How to Get an A+ in Healthy Back to School Lunches

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the lunch should have a fruit, a vegetable, two servings of grain, two ounces of meat or beans, a serving of dairy and a smidge of healthy fat.

By: Krista Kohls, MS, RDN, CD

It’s hard to believe but it’s already time to start thinking about back to school and that means finding food to stuff in the lunch box or brown bag for school lunches. Kids’ lunches are an important part of their day at school as they provide energy to help them function, focus and learn. Kids’ lunches should provide about 1/3 of their nutrition for the entire day. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the meal should have a fruit, a vegetable, two servings of grain, two ounces of meat or beans, a serving of dairy and a smidge of healthy fat.

Some kids are fine with a sandwich for lunch 190 days of the year; however, there are many kids that need a variety to stay interested and to keep them away from the a la carte line. Here are a couple tips to keep your kids interested in a home-packed meal.

First, get your kids involved in making their lunch for school. Have your kids pick-out healthy items at the grocery store to include in lunches or have kids actually pack their own lunch in the morning. Keep in mind that kids do not need special food (i.e. fruit snacks, chips, special crackers or cookies or kid specific yogurt). They should be eating the same healthful food as adults.

Secondly, think variety and color. Kids like food that looks appealing and will catch their eye. Here are some options to mix up the everyday brown bag lunch:

  • Grilled chicken breast strips or hummus, sliced red pepper, lettuce/spinach and low-fat cheese in whole-wheat pita, a piece of fresh fruit and a carton of low-fat milk.
  • Canned wild salmon or tuna with whole grain crackers (like Tricuits) with low-fat mayo, a bunch of fresh grapes, and a carton of low-fat yogurt.
  • Quick lunchbox pasta salad (whole wheat pasta, black beans or chicken, veggies, Italian dressing with low-fat cheese), fruit kabobs, and a carton of low-fat milk or cottage cheese.
  • 10-12 Whole wheat crackers, 2 Tbsp peanut butter, sunflower seed butter, soy nut butter or avocado, celery sticks, apple or berries, lowfat/nonfat yogurt.
  • Whole wheat tortilla with peanut butter, sunflower seed butter, or soy nut butter spread on it, wrapped around a banana, cherry tomatoes and/or cucumber slices with hummus, and a carton of low fat milk.
  • Kebobs with pieces of low fat meat, cheese, cherry tomatoes, pineapple, almonds on the side and a low-fat yogurt.
  • And don’t forget about a beverage. Water should always be #1. Second would be low-fat or fat-free milk. If consuming juices try to choose 100% fruit juice – keeping in mind that juice has the same calories per ounce as soda. The whole fruit (i.e. an apple or orange) is always better than juice (apple juice or orange juice). If packing a water bottle, freeze it and put it in your child’s lunch box to keep foods cold. Otherwise, a cold pack works well.

Visit Laptop Lunches to find options for kids and adult lunches.

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