• Karen Haralson

Back to School Healthy Lunch Ideas



It’s that time of year again, time to think about what to pack for your kids for school lunches. It can seem overwhelming, unless you take it one day at a time. Below you’ll find some inspiration on packing kid-friendly lunches that have been selected based on nutritional guidelines as well on offering something your kids will actually want to eat.

When choosing fresh produce options, look for those options sturdy enough to be packed in a lunch box or better yet, those that come in their own natural packaging. Most fruits have this advantage. If you do cut up an apple for instance, you can use a rubber band to hold it back together and keep it from turning brown.

Whenever possible include home-made versions of baked goods for a hearty addition. Some ideas include homemade zucchini muffins, granola bars or date balls. Store bought food, while convenient, is more often than not loaded with extra fat, salt, sugar, and preservatives. Besides, anyone who has ever tasted homemade vs store bought food knows that the wonderful flavors nature delivers gets lost in the processing as well as do most of the nutritional value. Homemade versions also come with a lot less individual packaging.

Bento-style lunch boxes for kids are a great way to compartmentalize a selection of foods into smaller portions. Bento boxes are also a sustainable way of cutting back on packaging items in individual plastic bags. Look for a BPA free container for safe regular use. An ice pack should be included to help keep food fresh if you choose a version that has a zippered outer pouch.

While most kids may not eat vegetables on their own, adding the vegetables into their favorite pasta dish might work. Try carrots, zucchini, peas, mushrooms, and leafy greens with a little healthy oil, vinegar or lemon juice.

Also try using legumes-based pasta (edamame, chickpeas, lentils, peas) for added nutrition (most are also gluten free).

One consideration in packing a school lunch is thinking about which foods will be edible and appealing after maybe 4 hours of sitting unrefrigerated. We want to think outside the box (pun intended). Sandwiches are traditional, but in and of themselves don’t provide a selection of all the food categories needed for a well balanced diet or offer much in the way of variety. One way to go about deciding what to include in your kids' school lunch is to check off a selection from each of the following categories.

Each lunch should include:

A serving of fruit

A serving of veggies

A serving of protein

A serving of healthy fats

A serving of whole grain

Here are a few ideas for pairings:

Lunch 1

Hard boiled eggs

Guacamole/avocado (add lemon or lime juice to keep from turning brown)

Whole wheat cereal

Orange slices

Red grape tomatoes

Lunch 2

Uncured meat rolls (turkey or chicken)

Bell peppers-sliced

Fresh blackberries

Whole nuts or seeds (walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pepitas, sunflower seeds)

Lunch 3

Bean & cheese quesadilla

Homemade Fruit Roll-ups

Cucumber slices

Lunch 4

Healthy hummus (garbanzo bean, beet, roasted bell pepper, spinach)

Whole wheat chips

Carrot sticks

Lunch 5

Edamame

Cheese chunks (white cheeses have far less fat than yellow cheeses)

Whole apple (a rubber band holds slices back together and keeps air out)

Lunch 6

Yogurt (beware of added sugar especially in flavored yogurt)

Celery with nut butter (try walnut, cashew, or almond butter)

Grapes

Assemble lunches as desired into lunch boxes or paper bags, or bento boxes. The combinations are only limited by your imagination. Always keep produce seasonal and therefore fresh whenever possible. By making a conscious effort to create nutritionally balanced lunches, you are helping to ensure your kids are happy and healthy. Send them off with a kiss and a hug and remind them how much you love them!