If you have school-age students, you were probably thrilled just to get them out the door in one piece on Monday (and maybe even snap a picture of their brand new outfits!), but you didn’t give a second thought to what they’d have for lunch. (If you don’t have school-age kids, your Facebook wall has probably been swamped with friends’ kids’ first-day-of-school pictures, and you may want to hear something unrelated to the first day! Sorry!). Back to the school lunches … If you think your kid won’t eat a healthy school lunch or think you don’t have time to pack one, don’t worry – you’re not alone. But it doesn’t have to be complex or frustrating; you just have to find what works for your child.
Now is the perfect time to get in the routine of packing a healthier lunch for your children!
Here are my top tips for packing a healthy school lunch:
- Get a lunch box. To start, invest in a lunch box with several components – “finger foods” with different textures and tastes are often the best way to go for school lunches, as opposed to a single dish with all the components mixed. I like this Bento box, or this one with an ice pack built in (I actually use this one myself!).
- Get in 2 vegetables. Finding which vegetables your children will eat is important. Many children I work with will eat mini cucumbers (sliced with a bit of salt), mini bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, or even a simple side salad. Experiment with different options until you find what works for your child.
- Add 1 fruit. Fruit adds a nice bit of sweetness to a meal, and is easily packed. Grapes, apples, plums, peaches, and strawberries are some of the best options for school lunches.
- Get in a good source of healthy fat. Fat is critically important for kids’ brain development, and will keep them fuller for longer. So add in guacamole, avocados, nuts, seeds, nut butter, tuna fish, olives, or healthy oil. Their brains will thank you!
- Get in some protein. Sliced turkey or chicken is a classic option (choose antibiotic-free!), but many kids enjoy chunks of chicken as “finger food,” lower-sugar yogurt or cottage cheese, string cheese, beans, or hummus as well.
- Skip the sugary drinks and sides. It’s tempting to make a homemade lunch seem more appealing by adding in sugary sweets and drinks, but studies show that when there are “treat” items included in a lunch, kids tend to only eat those items, and throw away the healthier items. Serving a more balanced lunch all together can help entice kids to eat the healthy items! I recommend allowing your child to purchase dessert once per week at school, so it is something to look forward to rather than an every day “given.”
Four ideas for healthy school lunches:
- Chicken / tuna salad lunch: One large scoop of healthy tuna salad or chicken salad (made with Greek yogurt, like this one), a small handful of Mary’s Gone Crackers (or other seed-based or whole grain crackers), 10 baby carrots, 1 sliced mini cucumber with salt, 1 bunch of grapes, and a few Coco-roons (healthier, coconut-based cookies, available at most grocery stores).
- Roll-ups: Hormone- and antibiotic-free deli turkey and / or hummus, wrapped in a whole grain tortilla (I like Raw Wraps or La Tortilla Factory Low Carb Wheat tortillas) with a few leaves of lettuce. Serve with snap peas (many kids enjoy eating them!), cherry tomatoes, a plum, and small handful of nuts.
- Snack plate: 1 low-fat string cheese, 1 bunch of grapes, a few pickles and / or olives, some mini bell peppers (they’re so sweet that many kids like them), cucumbers with individual portions of hummus, and a serving of trail mix.
- Soft tacos: Kids have fun with lunches they can assemble. Toss in some leftover shredded chicken or beans (with added spinach or shredded zucchini for bonus points!), along with a scoop of guacamole. Add a few corn tortillas, a side salad, and an apple. Bonus points if they’ll drink an Amazing Grass or take a Juice Plus+ gummy with this meal!
Preparing in advance
I highly recommend prepping several lunches in advance. On Sunday, you can stack up the fruit, chop up the vegetables, and arrange your Tupperware containers to make nightly preparation a bit easier. If you have multiple children, coordinate the days they will bring their lunches to be on the same day. And, of course, pack your own lunch at the same time you’re packing your kids’ lunches! Health doesn’t stop with the kids!
Need more help?
Of course, it’s nearly impossible to come up with lunch suggestions that work for every child. If these four options don’t work for your family, you might benefit from personalized health coaching. I work with many families on creating healthy meals that don’t break the bank, take hours upon hours, or make your kids throw a fit! Check out my Health Coaching page to schedule your initial consultation today.
Now it’s your turn … Do you pack your kids’ lunch? As a kid, what did you bring for lunch?
(For an interesting read, check out this post on what French kids eat for lunch!)