School lunches can include local food, be healthy and be waste-free too!

There are many locally available foods that can add healthy options and a little zing to back to school lunch options.

School has been in session for a couple of weeks now and lunches may have already become repetitive and limited. Choosing an exciting and varied seasonal menu from locally available foods for “brown bag” lunches may seem challenging, but it does not have to be daunting. Michigan State University Extension offers a seasonal availability chart to help you stay on track of what is available when and Michigan offers a bounty of fruits and vegetables this time of year. Shopping for local foods from a local farmers markets or farm markets are not the only place to find fresh locally-grown fare. Many local grocery chains take pride in also offering locally-grown in season foods. Many locally made or prepared artisan foods are available as well. These can include breads and bakery items, cheeses, deli meats, salsas, sauces, pickles, jams, jellies and more.

At this time of year it is reasonable to expect to find a wide range of produce available that is suitable for lunches. Fresh broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots and raw green beans all can go into a lunch as crunchy vegetable sticks. Adding a dip adds one more thing kids love to eat and do. Michigan fresh fruits available now include apples, peaches, plums, pears, raspberries and grapes which offer a variety of fall choices. Second plantings of what is typically expected as spring produce are also available in the form of lettuce, onions, celery, spinach and other greens. Paired with a protein of cheese or meat slices, or a nut-based spread on crackers or bread you have easily increased your lunch menu options with local foods.

Cutting up vegetables and fruits in advance and pre-packaging them in small lunch-sized containers can save you lots of time when you are packing up for lunch. They can also serve as fast after-school snacks that kids can help themselves to with minimal fuss. Involve your kids in helping to package up items for the weeks lunches. According to a research paper cited in Science Daily News, kids who are involved in food preparation are more likely to eat healthier foods.

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