10 Hacks for Healthier School Lunches

by | Updated: December 4th, 2016 | Read time: 4 minutes

August is over, and the new school year is off to a great start. You’re laying out your kids’ outfits for the next day and even prepping their lunches because you know it’s the only way to set your child up for academic and social success. But after a few weeks, it’s easy to fall out of routine. Don’t stray! Packing nutritious lunches can be a simple feat that will last until next summer.

A healthy, homemade school lunch of berries, crackers, almonds, grapes, carrots, apple and a sandwich | Vitacost.com/Blog

Proper nutrition helps kids remain alert and achieve optimum performance during the school day. Following are 10 healthy school lunch hacks to get them off to a great start this year:

1. Freeze a batch of PB&Js.

If your star student is a fan of good, old-fashioned (and protein-packed) peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, make a week’s worth on Sunday night and pop them into the freezer. Put one in your son or daughter’s lunch box each morning and it should thaw by the time he or she enters the cafeteria. If your kiddo isn’t a fan of peanut butter, or school has a peanut-free policy, try sunflower butter instead!

2. Think beyond the sandwich.

Sadly, not every child loves sandwiches. If yours is in this camp, we have a healthy and fun alternative. Pack a container with almond butter, peanut butter, sunflower butter or hummus and throw in some celery sticks and/or baked pretzel sticks for dipping. Seriously, who doesn’t love to dip?

3. Snag some skewers.

Skewers are another smart way to appeal to kids who don’t dig sandwiches. Strawberries, grapes, cheese, chicken, shrimp… All of these ingredients and more can be stuck on a stick. Just be sure to warn children not to wield their empty sticks as weapons!

4. Set up snack stations.

Many children claim that snacks are the best part of school lunch. Can you blame them? Gather several healthy ones, like apple sauce, organic trail mix, cheese sticks and yogurt and arrange them in bins in your pantry and refrigerator. Let your child choose one snack from each bin every morning (or every night if you’re really on top of things!). Allowing your little one to play a role in preparing lunch frees up some of your time and makes him or her more likely to make “all gone.”

5. Skip the chips.

Although fried chips taste great, they aren’t always the most nutritious choice for a school lunch (or any lunch, for that matter). Opt for baked fruit chips or popcorn. You can even choose a bag of non-GMO microwave popcorn ahead of time and separate it into several servings for the week.

6. Send them with healthy smoothies.

Like the idea of a nutritious smoothie, but think it would be nearly impossible to pull off for school lunch? Here’s a simple solution! Whip up your son or daughter’s favorite fruit or veggie smoothie recipe and pour it into a reusable ice pop mold or food pouch for easy transport to school. Like the PB&J sandwiches, you can make and freeze a batch of smoothies well in advance.

7. Egg them on.

Jam-packed with nutrients, hardboiled eggs are a healthy addition to your child’s school lunch (can you say amino acids and protein?!). Prepare a bunch at the beginning of the week and add a couple to your son or daughter’s lunch box every day. You’ll wish you had heard of this egg-cellent idea years ago!

8. Appeal to their independence.

What child can’t get behind a DIY meal? Pack a handful of healthy components, like whole wheat tortillas, grape tomatoes and mozzarella cheese or whole wheat pita bread, salad and tzatziki sauce or light dressing, and let your son or daughter assemble his or her lunch themselves. Bonus: less work for you!

9. Rethink dessert.

Satisfy your students’ sweet tooth without packing unhealthy snack cakes and candy. Consider sending them to school with these nutritious sweets instead: healthy oatmeal raisin cookies, orange slices dipped in dark chocolate and chocolate avocado pudding. A quick internet search of “easy healthy dessert recipes” will yield hundreds of satisfying results!

10. And that’s a wrap.

Fruit is another healthy component of any school lunch. But fresh fruit is better for your child than the kind that comes in a plastic cup, floating in sugary juices. If your child likes apples, but isn’t a fan of the browning that occurs when the sliced fruit comes in contact with the air (oxidation), simply cut the apple and reassemble it, keeping the core intact. Then wrap it in airtight plastic wrap and add it to his or her lunch box.