Healthy Back-to-School Lunch Ideas
Children who eat nutritious foods do better in school, but coming up with healthy back-to-school lunch ideas that children will actually eat can be a challenge for many parents.
A healthy school lunch should combine nutrient-rich foods from several food groups to supply the protein, fat and carbohydrates needed to sustain energy and concentration for several hours. Providing foods from each of the five food groups will help sustain a child throughout the rest of the school day and into their after-school activities.
A balanced boxed lunch should contain foods from each of the five food groups -- Milk & Milk Products, Vegetables, Fruits, Grains and Meat & Beans. This variety gives children the nutrients they need to prevent a drop in blood sugar for several hours. Making a balanced lunchbox for your child can be quick and easy.
Healthy Lunchbox Ideas
Foods like fruit, bread, crackers and juice provide carbohydrates, while milk, cheese, yogurt, lean meat and beans provide protein to balance a kid’s meals. Fat is found in nuts, peanut butter, meat and some dairy foods. Providing children a balance and variety of these foods will ensure they are well-nourished and energized for learning.
Our printable Tips for a Healthy Lunchbox offers ideas for healthy foods to include in kids’ lunches.
The key is to balance nutrition with your child’s personal taste by getting him/her involved in the back-to-school lunch preparation process to reduce food waste.
Students usually have limited time for lunch, so including foods that they like and can eat quickly will help ensure they get the energy they need to sustain them for the rest of the day.
When your children are involved in the planning process they'll be more likely to eat what is prepared. Children who help select and prepare their meals are more likely to actually eat them.
It’s a simple and effective way to make sure your children get the energy they need to learn and the nutrition that keeps them healthy. It will also be easier to get help with the meal preparation and cleanup process if their food preferences are considered.
More Healthy Lunch Ideas
Lunch should contain food from all five main food groups: breads, fruits, vegetables, protein and dairy products. Many children do not like sandwiches for lunch, so including some variety in the menu can prevent children from getting bored with their lunch and will prevent them from straying to the vending machine or snack bar. Some sandwich alternatives are:
- Chicken tenders
- Pasta salads
- Bean salads
- Hard boiled eggs
- Trail mix
- Crackers with cheese or peanut butter
- Hummus and pita chips
- Sliced veggies with yogurt dip
- Wrap sandwiches – almost everything tastes better when wrapped in a plain or flavored tortillas, lavash or other flatbreads
Warm Lunch Ideas
- Soup sent in an insulated container
- Rice bowls (rice topped with last night’s leftover meat and vegetables with soy or teriyaki sauce )
- Macaroni and cheese
- Pasta noodles
Keep Lunch Food Safe
It is important to practice safe food handling when packing a school lunch. If lunches are not refrigerated, after about two hours the food can begin to grow harmful bacteria that cause food borne illnesses. You can keep lunches cold by sending a frozen 100 percent juice box or ice pack in an insulated lunch box to keep contents cold until lunchtime.
If you’re too busy to prepare lunch you may want to take advantage of your school’s cafeteria. The school lunch is another nutritious and economical option for families. Take a look at the school lunch menu with your child and decide which days your child would like to eat the school meal. Remember, getting their input is always important when you want to ensure they will eat the meal and get the energy and nutrients they need.