Balance your diet, balance your health Balance your diet, balance your health

Tips for Packing Healthy School Lunches

“Do kids really need to eat lunch every day?” you may be thinking to yourself as you pack what feels like the millionth kids’ school snack and lunch.


There’s a lot that goes into packing your kids’ lunches and snacks! You want it to be healthy and something your child will happily eat without bringing home leftovers or throwing away perfectly good food. You also want it to be interesting, not the same old boring thing. Variety is important for a healthy diet but being creative and interesting every day can be a challenge.


What Goes into a Healthy School Lunch?


You want your kids’ school lunch to be enough to keep them satisfied for the rest of the school day. The best way to get some quality nutrition into your child’s body, along with foods with staying power, are to incorporate these elements:


  • Protein: A good protein source, like turkey, chicken, eggs, cheese, milk, beans and nuts, is an essential nutrient needed at every meal. Consider centering the lunch around protein, like a turkey sandwich or hummus cup, with sides and special items to go along with it.

  • Grains: Grains are great energy foods, and whole grains in particular help by delivering slow, steady energy that kids need for the afternoon ahead.

  • Fruits and/or vegetables (preferably both): Kids need more fruits and vegetables in their diets, so look for ways to incorporate them at every meal and snack. They don’t have to be standalone, like an apple or baby carrots. Simply include lettuce and tomato on a sandwich or add mandarin oranges to a salad.

  • Dairy: Growing kids need calcium for strong bones, and dairy also provides protein to help build muscle. Consider a container of low-fat milk, a cup of yogurt or some string cheese to pack with your child’s lunch.


Packing Kids’ School Lunch – What You Must Do


When it comes to packing your kids’ school snacks and lunches, there are certain things you need to do or think about from the start, like:


  • School policies. Are you allowed to pack peanut butter sandwiches or other items with nuts in them, or does your school have a no-nut policy?

  • How much time your kids have for lunch. Some lunchtimes are 20 minutes, so you want to pack a lunch that’s easy to eat and doesn’t require waiting in line for the microwave. You can even do simple things ahead of time for them, like peeling oranges or cutting up apples into slices.

  • How to keep food from spoiling. Most kids are allowed to take insulated lunch bags with ice packs that help keep food at safe temperatures. Sometimes, such as for field trips, schools ask for parents to pack brown-bag lunches that can be kept safe at room temperature and that kids can discard after eating. On those days, leave the fresh meat and cheese and other easily spoiled food at home.


Packing Kids’ School Lunch – Making it Fun


Once the basics are met, now it’s time to make it fun and be creative. Simply having a different entrée every day is enough to break the tedium of healthy school lunches. (Easier said than done, right?) Remember that lunch doesn’t necessarily need to be a sandwich, piece of fruit and some chips or dessert. There are a wide variety of healthy school lunch options:


  • Instead of a traditional sandwich, try a wrap or pita pocket.

  • Let kids assemble their own lunches. Pack a stack of crackers, some cheese squares and reduced-fat pepperoni and have them make cracker pizzas. Or serve them cut up vegetables and pita chips to dip into a container of hummus.

  • Last night’s leftovers are an easy lunch, and most don’t need to be reheated. Cold pizza, pasta and rotisserie chicken all make great next-day lunches.


Packing Kids’ School Lunch – Or Not!


Don’t forget that most schools provide hot lunches at low- or no cost to students, and that’s an option for your child as well. School lunches meet certain nutrition criteria, and menus are set by school nutrition personnel, usually registered dietitians. Preview the week’s lunch options with your child and see if there’s a day or two where buying lunch is an option. There’s no better lunch than a healthy one prepared by someone else!


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