Packing Healthier School Lunches

Children getting on a school bus

Eating a nutritious school lunch is essential for supporting the immune system, keeping physically fit, and staying healthy. While back-to-school is an exciting time, it is also the time to practice healthy habits.

Boosting energy, performance, the immune system, and creating healthy habits

Among the many things parents worry about at the beginning of the school year is sending kids to school with healthy foods. After several months of freedom from the ritual of packing a school lunch, it’s easy to fall into the same old routines and repeat habits from the past. It’s important to take every precaution to keep our children and family healthy during the school year. Eating a nutritious school lunch is essential for supporting the immune system, keeping physically fit, and staying healthy. While back-to-school is an exciting time, it is also the time to practice healthy habits the most.

Healthy Habits Start at Home

Children establish eating habits early in their lives. They also look to their parents for inspiration. That’s why it is important to practice healthy eating at home, make family meals together, and establish meal-planning practices that satisfy personal preferences and nutritional value. Childhood eating habits not only lead to better eating habits as adults, but also lessen risk of obesity and establish a baseline for good health. With the new school year starting up, it is the perfect time to reflect on your family’s eating habits. Start practicing this now at home. If your kids are used to having fruits and vegetables, incorporating them into school lunches will become the norm.

Success Starts with a Plan

With food costs at an all-time high, gone should be the days when school lunches return home uneaten, only to be thrown in the trash after being subjected to a day in the backpack. Some simple planning and collaboration can ensure that the thoughtful meals you pack each day are welcomed with an enthusiastic appetite for delicious and nutritious creations. Here are some suggestions:

illustration of healthy foods and food groups
  • Spend time as a family creating a list of enjoyable foods
  • Rotate food options from the list into your meals
  • Create a chart or write food ideas on sticky notes
  • Ask your children what fruits and vegetables they enjoy
  • Pick one food item per category to make up the lunch

Even though you as the parent do the final preparations, making your kids part of the decision-making process allows them to take ownership of the food choices in their meal.

Packing a Fun, Delicious, Kid Friendly Lunch

Flavorful healthy recipes will have your kids looking forward to their lunchtime experience at school. So, what can you pack that is nutritious, not time consuming, and that your kids will both eat and enjoy? Try some of these tasty, fun, and easy options. You will be raising your school lunch game in no time and have the kids begging for more. Try putting these creations into the rotation:

  1. Peanut Butter, Apple and Raisin Sandwich — Spread peanut butter over bread. Top with apple slices and raisins; sprinkle with cinnamon.
  2. ABC Salad Toss — In a large bowl, mix salad greens. Whisk together mayonnaise, sugar and oil; stir in chunks of cheese, apple, grapes and dried fruit. Pour over salad; toss to coat. Top with banana slices.
  3. Spinach and Turkey Pinwheels — Spread cream cheese over tortillas. Layer with spinach and turkey. Roll up tightly. To serve, cut each roll crosswise into 6 pieces.
  4. Lunch Box Chicken Wrap — spread hummus over tortilla, top with spinach. Place chicken, carrot, and red pepper in a row near center of tortilla; roll up tightly. If desired, cut crosswise into slices.
  5. Chicken and/or Chickpea Cucumber Pitas — In a large bowl, combine chopped chicken breast, cucumber, olives, tomato, red pepper, and cheddar cheese. Replace the chicken with a can of chickpeas for a meatless sandwich. In a small bowl, combine 2 tbsp. ranch dressing, Italian dressing, pinch of garlic powder and pepper; pour over mixture and toss to coat. Fill each pita half with a ½ cup of mixture.
  6. Tofu Salad Sammy — In a large bowl, combine chopped celery, ¼ cup mayonnaise, 2 tbsp. sweet pickle relish, 1 tbsp. mustard, and 1 pinch ground turmeric, salt, and cayenne pepper. Add 1 package (12 ounces) silken firm tofu, cubed, then mix all. Place salad on bread with lettuce. Makes 3 sandwiches. This is a great egg salad recipe too.

More Healthy Hints

  • Hydrate — For a drink, the ideal beverage choices for lunch are water or low-fat, unflavored milk. If you need to pack juice, choose a 4-to-6-ounce package of 100% juice. Staying hydrated is just as important as a healthy diet. Always send your child to school with a large water bottle to drink throughout the day.
  • Keep it Cool — Water or juice can also be frozen and used to keep the lunch package cold, or use an icepack to keep the food temperature safe.
  • Wash Hands — Make sure your kids are washing their hands before eating. Using hand sanitizer is always good too. Leave a notecard attached to a small bottle of hand sanitizer in every lunch package as a reminder to sanitize hands before eating.

Habits that Last a Lifetime

Eating a healthy lunch not only helps your child achieve their potential in class, but it also helps form healthy habits for life. With the drastic increase of obesity in the nation over the last 30 years, it is not only very important that children eat healthy, balanced meals throughout the day, it is essential. Eating a nutritious school lunch is crucial to helping minimize childhood obesity and warding off illness. Making sure that your child is eating nourishing foods will help their immune system perform at its best and give them the greatest chance of living a healthy life.