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Navigating nutrition during COVID-19: Ideas for school lunches at home

Newswatch 16 teamed up with a registered dietitian at Weis Markets who shared tips to help keep students fueled at home while learning remotely.

With so many students learning from home this fall, just feet from the fridge or pantry, what can you do to provide that sense of nutrition normalcy students once got at school?

Newswatch 16's Ryan Leckey took a bite out of this topic from Danville with help from Weis Markets registered dietitian Beth Stark.

Beth shared several nutritious and creative snack lunch ideas on Tuesday.

Beth said, "a healthy, balanced lunch is an essential component to a positive and successful school day. Children who eat nutritious meals at lunch have improved memory, better attention spans, better classroom behavior, improved performance in problem-solving, better test scores, improved mood, and fewer school absences."

Weis & WNEP's Ryan's Run 11

Weis Markets is also a corporate sponsor of WNEP's Ryan's Run 11, which helps kids and adults with disabilities at Allied Services. Click here to get involved in the cause.

How to register for the new Weis 4 School program

As part of Tuesday's show on Newswatch 16, Weis Markets also shared the launch of its Weis 4 School program. Customers can earn points on their purchases to generate donations for the local school of their choice, from Pre-K to 8th Grade.

The new Weis 4 School program will generate $500,000 in donations for local schools.

Head here to sign up. 

School lunch ideas 

The following ideas surround snack lunches courtesy of Weis Markets' Beth Stark:

  • A simple combination of foods that come together to form a balanced lunch. They provide a fast, easy, and nearly effortless lunch solution for kids that are attending school in-person this school year and those that are at home.
  • Follow the formula of whole-grain + fruit + vegetable + protein + optional treat to build a satisfying and nutritious lunch. The possibilities are endless!
  • With a variety of colors, shapes, textures, and finger foods, snack lunches are sure to please even the pickiest of eaters. 
  • If you don't have a divided reusable container, simply use muffin cups to create different sections and separate the ingredients. Or arrange the foods on a plate.

Examples: 

  1. Deli turkey + popcorn + grapes + carrots
  2. String cheese + hummus + snap peas + whole-grain crackers + Mandarin orange wedges
  3. Greek yogurt + whole-grain cereal/granola + berries + banana
  4. Seasoned tuna pouch + mini bell peppers + whole-grain tortilla chips + apple slices

How to make school lunches happen:

  • Prep as much as you can on Sunday, including cutting up fruits and veggies.
  • Mornings can be hectic, so pack kid's lunches the night before, even if the kids are participating in virtual schooling.
  • Have a lunch prep drawer or storage container where you keep everything you need to pack lunches, including cookie cutters, reusable muffin cups, skewers, little storage containers, baggies, spoon, forks, etc.
  • Make it fun and get the kids involved in the planning. They may have seen something a friend had packed for lunch and want to give it a try themselves.

Lunchbox Love

Throw in a little lunchbox love to let your kids know you're thinking about them. Include a thoughtful note, words of encouragement, or even a fun trivia question. A sweet message can go a long way to brighten your little one's day.

Printable lunchbox notes and trivia questions for Produce for Kids: 

Other tips for virtual learners

  • Establish a set breakfast, lunch, and snack times every few hours throughout the day to mimic a typical school routine. Avoid skipping meals.
  • Encourage plenty of water intake and limit sweetened beverages.
  • Keep nutritious, ready-to-eat snack options available on the counter and in the fridge and pantry. 
    • Fridge examples: Cut fruit, cut vegetables, hummus, yogurt, string cheese
    • Pantry examples: Whole-grain crackers, lower sugar snack bars, trail mix, snackable whole-grain cereal, nuts, peanut butter, plain or lightly salted popcorn, jerky
    • Counterexamples: Apples, bananas, pears, oranges

Resources for food

If your family could use extra help during the pandemic to find food, head here a list from WNEP-TV that features a list of businesses and organizations offering free help.

The following other local resources are provided by Clancy Harrison and her team with the Food Dignity Project: 

