Pack a Healthy Lunch for Back to School

This content is also available in: Vietnamese

The excitement of going back to school is in the air, and it’s important to get your kids pumped about eating a healthy lunch.  Lunch is usually the only meal that children eat away from home during the school year, so don’t let that be a missed opportunity for getting enough nutrition in the day.  Even though school lunch programs are supposed to offer proper nutrition, it’s all too easy for kids to skip the salad bar and miss out on the necessary daily servings of fruits and vegetables, or worse, not even eat because ‘The school lunch is gross!’  Instead of sending your child down the lunch line or throwing pre-packaged snacks in a bag, use these tips and pack them a healthy lunch they’ll enjoy:

  • Check for the food groups.
    To ensure your kids are getting enough nutrition, each meal should contain fruit, vegetables, grains (whole grains preferably), protein, and dairy.  Get your kids used to meals that include these five groups and they’ll even call you out should you forget to pack something.
  • Showcase a variety.
    Make sure the lunch is full of color. Not only does it look more appealing, but eating a rainbow of colored fruits and vegetables is healthy since different colors contain different vitamins and health benefits.
  • Make a pretty presentation.
    Cut strawberries into heart shapes or use a cookie cutter on slices of watermelon.  It’s so much more fun that way and your kids, and even their friends, will look forward to seeing what their lunch looks like each day.
  • Portion with partitions.
    Use containers that have built-in compartments or you can make your own by using cupcake liners or smaller containers nestled in a larger one.  This is a great way to control portions and show your child how much of something they can eat, or in the case of a picky eater, how much they have to finish.
  • Switch it up.
    Don’t do the same exact lunch every day.  Change it up to give your child’s taste buds a good variety and no chance to get bored.
  • Pack lunch as a bunch.
    Get the family involved in making lunch together.  From washing produce to cutting up fruit, many tasks can be completed faster if you work together.  Plus, if children make something themselves, they’re more likely to eat it!
  • Play with texture.
    Try using a variety of textures to make eating more interesting.  For something crunchy and smooth, try carrots and hummus, or apple slices with crushed nuts and yogurt.
  •  Make enough dinner for leftovers.
    Stray away from the typical sandwich and instead serve up some of last night’s dinner. That leftover teriyaki salmon would taste just as good the next day and remind your child about the family dinner they had the night before.
  • Listen to feedback.
    Ask your kids what they thought of the latest lunch, especially if it’s something new.  Be open to suggestions on healthy lunch ideas so that everyone can have some favorites in rotation.

Here are two examples of what I pack for my twin seven-year-old girls Shayna and Kiera.1609-healthy-lunch

  1. The first option is a simple dish of pesto pasta, yogurt with strawberries and dried goji berries, homemade trail mix of raw almonds and chocolate, and baby carrots.
  2. My second option is leftovers from dinner – teriyaki salmon, brown rice, dried seaweed sheets, mango and cucumber.

Once you find out what healthy lunches your child loves, just continue to feature those foods and build upon it. With enough thought and planning, packing a healthy lunch can be easy and fun for everyone.