It's lunchtime at the school cafeteria. The room is filled with the hustle and bustle of hungry kids grabbing food, finding their friends and hunting for a good table. While the school day lunch hour is a time for fun and conversation, it's also time for a nutritious mid-day meal. Whether a school lunch is packed or purchased, it should be filled with foods that provide the energy that children need for learning, growth and play for the rest of the day.
When it comes to packed school lunches, one might think of the typical fare of peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a bag of chips or a small – likely overcooked – frozen pizza. Both leave something to be desired. But that can change. Making fun and healthy packed lunches for your kids doesn’t have to be rocket science or a Rubik’s® cube; a few small changes can go a long way. Here are some solutions to help you solve the school lunch puzzle.
Tips for Making Healthy Packed Lunches
Create a balanced plate
Use the MyPlate method of eating whenever possible, balancing the five food groups. It's important to eat a variety of foods. Different foods provide various nutrients, and balancing them will help kids feel energized, satisfied and strong. The goal is to get at least three out of the five food groups, with at least one fruit or veggie and at least one protein source.
Fruits and vegetables are key in anyone’s diet, especially that of a child. It’s recommended that children have at least five servings of fruits and veggies per day. The vitamins and minerals are key in helping a growing child get everything they need, and the fiber helps keep them full until they make it home for their afternoon snack. Get at least one fruit or vegetable in at lunch, and they are one step closer to the five for the day.
Protein helps balance blood sugar so kids will feel satisfied after a meal. Whether it’s sliced turkey or a yogurt, include a source of protein at each meal.
Make it fun!
Draw a smiley face on the low-fat cheese stick package, pack celery with peanut butter and raisins to make ants on a log. Kids should enjoy what they are eating, just like adults.
Get them involved
If kids are involved in making their own lunches, they’re more likely to enjoy and be excited about what's in them. While you're making lunch, discuss with them why different components are important and the role that they play. Talk to them about food being the fuel for their bodies and that good nutrition can fuel them for their day, making them better, faster and stronger.
5 Bento Box Lunch Ideas for School
A fun way to spice up a kid’s typical lunch is to pack it bento box style. A Japanese tradition, bento boxes provide a single-portion meal with different foods packed into different compartments. They've definitely caught on in the U.S., and your kids have probably seen them in the school cafeteria. By creating a homemade version, you and your child can make sure it’s balanced, nutritious and contains foods that your child likes. In order to create a complete lunch in your bento box, choose one type of food from each food group, and have fun pairing foods that taste good together.
Here are some kid-friendly ideas for your bento box menus:
Protein: slices of low sodium chicken or turkey, hard boiled eggs, tuna; choose beans, almonds or other nuts if plant based
Vegetables: cucumbers, celery, carrots, peas, sliced bell peppers, grape tomatoes
Fruits: berries, grapes, sliced apples, melons, cherries, clementines, applesauce
Dairy: yogurt, low-fat cheese sticks, light wedge cheese
Healthy fat: avocado, nuts, peanut butter, hummus
Carrots with ranch dressing
- Pasta salad
- Low fat cheese sticks
- Canned fruit
- Turkey and cheese roll ups in whole wheat wrap