Simple & Healthy School Lunch Ideas

Back to school is here and that means back to packing lunches! If you a health conscious parent, you know that some school districts lunches can be laden with high sodium and heavily processed foods so packing your child’s lunch is often the healthiest option. Most of us parents begin the year with all sorts of delicious combinations and ideas and soon those fade away when as the days pass on and on and on. We want to help out with that by giving you some healthy options from each food group that you can pick and choose from to create simple and healthy lunches for your kids for each day of school.

Packing a healthy lunch is essential for your children. If your kids are eating lunch at school, they are probably in school for at least 6 hours each day. They need these lunches to help refuel them so they are ready to learn more. If a child received a lunch filled with processed foods that are high in sodium or fat, their brains are not going to receive the important vitamins, minerals and correct balance of proteins, carb and healthy fats for them to have optimal learning. Children that are not receiving these nutrients often have trouble focusing, retaining new materials or have the energy they need to succeed. Help your child do the very best they can by taking a few extra minutes to pack them a healthy and nutritionally balanced lunch for them each school day!

The Basics


Before we go over lunch ideas, let’s talk basics. According to the US Department of Agriculture, school aged children should be consuming balanced meals, just like adults are recommended to eat. We all know what we should be eating, so apply this basic knowledge to our children’s meals, just in a smaller portion.

A good rule of thumb is that a child’s lunch should be:

  • 1/2 fruit
  • 1/2 veggies
  • 1/4 lean protein
  • 1/4 whole grain
  • One serving of dairy

Can you include a sweet treat? Sure! Just be sure it’s a treat and not a main focus in the meal- we will include some great ideas below.
Things to avoid:

  • Additional fat (such as melted cheese all over your broccoli)
  • High sodium foods
  • White Grains
  • Non-Nutritionally rich foods

By following these simple guidelines, you can begin to build a healthy, balanced lunch for your child when they are at school.

These guidelines are not meant to replace any special diets you child’s pediatrician may recommend. Later on, we will be sharing some ideas for alternative lunches, such a vegetarian, vegan or gluten free- so stay tuned for those!

Ready to Pack


Ok, so you know the basics of what to include. Now let’s talk ideas! Below, we have made four lists of great ideas from each major food group that you can pull from to mix and match to make some healthy and fun school lunches for your kids! Try to include a variety from each group so that your child is interested in their lunch and receives a variety of nutrients.

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Sandwiches and Wraps


  • ham/turkey/roast beef/cheese roll ups
  • sliced strawberries with strawberry cream cheese
  • chicken or egg salad
  • sliced cucumbers and cream cheese
  • sandwich kabobs (avoid the pointy stick)
  • Fruit Jam and Cream Cheese
  • Hummus with turkey and lettuce
  • Apple Butter with apple slices
  • Pretzel sticks skewered with turkey or ham and cheese
  • Laughing Cow Cheese with turkey/ham and lettuce and tomatoes
  • Good old fashioned PB and J (using natural peanut butter) if it’s allowed at school

Proteins


  • Nitrate Free turkey, ham or roast beef
  • Chicken or turkey sausage
  • hard boiled eggs/li>
  • mini taquitos
  • mini burritos
  • Mini pizzas
  • Mini corn dog muffins
  • Turkey burger
  • Veggie burger

Fruits


  • Melon fruit cubes
  • Natural fruit cups or squeezes
  • frozen grapes
  • fruit smoothie drinks
  • Dried fruits (mangos, apricots, pineapple)
  • Pineapple chunks
  • Cuties
  • Banana
  • Berries

Veggies


  • carrot Sticks
  • Multi colored peppers
  • Celery Sticks
  • Snap peas
  • Cucumbers
  • Steamed broccoli or green beans
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Mini salad
  • Veggie kabobs

Whole Grains


  • Whole grain crackers
  • Pretzels
  • Organic Cheddar Bunnies
  • Organic Graham Bunnies
  • Bagel
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Granola Bars
  • Fruit-filled bars
  • Veggie kabobs

