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It’s back to school time, which means the kids are either excited or groaning. Either way, it’s back to packing lunches for the days that school lunch just won’t do. The only problem: Those cute little unicorn and superhero themed lunch bags are often filled with empty calorie foods. Individual bags of cheddar crackers, fruit snacks, snack cakes and prepackaged trays filled with either crackers, meat and cheese, or mini pizzas and a small candy bar, are just a few of the foods that fill a school cafeteria. Purchasing a hot school lunch is certainly a healthier option than loading the kids filled with foods that may limit academic performance and lead to obesity. So what’s a child and parent to pack?

• Toast a whole grain waffle ahead of time and cut into two halves. Pack with a low sugar yogurt and berries. Kids will have fun making a yogurt berry sandwich!

• Protein doesn’t have to be a deli meat or PB&J sandwich. Pack a hard boiled egg, hummus with pita bread and vegetables, cheese and crackers with a handful of nuts, or cold grilled chicken, ranch dressing and your kids’ favorite vegetables wrapped in whole wheat tortilla.

• Dips for dunking veggies may help avoid those veggies going in the trash. Ranch, marinara, hummus, guacamole, salsa or nut butter; whatever your child likes!

Allow your child to be involved in the packing, but set limits where needed. It’s OK to pack the occasional treat; it should just be surrounded by other healthy foods! When packing, ask your child what food groups are represented; aim for all five!

Grilled Chicken Wrap

2 skinless boneless chicken breasts

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon black pepper

4 whole wheat tortillas

½ cup ranch or Caesar dressing

2 cups chopped romaine lettuce

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

½ cup shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat grill to medium high heat. Sprinkle garlic powder and pepper over chicken breasts and grill until internal temperature is at least 165 degrees. Let cool and slice into 1-inch strips or cubes. Fill each tortilla with ¼ of the dressing, lettuce, tomatoes and parmesan cheese. Roll up and secure with toothpick. Keep refrigerated or packed in an insulated cooler with ice pack.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 340 calories, 13 grams fat, 880 milligrams sodium, 32 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 25 grams protein

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Smith is nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306. 

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