Healthy Lunches for Back to School

Healthy Lunches 8-12-14

It’s back-to-school time. And packing healthy lunches can help ensure kids get the fuel they need to do well in class. The trick is to find healthy foods they will actually eat.

Knowing what makes a lunch healthy is half the battle. To make sure you’re packing healthy lunches for your child, follow this easy rule of thumb. In each meal, include at least one food and drink from each of these food groups:

  • Healthy drink: Pack low-fat milk or water. (Skip the juice, juice drinks, soda, and energy drinks. They have too much sugar.)
  • Fruits & veggies: Pack a kid-friendly fruit, veggie, or both in each lunch. (Try veggies like baby carrots and celery sticks, as well as dried and fresh fruit.)
  • Whole grain: Choose whole grain breads, pita, wraps, bagels, and tortillas. You could also send whole grain leftovers like mac & cheese or stir-fry on brown rice.
  • Protein: Pick lean meats (like turkey), low-fat cheese and yogurt, nuts, boiled eggs, or beans.

The other half of the battle is packing healthy lunches your kids will actually eat. Here are some healthy, kid-friendly lunch ideas to try. Make sure to include a food and drink from each of the food groups above.

  • Healthy sandwiches: Try lean meats on whole grain bread
  • Sandwich wraps: Sandwiches may be more interesting in a whole grain wrap or pita
  • Leftovers: Make extra dinner the night before and pack up the leftovers for lunch
  • Thermos lunches: Pack chili, soup, stew, or beans in a wide-mouthed thermos
  • Salads: Try whole grain pasta or leafy greens; pack healthy dressing on the side
  • Fruit and yogurt: Cut fruit slices to dip in low-fat yogurt (or pack yogurt & trail mix)
  • Veggies and dip: Cut up carrots, celery, and peppers; dip in hummus or bean dip
  • Hard-boiled eggs: Cook them the night before and pop into lunches

And here are some ideas to help ensure your kid will want to eat what you pack:

  • Ask what your child wants to eat. You can use this as an opportunity to discuss healthy food choices.
  • Let them help pack their lunches. This can be as simple as asking what type of fruit or meat they would like. Kids are more likely to eat foods they’ve chosen.
  • Pack familiars and favorites. It’s okay to pack known foods that your kid likes. Mix it up sometimes but don’t get exotic. Kids will eat foods they know and like.
  • Ask for feedback. Find out what your kid thought of the lunch. You’ll learn which foods are hits (and duds), and you can think up new meal ideas together.

To make your job easier, keep your fridge stocked with easy (healthy!) lunch foods and pack up the lunches the night before. Also, keep food safety in mind. Put hot foods in a thermos. Put cold foods in an insulated lunch box with an ice pack. Follow these tips and you’ll be packing healthy lunches your kids loves in no time.