Tips for healthy back-to-school lunches

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By Shelby Hunke, Registered Dietitian


We’ve all heard breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But for growing children, all meals are important, especially when you want them to function at their best both physically and mentally at school. healthy lunch box example

While school food services provide nutritious meals for children, some like to pack their own lunch. If you have a picky eater or a child who chooses to have a “cold” lunch, here are some tips for healthy back-to-school lunches.


Put your kid in the chef’s role

Sit down with your child once per week and help them plan their lunches. They are more likely to eat food when they have a say in the choices.

Focus on the recommendations and include foods from each food group: milk, meats, grains and vegetables/fruits. It’s okay to include a small sweet or snack item.

Make a checklist or spreadsheet of foods your child is willing to eat from each food group.


Choose nutrient-dense foods

Even in small amounts, nutrient-dense foods have a lot of nutrition. Examples are whole-grain breads or wraps, colorful fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy such as yogurt, string cheese or low-fat milk.


Focus on “eye”-ppetizing foods

Kids and adults alike eat with our eyes first. Kids especially are attracted to colorful foods and fun packaging. Buy a lunch box, Tupperware and disposable silverware with their favorite character or color. Have fun with shapes and sizes by cutting out their sandwiches, fruit or vegetables with a cookie cutter.


School lunch box for kids. Cooking. Keep the food safe

If you are packing perishable food in your child’s lunch, remember to include an ice pack or two to reduce the risk of food poisoning.

It’s also important to invest in a well-insulated lunch box. Refrigeration is usually unavailable at school, so packing shelf-stable foods is important: trail mix, granola bars, bagels, baby carrots, whole fruit, dried fruit, single-serve applesauce or whole grain crackers.


Prevent boredom

Some kids could eat the same lunch for two weeks straight, while others get bored and need some variety. To help ensure their lunch doesn’t go to waste, try these strategies:

Celebrate special days: Plan a lunch menu around a special date or event. For example, pack an all-red lunch on Valentine’s Day.

Pack extra: Use peer pressure to your advantage by packing extra “ants on a log” or hummus dip for your child to share with their friends.

Have trendy lunch supplies: Kids will be excited to eat their lunch when it’s packed in a “cool” lunch box or includes stickers on plastic baggies.


Pinwheel lunch recipes

All recipes should start with a whole-wheat wrap of choice. Roll and cut after assembly.

  • Turkey and apple: Base layer of mustard and/or mayo topped with grated cheddar cheese, turkey breast, apple slices and lettuce.
  • Hawaiian Pizza: Base layer of spaghetti or marinara sauce topped with grated mozzarella cheese, Canadian bacon and pineapple chunks.
  • Southwestern: Base layer of cream cheese topped with salsa, black beans, sliced black olives and strips of red bell pepper.
  • Veggie Lover: Base layer of hummus topped with mixture of vegetables, such as grated carrots, sliced cucumber, lettuce and pepper strips.
  • Turkey and Pesto: Base layer of pesto topped with turkey breast, cucumber slices and lettuce.


Sources: and


Shelby with her husband, Paul, and their children, Madison and Jackson.

About the Author: Shelby Hunke is a registered dietitian working at Tri-County Health Care in the hospital and clinic. She has a degree in exercise science and a passion for helping patients live a healthy lifestyle. She lives in Wadena with her husband, Paul, and two kids, Madison and Jackson. In her spare time, she enjoys family time, running with her dog, Bela, and cooking!

Life have you running in circles? How to prepare 12 crockpot freezer meals in 75 minutes for under $100!

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By: Quinn Nystrom

Is your laundry list of to-do’s too much some days? For me, I’m a working woman and a graduate school student, I sit on multiple community board of directors, manage my diabetes and in my free time I like to see my family and friends. Most days, I just don’t have the time to prepare and cook a healthy, balanced meal for myself, let alone a family.

I have always had a hard time with preparing healthy, affordable meals that taste good. It’s always easier to go through the drive-thru and pick-up something fast because it is more convenient and I have nothing prepared in my refrigerator.

I arranged all of the items on my kitchen table right after I got home from the grocery store.

I arranged all of the items on my kitchen table right after I got home from the grocery store.

