Prepare Your Pantry for Back to School

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

Keeping your child well-nourished during the school day is imperative. Academic performance, as well as behavior, will be impacted by the food your child eats throughout the day. As you get ready for the start of a new school year, prepare your pantry for the lunch packing you have ahead. Here are a few tips for offering a delicious, nutritious, and safe lunch box this school season.

Nutrition Know-How

 The nutrients offered in the foods you pack for your child will help dictate their level of concentration, energy, and hunger. Provide an array of nutrients, such as carbohydrates and vitamins, by following the recommended number of servings from each of the food groups found on USDA’s MyPlate. Noting portion sizes will also help ensure your child eats an array of foods versus filling up on only one or two.

Make MyPlate Your Guide 

Visit to learn your child’s specific nutrition needs food group by food group. For example, it is recommended that 2- to 3-year-olds consume 2 ounce-equivalents of protein a day, while the recommended amount doubles to 4 ounce-equivalents for children ages 4 to 8.

  Tip: Check out the Food Group gallery on for visual examples of what counts as a serving. 

Prevent Portion Distortion

Families are used to disproportionally large serving sizes thanks to restaurant and fast food meals. When packing snacks and lunch for your child, be mindful of the serving sizes recommended by MyPlate

  While the average restaurant pasta serving can run between 2 and 4 cups, the USDA considers ½ cup of pasta a single serving from the Grains Food Group. For your child’s lunch, simply pack ½ – to – 1 cup of pasta, including a ½-cup serving of vegetables, ½-cup serving of fruit, and a 1-cup serving of milk so their hunger is quenched and their nutrient needs are met. 

Fun with Food

  Packing your child’s lunchbox with a balanced meal is one piece of the puzzle, getting them to eat it is another. The best way to entice young taste buds to enjoy the foods you provide is by making them part of the process. By having your children help shop for and prepare lunch and snacks, they will be more inclined to eat what you pack. Additionally, varying textures, colors and shapes of the foods offered will help keep taste buds enticed. Turn lunch into a craft adventure by using cookie cutters to turn sliced cheese into stars and thickly cut luncheon meat into flowers.

Keep Tummies Safe

  One lunchbox detail that seems to get overlooked is food safety. This is unfortunate as children are at a greater risk for foodborne illness and the harmful symptoms associated with them. 

  Let the “keep cold foods cold” philosophy guide your packing. If your child’s food requires refrigeration, be sure to include enough ice packs to maintain a temperature of less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit in their insulated lunch bag until the food is enjoyed. If you do not have enough ice packs on hand, cups of frozen yogurt or boxed milks can assist.

Tip: All the planning and packing in the world won’t do any good to prevent foodborne illness without proper handwashing. Practice proper handwashing techniques with your child while reinforcing how important clean hands are before and after eating.

Carrie Taylor is the lead registered dietitian nutritionist for the Living Well Eating Smart program at Big Y Foods. Have a nutrition question? E-mail or write Living Well at 2145 Roosevelt Ave, PO Box 7840, Springfield, MA 01102.

Do you have a question on nutrition or healthy eating or want more information or ideas on a related topic? 

Email and your suggestion could be featured in an upcoming edition of Dishin’ With the Dietitian. 

Veggie Barley Salad with Orange-Honey Vinaigrette


• 1 cup pearl barley

• 1 medium tomato, chopped

• 2 medium carrots, shredded

• 1 medium red, orange, or yellow bell 

   pepper, seeded and chopped

• 2 cups chopped fresh spinach

• 3 tablespoons orange juice

• 3 tablespoons olive oil

• 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 

   (or any other mild vinegar)

• 1 teaspoon honey

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. 

2. Add barley and cook, uncovered, until tender, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. 

3. Add tomato, carrots, bell pepper, and spinach and stir to combine.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. 

5. Pour vinaigrette over barley salad and mix thoroughly.

6. Refrigerate overnight for best results and enjoy!

Recipe from Mac Wirth from Idaho and featured in the 2013 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Cookbook from Epicurious. Recipes featured were those voted best dishes from the second annual Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ “State Dinner” at the White House with First Lady Michelle Obama.