Whedon suggested that parents invest in cold packs that come in small sizes for lunch boxes and coolers.
"These can be reused and they will really keep the temperature in the lunch box cool," she said.
Environmentalists may decry juice boxes as adding to the tons of hard-to- recycle waste, but it's hard to ignore their convenience. A box can be used to keep the heat from invading a school lunch. Simply freeze it, wrap it tightly and place it next to the sandwich. By the time the lunch bell rings, the juice box should be thawed but still cold and the sandwich safe to eat.
"Another way to keep a school lunch or any brown-bag lunch safe is to freeze the sandwich the night before," said Marcia Young, a dietitian in West Chester.
Even sandwiches made with mayonnaise?
"Mayonnaise is not a villain," she said. "It actually increases a food's resistance to bacterial growth. The lemon juice or other acidic ingredients in mayonnaise, plus its salt, slow bacterial growth."
Because classrooms where youngsters keep their lunches can be hot, Young suggested that a packed lunch be kept in the refrigerator at home until the child is ready to head for the bus stop.
Even when the weather turns chilly, Whedon said, parents should be concerned about high temperatures. "A school locker or classroom can still be a fairly warm environment for a packed lunch."
While excitement will be high as the new school year begins, children's interest in lunch will soon turn to boredom if the same old meal is found in the lunch box every day.
"The trick is to make the lunch interesting and nutritious, so your children won't wind up trading sandwiches with the kids next to them," Whedon said. "The hardest part is coming up with different ideas."
Although it may be easier to come up with sandwich fillings, perhaps it's time to change the packaging, too.
"Try making sandwiches with pita bread, English muffins, raisin bread or bagels and even cocktail-style bread," Whedon suggested. "Even crackers can be a nice change. There's nothing wrong with packing cheese and crackers for lunch. Add slices of fruit, and this can be a well-rounded lunch."
Many parents see salt and sugar as getting failing grades for lunch. But both of the dietitians consider fat the big problem.
"Sure, chips are salty, but there is also a lot of fat in that bag," Whedon said. "For something salty and crunchy, pretzels are great because they are baked, not fried. Try making your own mix with pretzels and goldfish- style crackers, which are not high in fat."
"Kids love finger foods," Young said. "It's easier for them to pop a high-fat and -calorie cookie in their mouth than to peel an orange. Have the orange peeled and ready to eat. Or grapes and berries can pass as finger foods too."
There are some convenience items that should be bypassed, according to Whedon. Forget the packaged cheese and cracker snacks, she says; they're too high in fat and sodium. The same goes for the Lunchables - packaged deli meats, cheese and crackers. And dessert snacks such as yogurt-covered raisins should not become a lunch-box staple. The yogurt is high in sugar and fats. Plain raisins are a better bet.
Let children help design the perfect lunch, Whedon suggested.
"Give them healthy choices, say between fig bars, graham crackers or vanilla wafers for dessert. All are fairly nutritious desserts and the kids have played a part in choosing what goes in their lunch boxes."
If your child insists on a packaged snack, try individually packaged applesauce, pudding snacks made with skim milk or even small packages of granola-type cereal.
Another way to satisfy your child's sweet tooth is to give slices of quick breads, such as carrot or zucchini bread, as dessert, Whedon said. It's up to the parent to control the amount of processed treats their children get.
The major pitfall in packing a school lunch can be the sandwich.
To make it more interesting, Whedon suggests variations on the old standbys.
Instead of peanut butter and jelly, try peanut butter and raisins. Use cranberry sauce instead of mayonnaise on a turkey sandwich. Mix leftover chicken with chopped celery and apple and mayonnaise.
If the youngsters are enlisted to help make lunch, they will appreciate the time and thought that goes into this chore every day.
Here are some ideas for school lunches.
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/3 cups zucchini or yellow squash, shredded and lightly packed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan.
Mix flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt thoroughly. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Add sugar, oil and vanilla. Beat until lemon-colored, about three minutes. Stir in squash.
Add dry ingredients. Mix just until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean.
Cool on rack. Remove from pan after 10 minutes. Makes one loaf with about 16 slices.
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup mashed banana
Combine brown sugar, flour, oil, baking powder, baking soda, eggs and banana in a large bowl and stir until smooth. Pour mixture into a greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour, or until firmly set. Cool and remove
from pan and cut into sticks.
Place sticks on a cookie sheet and bake at 150 degrees for one hour longer until sticks are hard and crunchy. Store in a tightly covered container. Makes 35 servings.
GRAB-A-BAG AND MUNCH. Fill plastic bag with cut-up dried fruit, such as apricots, banana chips, raisins and apple pieces, and add favorite nuts, carob chips and grated coconut. Mix.
FRUIT AND VEGETABLE KEBABS. Put a variety of small pieces of fruit or vegetables on a toothpick. Use apple wedges, raisins, orange sections, pineapple, grapes and melon balls for fruit kebabs. For the vegetable version, use cherry tomatoes, carrot circles, pepper squares and zucchini triangles.