Dairy


  • Laughing Cow spreadable cheese
  • Yogurt cups or tubes
  • Cheese (slices, string cheese or cheese chunks)
  • Cottage cheese
  • milk

Treats


  • mini muffins (banana, chocolate chip, zucchini, blueberry, corn, or carrot)
  • Fig Newtons
  • 1-2 Chocolate Kisses
  • 1-2 mini cookies
  • pudding
  • Trail Mix (with a few chocolate candies mixed in!)
  • Chocolate-covered Granola Bars
  • Natural Fruit snacks or leathers
  • Mini Marshmallows

Pack Smart


When you are choosing your child’s lunch box and containers, look for ones that are BPA free and try to use reusable containers whenever possible. Not only are using these items safer for your child and better for the earth, but they will save you money in the long run! There are so many options out there, you are sure to find something that fits the personality of your child.

Product Recommendation

Two additional products that will make your life SO much easier are the OXO Grape Cutter and Tomato Slicer. These babies will cut your “prep” time in half if you have little ones that still need their grapes sliced or if you just want to make your grapes or cherry tomatoes easier for your kids to eat.

These tools by OXO really take the hassle out of quartering grapes and tomatoes. Sharp, serrated, stainless steel blades will quickly and easily slice through the soft fruit skin while keeping your fingers safe and out of the way. They are excellent for olives as well and are great for not only cutting fruit for your kids but also for dishes like chicken salad, salsa or dips. They both come completely apart for easy cleaning and are dishwasher safe. Once you add these tools to your life, you will wonder why on earth you were ever cutting single grapes by hand!

SHOP

OXO Grape Cutter | OXO Tomato Slicer

Product Recommendation

When you are packing your child’s lunch, you have many, many options of what to pack it in. Let us share one of the coolest lunch boxes out there from Laptop Lunches! They have many different styles and designs but one of the neatest is the Shark Dual Lunch Tote (available in a variety of patterns) with the accompanying Bistro Bento Box!

This dual compartment tote can hold much more than just your bento box. It is fully insulated, BPA free, lead free and PVC free. The bottom Bistro Bento has 4 larger compartments for veggies, fruit, sandwich and fruit and then a teeny container that’s perfect for a dipping sauce for those veggies or some salad dressing for an on-the-go salad! All the containers are dishwasher and microwave safe and have a seal tight snap. It even comes with a mini set of utensils! The whole bento box seals tight in the bottom compartment, leaving you the top area for a juice box or water bottle, an extra snack for later and a napkin.

The lunch box has a convent handle and also a shoulder strap and measures 9.5 x 7.25 x 7.25 inches large. There’s plenty of designs for your son or daughter and is really perfect for helping you back that well balanced lunch we mentioned earlier.

SHOP

Laptop Bistro Bento Box | Laptop Lunches Shark Frenzy Dual Tote

Final Tips


Remember to pack a balanced lunch for your kids including things you know they will eat. Lunch at school is not really a great time to include something they have never had before since their is no guarantee they will even try it! Even the most honest kid has been known to throw away something they didn’t feel like eating. By packing known favorites you are more likely to have them actually eat their food! In addition, keep food safety in mind when packing. Remember ice packs and use an insulated lunch box whenever possible. If you child is eating a late lunch you may want to stay away from cream-based condiments (such as mayo) since they have a tendency to get warmer. You not only want them to eat their food but you want their lunch to be safe. By using this list as a guide, you will have ideas for lunches all year long that you AND kids will love!

Looking for ways to make your packed lunches more fun? Check out our ideas on 5 Ways to Make School Lunch Fun for more ways to make your kids smile at school!

Photo Credits: Our Three Peas, Dani

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Michelle

Michelle; full time mama, part time blogger, wife extraordinaire. This busy mama to three “peas” is a lover of all things running, crafting and baking. A New England native and current desert dweller, she is the brains and wit behind the blog Our Three Peas, where she writes about the hilarious reality that is motherhood. She strives to live a green and natural life and swears that most motherhood-related dramas can be solved by having a nice glass of wine at the end of the evening.

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