Packed Lunch Ideas for Your Healthy Learner

AdobeStock_88256092-800Summer has come to an end and it’s already time for kids to head back to school. You’ve probably already bought school supplies and picked out their first-day-of-school outfits, but have you given much thought to their lunches?

Buying lunch from the cafeteria is one option for your child’s lunch this year. The National School Lunch Program Standards regulate lunches served in cafeterias, and they require that fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are served every day; only fat-free and low-fat milk are available; calorie limits are observed according to the child’s age; and sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats are limited to acceptable levels. Therefore, buying lunch in the cafeteria can be a great option for many families.

However, if you choose to pack your child’s lunch, it can be hard to get nutritious lunches packed as everyone rushes out the door in the morning, and it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, packing the same old things every day. No matter what you pack, aim for a mix of whole grains, dairy, protein, and fruits and veggies to keep your child well fueled and ready to learn throughout the day.

Try these easy and healthy lunch recipes that your child won’t want to trade.

  • Sandwich skewers Cut your child’s favorite sandwich ingredients into bite-sized pieces, push them onto a small skewer, and voila- you’ve transformed a boring turkey sandwich into a fun lunch! Mix and match your cheeses, meats, veggies, and breads for versatile lunch options.
  • Hardboiled eggs- A peeled, hardboiled egg will transport well in your child’s lunch box and packs protein to keep him or her fueled up throughout the day.
  • Peanut butter banana roll up Smear one side of tortilla or wrap with peanut butter, place a banana to one edge and roll it up in the tortilla. Cut the roll up into bite-sized pieces. You can also try drizzling on some honey or sprinkling on granola, raisins, or cinnamon before rolling everything up.
  • Freeze ahead PB&J- Save time in the morning by prepping sandwiches for the week on Sunday night. Make a whole stack of PB&Js on whole-wheat bread, wrap individual sandwiches in aluminum foil, and seal them all in a large plastic bag in the freezer. In the morning, simply grab one frozen sandwich and toss it in a lunchbox. By the time lunch rolls around, the sandwich will be thawed and perfectly soft and fresh. Prevent jelly from seeping into the bread by putting a thin layer of peanut butter on both pieces of bread to seal in the jelly.
  • Popcorn trail mix Store-bought trail mixes can be high in sugar and sodium, but it’s easy to make your own homemade version with a variety of ingredients. Mix lightly salted popcorn, nuts, and dried fruit together for a sweet and salty snack. It’s easy to change up the ingredients every week- switch up the type of nut or dried fruit, sometimes add pretzels or mini chocolate chips, etc. to keep your taste buds interested.
  • Homemade Lunchables Lunchables are always cool in the cafeteria, but they’re expensive and not that healthy. Instead, pack your child’s lunchbox with a stack of whole-wheat crackers, rolls of low-sodium sandwich meat, slices of cheese, and sliced fruits and veggies. Your kids will still have fun stacking their own lunch creations while you save money and keep it healthy. You can even prep several days’ worth of ingredients at the beginning of the week to save time on rushed mornings.

Other tips:

  • Don’t forget a drink! Water, low-fat milk, and 100% fruit juice are good options for your child’s lunch. Children aged 4-8 need 2½ cups of dairy per day, and children aged 9-18 need 3 cups, so providing milk at lunch is a great way to fuel your child for the school day. You can send milk from home or you can have your child buy a carton of milk from the cafeteria every day. Juice can also be packed with lunch, but it’s important to choose wisely. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines count 1 cup of 100% fruit juice as 1 cup of fruit. However, many juices contain added sugars with artificial fruit flavorings, which don’t count towards daily fruit servings, so it’s important to carefully select only 100% fruit juice. The Guidelines also recommend that young children only consume 4-6oz of 100% fruit juice per day so it’s important not to over do it with juice.
  • Try the recipe together first. Afraid your child won’t eat the things you pack? Try making the recipe first on the weekend or as an after-school snack and see if they like it before packing it in his or her lunch.
  • Give your child options. Ask your son or daughter to choose what type of fruit or which sandwich meat they would like in their lunch to give them some control over what they’re eating.
  • Don’t get frustrated. If you’re packing healthy options and they return home uneaten at first, don’t give up. Sometimes a child must try a food several times before he or she starts to like it. So even if the cucumber slices come home uneaten, don’t stop packing them. It’s important to keep exposing your child to healthy foods, and eventually, they’ll hopefully come around to eating them.

Show us what you’re packing for lunch! Tag us on Instagram @LetsGoSC or find us on Facebook!

Lauren Wright

Lauren Wright works with both the HYPE Project and Let’s Go! SC. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Human Nutrition at Winthrop University. Previously, she earned her BA in Political Science at the University of Florida and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda.

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