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Simplifying the Lunch Box Routine

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Keep it simple, but still tasty and healthful

by Maria Adams, MS, MPH, RDN


It’s back to school time again, and for many parents that means it’s time to start thinking about school lunches. These days there is a plethora of inspiration on how to pack healthier, more appealing lunches for your child available on blogs, in magazines, and, of course, on Pinterest.

But what if you don’t have time (or want to) cut cheese into heart shapes or skewer fruit onto mini kebabs. Fortunately, you can keep it simple, and still make it tasty and healthful.

And while you don’t have to plan out every single lunch, overall the variety and content of your lunches will be better if you plan ahead. Not to mention your own sanity.  So maybe try to come up with ten go-to lunches that your child will like. 

Using a lunch box with different compartments makes it easy to make sure you are packing a balanced lunch.  Each meal should contain a starch, preferably a whole grain one, a good source of protein, a fruit, and a vegetable. If your child needs more food than this you can add an extra item, such as milk, popcorn, a granola bar, a homemade muffin, or a small dessert.

Protein + Starch + Fruit + Veggie + Extra item if needed

Protein

Starch

Fruit

Veggie

Extra Item

Egg

Whole grain bagel

Apple

Broccoli

Milk

Yogurt

Granola

Strawberries

Cucumbers

Homemade morning glory muffin

Nut butter

Whole grain crackers

Grapes

Snap Peas

Chocolate milk

Roasted Turkey

Sourdough bread

Cherry tomatoes

Lettuce

Granola bar

Cheese

Tortillas

Raisins

Bell pepper

Cookie

Center cut bacon

Toasted whole grain bread

Peach

Baby kale

Whole grain tortilla chips

Kefir smoothie

Whole grain pancakes

Blueberries

Baby carrots

Dried fruit leather

Swedish Meatballs

Whole grain pasta

Raspberries

Peas

Applesauce

Tofu

Rice

Melon

Zucchini

Dark chocolate square

Homemade or Justin's Chocolate Almond Butter Crackers Cherries Green Beans Popcorn
Hummus Whole grain pretzels Pear Roasted Beets Greek Yogurt

 

Many foods are “combo” foods, meaning they provide more than one food group, making the lunch even easier to complete. These types of food range from the traditional sandwich to leftovers and are often more appealing to older kids, who may not want little compartments of different foods. The below chart has some examples:

Combo Foods

Veggie pizza

Grain salad

Beans and Rice

Cobb salad

Pasta and sauce

Quiche

Chicken noodle soup

Veggie chili

Burrito

Vegetable minestrone

Quesadilla

Sushi

Stir-Fry

Sandwiches

 

More Tips:

  • Pack milk or water to drink. Skip the juice box.
  • Include a dessert a couple times a week, but not every day.  
  • Keep foods cold and safe with a reusable ice pack.
  • Leftovers often make for a great lunch. 
  • Serve warm lunches in a thermos. 
  • If your child needs a snack too, pack a fruit or veggie plus a starch or protein.

Lastly, get your kids involved in choosing and packing their lunches.  Kids are less likely to throw foods away if they picked it or packed it. Work with your child to come up with as many different foods in each category that they like. Then plan out lunches and go shopping. Consider having them pack some or all of their lunch. You can set up a “lunch packing station” with all the supplies they need. 

 

 

 

 

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