Another school year means another chance to send your child off to class with a lunchbox filled with nutritious, concentration-maximizing food. Unfortunately, that’s frequently a chance not taken, particularly with the proliferation of ready-to-go, packaged snacks and so-called “meals” that don’t pass the test in terms of balanced nutrition.

Let’s change that today with a snapshot of how you can fill your child’s lunchbox the right way this year. Here are three suggestions to get you started courtesy of Dr. Claudia Anrig, who wrote a longer article on the topic back in 2010.

The Sandwich: This is a staple of many lunchboxes, but avoid store-bought white bread; also don’t be fooled by “enriched wheat” or “multigrain,” neither of which is whole wheat / whole grain and thus lacks fiber and many key nutrients. Also avoid processed meats; use sliced chicken / turkey (that you’ve prepared at home) and/or vegetables. Substitute almond butter for peanut butter, and use only fruit-juice-sweetened jelly / jam (if any). Dr. Anrig also suggests a healthy wrap as a sandwich option, ” which can be done by purchasing whole-grain tortillas and wrapping up healthier protein and vegetable sources.” And with hummus gaining popularity, it can be a healthier alternative to mayonnaise.

The Drink: Avoid milk, soda and even juice (the occasional 100 percent juice drink is OK every once in awhile). “The American Academy of Pediatrics says that juice consumption is contributing to cavities and gastrointestinal issues for children, while milk has proven to be a common food allergen. Your best option is to encourage your child to drink water. This can be done by providing water for them in their lunchbox using a stainless-steel thermos or by placing ice cubes in their thermos in the morning.”

children eating lunch - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register MarkThe Snacks: Chips, crackers, cookies and other processed, nutrient-limited foods are everywhere these days and appealing when you’re in a hurry, but you should limit their presence in your child’s lunchbox. “The side dishes for your children should be tasty cut vegetables, keeping in mind that greener is better. Fruit is also a great side dish, but while it is healthy, it is also a source of sugar and not as rich in vitamins and minerals as vegetables.” And celery or a few whole-grain crackers with hummus, apples with almond butter (if your child isn’t also eating it on their sandwich) and carrots with yogurt-based ranch dip are still better options in terms of nutritional content than many of the packaged snacks marketed to children (and parents).

Produce for Kids (www.produceforkids.com) is one of several organizations trying to improve children’s health via healthier eating habits. The organization has created the “Power Your Lunchbox Promise” to help parents and teachers help children eat more nutritious school lunches. For every promise made through the website, the organization donates $1 to Feeding America, which provides meals for needy families.

Produce for Kids also provides a variety of meal tips and lunchbox ideas – including recipes from a registered dietitian – on its website … all part of its mission to [educate] families on the benefits of healthy eating with fresh produce, [provide] simple meal solutions and [raise] money for children’s charities.