One day while we were talking, one of my friends suggested looking on Pinterest for crockpot recipe ideas. I hadn’t spent that much time on that seemingly trendy site so this was going to be a new experience for me. It was easy. All I did was type in “healthy freezer crockpot meals” in the search box and hundreds of recipes popped up for me.

I decided to give it a try. I devoted one Sunday afternoon to grocery shopping and then prepping all of the meals. Although the woman who wrote about it on her “New Leaf Wellness” blog site said it took only 75 minutes to prep the 12 crockpot freezer meals…it took me about two hours. I have to admit, I’m a beginner when it comes to cooking!

Another thing to note is she titled her post “Crockpot freezer meals from Costco (12 meals in 75 minutes!)”. I made the assumption I could get all my ingredients at Costco and that wasn’t true. I still had to go to the regular grocery store to get a handful of ingredients. My suggestion would be forget her title and just pick up the ingredients at your favorite grocery store. Her total grocery bill was $87 (excluding the seasonings) very similar to the cost of all my groceries.

My meals all packed up! I didn't use the labels that she blogs about, but instead used a permanent marker to label my bags.

My meals all packed up! I didn’t use the labels that she blogs about, but instead used a permanent marker to label my bags.

I enjoyed her blog. She did a great job of explaining everything and giving great meal prepping tips. Because of the suggestion from a friend, my openness to exploring Pinterest and my willingness to commit a Sunday afternoon to these meals, I now have a freezer full of healthy meals. I have loved putting them in my crockpot in the morning and coming home at the end of a workday to a home-cooked, HOT meal ready to eat. Most of the recipes make between four to six servings each and have made for great leftovers at work, saving me money and time not eating out all the time. Check it out, give it a try and let me know what you think of the recipes.

Don’t forget to check out our Tri-County Health Care Pinterest page for other recipes that I love! My criteria is that the meals are…

1. Easy to prep
2. Taste great
3. Make a healthy, balanced meal
4. And, last but certainly not least … Affordable

Quinn speaking at the Mall of America this past November for World Diabetes Day.

Quinn speaking at the Mall of America this past November for World Diabetes Day.

About the Author: Quinn is the Social Media Specialist in the Marketing Department at Tri-County Health Care. In her free time she enjoys traveling, hanging out with friends and family and serving on the Community Leadership Board for the American Diabetes Association. Since her diagnosis of type-1 diabetes at the age of 13 she has worked on the local, state and national level speaking about life with diabetes.

Healthy Hydration: Are you drinking enough water?

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Healthy Hydration Posters-2

Click on this great graphic to learn more about healthy hydration.

By Sara Stone, Healthy by Choice Chair & Medical Social Services Manager 

Now that the ice on our lakes have melted away and we’ve switched out our winter boots and coats for summer shorts and sandals, the warmer temperatures of summer are here.

How much water do you need? It’s an individual answer, as water requirements vary for each person. A basic rule of thumb is to take your body weight and divide by two. Half of your body weight is number of ounces of water you should be drinking each day. If you live a more active lifestyle, you will want to add additional fluid intake into your day. Consider this, every day you need two glasses just to replace the pint or more of water we lose every day simply by breathing!

In June, we have created a Healthy Hydration Challenge for all Tri-County Health Care employees to track all of the liquids they drink each day. Although most people have heard that drinking water is important, you may ask what are the benefits to me?

Functions of water in the body:

  • Regulates body temperature
  • Lubricates joints
  • Lessens the burden on the kidneys and liver by flushing out waste products
  • Carries nutrients and oxygen to cells
  • Helps prevent constipation
  • Moistens tissues such as those in the mouth, eyes and nose
  • Helps dissolve minerals and other nutrients to make them accessible to the body

Do you struggle with fatigue? It may be a sign of dehydration. A study done by Loughborough University found that a mere 5 percent drop in water levels in your body can cause a 25-30 percent loss in energy. A 3 percent drop can even cause fuzzy thinking.

Join me this summer by carrying around a reusable water bottle as a daily reminder to stay hydrated, remain healthy and save money by not purchasing sugary beverages.

TCHC employees enjoying their water in Healthy By Choice reusable water bottles.

TCHC employees enjoying their water in Healthy By Choice reusable water bottles.