healthy school lunch

How to Make a Healthy School Lunch

By Monika Frauzem, dietetic technician, registered at CHOC

It’s back to school time and that means thinking about lunches to go! Lunch provides nutrition for your child’s school day. A good nutritional foundation will support learning and deliver the energy needed for play time. The good news is that preparing school lunches does not have to be a chore! You can make this quality time spent with your child and a positive learning experience.

Here are some things to think about when planning lunches and meals:

  1. Get informed

The MyPlate model designed by the United States Department of Agriculture shows the ideal balance of nutrients you should strive for at every meal. Which food group some of your favorite foods fit into might surprise you.

The MyPlate model shows a great visual way to balance our food groups.

2.) Get inspired 

The CHOC Kids Health blog is filled with healthy and fun recipes that are sure to please kids and parents alike.

3.) Get organized

  • Include meal planning into your weekly schedule. Sit down with your child and agree on a time that will work for everybody involved. CHOC offers healthy meal prep tips for busy parents.
  • Create a menu for the week and make a grocery list.
  • Create a master list of lunch options to use if time is limited or life gets in your way.
  • Get containers in various sizes and make sure containers are easy to open—especially for younger children. Consider the environment, and remember that reusable containers are better for the environment and cheaper in the long run. There are many innovative options available.
  • Buy produce that is in season in bulk—it’s good for your budget and your body!
  • Create snack stations in the fridge and pantry for easy access for hungry kids after school and when you are in a hurry assembling lunches.

4.) Include your child in the process

When creating meals, it is important to include all food groups. It will help your child feel full longer and have the energy they need to say alert throughout the day. The main idea is to combine protein, complex carbohydrates (such as grains), fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Variety is the key. Remember: Have your child help! If your child participates, he or she is more likely to eat their lunch.

healthy school lunch
Eating a healthy school lunch can help your child have the energy she needs to power through the school day.

What Nutrients Does My Child Need?

Protein – Growing children need protein because it is an important component for bones, skin and muscles. Foods that are good sources of protein include: cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, yogurt, string cheese, turkey or chicken for wraps or roll ups, eggs (such as hard-boiled eggs or egg salad), tuna- or salmon salad, peanut or other nut butters, tofu, edamame, beans, lentils and hummus.

Grain – Grain provides carbohydrates, fiber, minerals and vitamins. Read labels and choose 100 percent whole grains when possible. Carbohydrates give your children the energy they need to learn and play. Read labels to limit the amount of added sugar and unhealthy fats. Healthy grain options include: whole-grain bread, flatbread, pita pockets, bagels, tortillas or English muffins; crackers, pretzels, cracker bread and rice cakes; cooked brown rice, barley, couscous and quinoa; granola bars; whole grain cereals.

Vegetables – Vegetables are a good source of carbohydrate, minerals, vitamins and fiber. You may include a dip such as low-fat salad dressing, bean dip or hummus. Try to get a variety of colored vegetables as these provide different nutrients. Some options include: broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, jicama, sugar snap peas, carrots, celery, kohlrabi, beets, bell peppers, corn, cucumber, tomatoes and spinach

Fruit – Fruit is a good source of carbohydrate, minerals, vitamins and fiber. Just like with vegetables, serve a variety from all the color groups because they contain different vitamins and minerals. Some ideas include: olive oil, vegetable oils, canola and sunflower oil, avocado, cheese, nuts, sour cream, butter, mayonnaise and salad dressings

Sending your child to school with a nutritious lunch can be a rewarding experience for everyone! With a little planning and organization, it doesn’t need to be a hassle. Pack lunches the night before so they are ready to go before the morning rush.

Include your child in the process. There may be times when they want the same lunch multiple days in a row and times when their taste changes. Just offer a variety of foods and options during the other meals of the day.

Remember: the lunch your child takes to school should be one they will actually eat and not one you want them to eat.

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