  1. Advocacy Alliance
    This resource offers child/adult/family mental health advocacy, individual/community/peer supports, CASA, and financial assistance services.
    71 N Franklin Street Suite 218 Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701. Phone: 570-822-7097
  2. Al Beech West Side Food Pantry
    Drive-Thru Every Wednesday 2–4 p.m. but may start as early as 12:30 p.m. Please come with your trunk empty. Food must go into the trunk, and you must wear a mask.
    190 Sprague Ave, Kingston, PA 18704. Phone: 570-288-0934
  3. Arc of Luzerne County
    Intellectual and developmental disabilities advocacy, community resource center, independent monitoring for quality.
    67 Public Square Suite 1020 Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701. Phone: 570-970-7739
  4. Christian Service Center-Plymouth - Food Assistance
    Serves Plymouth, Plymouth Twp, Larksville, West Nanticoke.
    Hours: New office hours are Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon. Appointments are suggested.
    66 Willow St. Plymouth, PA 18707. Phone: 779-5323
  5. Commission on Economic Opportunity (CEO)
    The mission of CEO is to promote self-sufficiency among low-income and vulnerable populations by confronting the causes and reducing the effects of poverty. Includes but is not limited to Weatherization, Utility and Heating Assistance, Assistance applying and completing a SNAP application, SAT Prep Course, Home Delivered Meals, and food bank. In-person services are not available. However, people can be assisted by phone appointments.
    165 Amber Lane, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702. Phone: 570-826-0510.
    Website: https://www.ceopeoplehelpingpeople.org/applyforservices
  6. CEO Wilkes-Barre Food Pantry
    Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 190 South Main Street (corner of South and South Main Streets; use South Street side entrance.)
    HOURS: Monday and Wednesday 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday 9 a.m. to noon. Closed in November
  7. Dinners For Kids
    A list of eligible children is provided by Children and Youth as well as school officials; the meals are prepared at Ollie's Restaurant staff, packaged, and delivered by volunteers. The children receive, at no charge, six meals per week, year-round, that include fresh fruits. Open five days a week.
    84 S Wyoming Ave, Edwardsville, PA 18704. Phone: 570-262-7839
    Website: www.Dinnersforkids.org
  8. Domestic Violence Center
    Confidential services and advocacy for victims of domestic violence, 24-hour hotline, safety planning, support groups, assist with filing PFA orders.
    P.O. Box 2177 Wilkes-Barre, PA 18703. Phone: 570-823-7312 or 800-424-5600
  9. Garrahan Street Residence (Volunteers of America)
    Apartments are located in the Hanover Area for young adults ages 18 to 25 who may be at-risk of homelessness.
    Phone: 570-550-7921
  10. Manna House (Volunteers of America)
    Transitional housing for homeless young adults (18 to 25 years old) offering affordable housing with supportive services to help individuals build skills and obtain employment while working towards the ultimate goal of transitions to permanent housing.
    25 N River Street Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702. Phone: 570-825-0542
  11. Palmer House (Volunteers of America)
    Affordable apartment housing for those 62 years and older located in Wilkes-Barre.Phone: 570-829-6542
    Help Line
    This resource also features the Warm Line. A peer telephone support service from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., seven days per week, 15-minute calls at 866-839-0445 or 570-270-6866 (blocked numbers not accepted).
    Phone: 570-829-1341 or 888-829-1341
  12. Northeast Counseling Services (Nanticoke)
    A resource that provides services including out-patient mental health services, counseling, medication management, psychiatric evaluation, crisis intervention, Assertive Community Team (ACT), Forensic Assertive Community Team (FACT), children's clinical home services, student assistance program, Intensive Case Management (ICM), Blended Case Management (BCM), Resource Coordinator (RC), peer support, psychiatric rehabilitation, partial hospitalization, Joint Planning Team (JPT), Intercept Model for Early Diversion (IMED).
    121 S Prospect St. Nanticoke, PA 18634. Phone: 570-735-7590
  13. Nurse-Family Partnership
    Nurse Home Visitor is there to answer them, guide you to the right resources, help you plan for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy delivery of your baby. It is first-time pregnancy help you can trust, from a caring and compassionate nurse who knows fact from fiction. Your nurse comes to you, meeting you at home or at a safe place on a regular basis, usually every week or every other week before and after you have your baby. All appointments are telehealth only until further notice.
    Maternal and Family Health Services.
    15 Public Square Suite 600, Wilkes Barre PA 18706
    Phone: 570-826-1777. FAX 570-823-3040
    SAFE Inc. (Supporting Autism & Families Everywhere)
    1325 River Street Suite 104, Plains, PA 18702. Phone: 570-822-7259
    Website: www.autismsafe.org
    Facebook: S.A.F.E.
    Email: safeoffice@autismsafe.org
  14. Salvation Army (W-B Thrift Store)
    520 Kidder Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711. Phone: 570-824-5990
    Hours: The donation center will be open Monday-Saturday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
    The Salvation Army-Wilkes-Barre - Wilkes-Barre, PA - Food Assistance
    Hours: Tues-Fri: 9 a.m. to noon by appointment
    17 S. Pennsylvania Ave. Wilkes-Barre, PA. Phone: 824-8741
    St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry - Wilkes-Barre, PA - Food Assistance
    Hours: Open seven days a week. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Dinner is served three nights (Tues, Wed, Thurs) from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Donations are accepted all week from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The food bank is open Tuesday 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Thursday 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
    39 East Jackson St. Wilkes-Barre, PA. Phone: 570-829-7796
  15. Women Infants Children
    Promotes the health of women, infants, and children by providing healthy food and nutrition education to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers as well as their infants and children under age five.
    LUZERNE COUNTY - Wilkes-Barre. Phone: 570-823-1516 Fax: 570-823-4665
  16. Wyoming Valley Catholic Youth Center (CYC)
    36 S Washington Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18701. Phone: 570-823-6121
    Hours: Monday-Friday 7 a.m. to noon.