Back to School with Healthy Lunches

By: Sarah Kavlich, RD, CLEC, clinical dietitian at CHOC

As summer comes to a close and the school year kicks into gear, it’s time to establish a routine that works for you and your family. This includes ensuring your child eats nutritious foods that keep him or her healthy and full of energy.

In recent years there has been much discussion about the foods served to children as part of the school lunch program. In order to guarantee that your child is fed a meal that is full of nutrients, flavor, and color, try taking matters into your own hands by sending your child to school with a lunch prepared especially by you.  Preparing lunches yourself does take extra time but the end result is well worth the effort. Start by making a meal plan for the week to help you stay on track. Cook in bulk whenever possible to save time. Try using the MyPlate method as your guide. 


Some things to consider when packing a lunch: 

  • Aim for variety each day to avoid taste fatigue.
  • Ensure that the packed lunch is stored at a proper temperature by using ice packs and an insulated lunch box or bag to keep food cold.
  • Determine whether there is access to a microwave to reheat food to a safe temperature, before packing hot foods.

Begin by choosing the vegetable portion of the meal. A salad that uses a sturdy leafy green like kale as your lettuce will hold up well even when prepared and mixed with dressing the morning of or even the night before. Next, choose a fruit (fresh, frozen, or canned in light syrup). Try making fruit kebobs or using a melon baller to make interesting shapes to enhance acceptability with even the pickiest eaters.

Next, choose your whole grain, such as wheat couscous or pasta, brown rice, wheat tortilla, or whole wheat bread. Protein containing foods that travel well include beans, lentils, hummus, tuna or chicken salad, hard boiled eggs, peanut butter, and low sodium lunch meats. Complete the meal with a low fat serving of dairy like light yogurt, cheese, or cottage cheese.

Kale, Broccoli, and Chicken Salad
Try this salad as a go to lunch. Change up the dressing, protein, and add-ins to add variety. Pack some whole grain crackers or a whole wheat tortilla to complete the plate.

Toss together: Cooked chicken cut into bite sized pieces, kale torn into small pieces, broccoli florets, broccoli slaw, thinly sliced brussel sprouts,  chopped tomato, shredded low fat cheese, red onion, dried fruit and nut mix (cranberries and pumpkin seeds), chopped apple, lemon juice, drizzle of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

To learn more, check out these helpful resources:
USDA Choose –
USDA Food and Nutrition Information Center –

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