Healthy School Lunch

Lunch can be a healthy, fun part of your child’s school day — and it doesn’t take much effort to prepare healthy lunches for kids.

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Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids

Lunch keeps your child’s brain and body fueled and ready to learn. It also should be a fun and relaxing mental break. Good news: Healthy lunches for kids can look and taste great, and also contain an element of fun. Here are some easy lunch ideas that are also (shh!) super healthy.

  • Go for the dunk. Children love to dip food into flavorful sauces. A small container of ranch dip is perfect for veggies like carrots, broccoli, and celery. Use barbecue sauce or honey-mustard dip for chicken slices. SunButter is an allergy-friendly but protein-packed substitute for peanut butter as a dip for apple slices.
  • Choose small portions, big variety. Children adore tiny containers. They’re also more likely to eat small portions of a variety of foods than an overwhelming amount of one item. Pack colorful bento boxes with raisins, fresh fruits and veggies, cheese cubes, or slices of grilled chicken.
  • Go with a theme. Try a themed lunch like Taco Tuesdays (you can put ingredients in separate containers) or sushi Fridays (many children like the vivid colors and mild taste of sushi).
  • Amp up the fun. Your child is more likely to eat healthy school lunches if they are fun and exciting, maybe even a little crazy or rule-breaking. Try wrapping a turkey sandwich in lettuce instead of bread, or packing breakfast foods like whole-grain waffles for lunch.

Packing Healthy Lunches: Tips for Prepping Ahead

It’s easier to pack healthy school lunches if you’re not scrambling to throw something together 10 minutes before the school bus arrives. Here are some do-ahead tips:

  • Schedule prep time into your weekly calendar. Sunday evening when you aren’t as rushed usually works well.
  • Involve your child. If your child is invested in choosing healthy school lunches, they’re more likely to eat them.
  • Invest in fun accessories. Whether it’s a colorful bento box or a mini thermos for soup, a small investment now can yield lunches that don’t get thrown away during the week. Plus, these containers are environmentally friendly.

What Foods Are Easy to Prep Ahead of Time?

You can put together a week’s worth of lunch options ahead of time. Some items that hold up well:

  • Grilled chicken breast, shredded or sliced thin
  • Firm vegetables like carrots, celery, broccoli, peppers, and cauliflower
  • Cubed hard cheeses, like cheddar or Swiss
  • Heart-healthy leftovers (some cafeterias offer a microwave to reheat leftovers)
  • Frozen goodies like grapes or yogurt help keep the rest of the lunch cold and are a delicious treat

What Foods Can You Keep Stocked?

Here are some healthy lunch foods you should always have in the pantry or refrigerator. They also make wholesome after-school or on-the-go snacks for kids.

  • Protein bars that actually contain whole grains and protein, with no added sugars
  • Packs of nuts or sunflower seeds (allergies permitting)
  • Fresh fruits with a long shelf life, like clementines and apples, or dried fruits such as raisins, apricots, and prunes
  • Small packs of mandarin oranges and apple sauce (the no-sugar-added variety)
  • Whole-grain crackers and pretzels
  • Individual servings of hummus
  • Sugar-free yogurt packs
Sources
Planning Meals. CDC. Secrets to Making Healthy and Fun School Lunches. NIH. How to Pack a Healthy School Lunch. American Heart Association. How to Pack the Healthiest School Lunch, According to Nutritionists. NBC. Packing a Healthy School Lunch. Johns Hopkins.

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh ranks No. 8 on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. All 10 of our specialties rank nationally. UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is a longtime national leader for women and their newborns. We aim to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond.