated and big enough to carry all of your food and one or two cold sources.  If possible, let kids choose their own as that can make it a little more appealing both to pack and to eat.

Choose reusable food containers. They are a better choice for saving money and the environment.  Look for durable plastic, stainless steel, glass or silicone containers in a variety of sizes that can be easily washed to reuse.  Don’t forget tiny containers for dips or sauces and reusable utensils.

It is recommended to have two cold sources, (juice, water, yogurt can be frozen).  Keeping several in the freezer is a great way to grab and go in the morning.  If your workplace has a refrigerator, place lunch container in there until time for your meal.

For hot items, fill a thermos-type container with hot water and let it stand for a few minutes, empty it before adding hot food to it.  Many worksites and maybe some schools have microwaves available to warm foods. If so, use microwave-safe containers and keep food cold until ready to heat and eat.

The next question is what to pack

So, the next great question is what to pack?  This can vary as much as you’d like.  Some of us like routine and look forward to the same salad, sandwich or soup every day.  Others like to be surprised when the container is opened.  Have a discussion and see what works best in your family.  If possible, involve kids in planning their lunches.  Designate a shelf in the cabinet and in the refrigerator for lunch items and allow them to select foods from there as they pack their bag.  This becomes a life skill that will help them save money as they become more independent.

If possible, take your children to the grocery store with you.  Allow them to choose items for their lunch, such as fruit, veggies, single-serve puddings and yogurt and juice.  Have them make a list of items they are looking for and if you are really invested, give them so much money to stretch to make the lunches for the week. 

Take time in the evening to put together lunches for the next day.  If kids have a vested interest in their lunch, they will be more likely to eat it.   If you start when they are young, and work alongside them, as they grow it will be easier to let them take the responsibility for their own meals.  Let them watch you pack your lunch to set a good example.  Don’t forget to put the packed lunch in the refrigerator overnight.

Still trying to come up with some ideas?  Read through this list and see if there’s something that sounds appealing?  Here are a few ideas from my co-worker Kate Shumaker in Holmes Co:

  • Celebrate special days. Plan lunch menus around special events or crazy food days. For example, pack an all-red lunch in honor of Valentine's Day or include a pumpkin muffin on Pumkin Day (Oct. 26).
  • Switch up the same old sandwich routine. Try making sandwiches with mini whole-grain pitas, English muffins, or tortillas for a fun change.
  • Make a “graze-box.”  Put together a lunch version of a charcuterie board! A selection of whole-grain crackers, small bites of meats and cheese, veggies and fruits also make for nutritious lunch options.
  • Add some veggies for a nutrition-packed lunch. Try mixing fruits and veggies together in one container, so a little sweet from the fruit rubs off on the veggies, such as sliced baby carrots mixed with a few raisins or dried cranberries, or celery sticks with apple slices.
  • Individual packs of raisins or other dried fruit, pudding, canned fruit, applesauce, gelatin and yogurt are easy to pack.
  • Fresh fruit is the original fast food.  Make fruit easy to eat.  Apples, plums, pears, bananas and grapes are ready to go.  For oranges or other messy fruits, you may want to prepare it into chunks, slices or strips.
  • Offer pre-sweetened cereal as a “dessert” item.
  • Choose non-refrigerated items. Include options that don’t require refrigeration such as trail mix, cereal, granola bars, bagels, nuts and seeds, carrots and celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, whole fruit, dried fruit, single-serve applesauce and whole-grain crackers, and peanut butter and jelly. 

Getting in the routine is the hardest part.  Don’t forget to clean out the container really well before packing it for the next day.  Working together makes it a little more fun and we all know that “many hands make light work.”


Melinda Hill is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or
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