Back to School with a Healthy Lunch!

Does your morning groove feel like a grind? Even though you are somewhat adjusted to the new school year’s morning schedule, you may already be dreading the lunchbox-packing.

Here are some lunch box tips to keep your family healthy this school year:

  • Count 4 food groups when you plan and pack. Include a protein, a grain/bread, a fruit, a vegetable for the base of the lunch.
  • Encourage milk. Children ages 4-8 need 1000 milligrams, and 9-18 year olds need 1300 milligrams of calcium daily. Milk easily delivers about 300 mg per 8 ounces.
  • Add a treat. Lunchtime is one of the few social times during your child’s busy school day, so adding a bit of fun makes it that much more enjoyable.
  • Keep portions small and include variety. Grade-schoolers really don’t need huge, stuffed lunches! A half a sandwich may be just right for a 3rd grader, while a 7th grader may need two whole sandwiches. Portion control counts for even the healthiest of items. I’ve seen over a cup of baby carrot sticks in a 4th grader’s lunchbox, which is overwhelming and impossible to finish.
  • Use a bento box or other small containers to keep things neat and tidy, and keep portions right and encourage variety.
  • Pack your own lunch while you pack your child Often parents do a great job packing up healthy foods for their kids, and then forget about themselves. If you use these same guidelines for yourself, you just may improve your own diet.

Many schools have microwaves available for heating, so consider utilizing leftovers when planning. I know how busy life gets! It’s okay to use some convenient items – individual applesauce or fruit cups, small bags of chips, or packaged cookies. And, by all means, mix things up and utilize the school lunch program if your school provides one.

Try these 5 easy combos for this weeks lunch box:

  • Cheese tortellini
  • Raw veggies sticks and dip
  • A piece of fresh fruit
  • A small bag of chips or two small cookies
  • Milk

Example School Lunches:

  • Ham roll up bites. Layer a small tortilla with sandwich spread, 2 slices baked maple ham, one slice cheese, baby spinach leaves. Roll up tightly, then slice into 1-inch pieces. These can be make (with your child’s help) the night before, then wrapped in plastic. Cut in the morning and place into a square lunchbox container or bento box.
  • Apple slices with caramel dip
  • 1 ounce honey oat pretzel sticks
  • Milk
  • Peanut or almond butter on whole wheat bread (cut into triangles or fun shapes for younger children)
  • An orange, cut into quarters
  • Frozen yogurt tube
  • Granola bar
  • Milk
  • Chicken drumstick
  • 6 wheat crackers with cheese stick
  • Applesauce cup
  • Salad kebob (thread a grape tomato, chunk of lettuce, slice of cucumber, and a carrot piece onto a skewer. Include a small salad dressing cup for dipping. Include any of your child’s favorite raw vegetables)
  • Milk
  • Turkey and hummus wrap. Place turkey slices, hummus, lettuce, tomato onto a sandwich wrap or flatbread, and roll up.
  • Blueberries (use small reusable plastic containers to pack berries into lunch boxes)
  • Cheese chunks (place about 5-6 small cubes of cheese into snack bag or bento box)
  • Small bag of baked chips
  • Milk


Rosanne RustRosanne Rust MS, RDN, LDN is a registered, licensed dietitian-nutritionist with over 25 years experience. As a Nutrition Communications Consultant  she delivers clear messages helping you understand the science of nutrition so you can enjoy eating for better health. Rosanne is the co-author of several books, including DASH Diet For Dummies® and the The Glycemic Index Cookbook For Dummies®. A wife, and mother of 3 boys, she practices what she preaches, enjoying regular exercise, good food and festive entertaining. Follow her on Twitter @RustNutrition.