It’s almost time for another school year, and for many parents that presents the challenge of trying to figure out what to pack in their children’s lunch boxes. Even boxes filled with loving care can contain unhealthy options.

Dr. Mayrene Hernandez of UnitedHealthcare says a fun, healthy lunch doesn’t have to be time-consuming or stressful to put together. To begin with, include a variety of foods from different food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins. Get your child involved in the planning and packing of their meals. When kids are engaged in the process, they are more likely to enjoy the foods they select. Follow these tips and tricks to packing a lunch that is sure to be a hit {with my own teacher/mom tips in italics!}

My preliminary tip: get your kids packing their own lunches as soon as possible. My girls started when they were going into JK and Grade 1, and we’ve never looked back. I am responsible for making sure the fridge and pantry are stocked, and when they were little I handled the cutting and chopping, but other than that it’s their responsibility. They have always known the requirements (a dairy product, a fruit, etc.) and it was one of the best parenting decisions I’ve ever made!

Now for the medical expert’s recommendations!

1.       Switch to whole grains. While shopping, look for 100 percent whole-grain bread for sandwiches, 100 percent whole-grain tortillas for wraps, and whole-grain crackers. Other examples include quinoa and brown rice. Whole grains have more vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and they will keep kids satisfied longer. {Kids LOVE having hot lunch in a thermos, and prepping a big batch of whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce is an easy way to keep them fed!}

2.       Pack the protein. Foods with protein help kids stay full and focused. Make sure each lunch has a good source of protein, such as hard-boiled eggs, beans, nuts, nut butter, tuna, salmon, rotisserie chicken, edamame, or yogurt. Skip deli meats like salami and bologna, which are higher in fat, sodium, and preservatives. {Be very careful with peanut products: every school I’ve worked at through the years has been peanut-free due to life-threatening allergies. There may be other food allergies in your child’s classroom or at their school, so make sure to find out.}



3.       Make it colorful. Adding colorful fruits and vegetables can make a lunch look more appetizing, and these foods are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Spice up vegetables with a little bit of guacamole, hummus, salsa, or low-fat ranch dressing on the side to add flavor and fun. {Visual appeal is very important when it comes to kids and food, so you may also want to invest in containers that will keep items from getting smushed/broken/crumbled in their lunch bag.}

4.       Keep them hydrated. Hydration is particularly important for children, as they have higher water requirements than adults. Besides water, more fun options include smoothies and low-fat milk. Skip the juice and soda. {Having their own labelled, reusable water bottle makes it very easy for kids to keep hydrated, and it’s much more convenient than visiting the water fountain!}




5.       Add a small sweet treat. Kids love treats, and adding something small to their lunches gives them something to look forward to. Portion size is the key to not overdoing it on the sugar. Aim for less than eight to 10 grams of sugar per serving. Examples include chocolates that are at least 70 percent pure cocoa chocolate and natural fruit smoothies with plain Greek yogurt and almond milk.

6.       Minimize junk food. Foods like chips, fruit snacks, and candy have little nutritional value. Replace these foods with things like cheese, whole-grain crackers and plain popcorn sprinkled with parmesan cheese. {In our kindergarten class last year, we explored the food groups, and for morning snack the kids were asked to hold up a snack that fit into either dairy, grains, meat and alternatives or fruit/veggies. If they had something that didn’t fit, they knew to save it for afternoon snack so they could start with their healthier options. Important and related note: our job is education, not judgment. Additional note: in this area I absolutely do not practice what I preach.}


A healthy lunch is a great way to fuel your child’s body and mind for the remainder of the school day, but – for a busy family – preparing lunches also needs to be fast and effortless. One great way to save time during the week is to prep lunch foods over the weekend. Buy, cut and portion out fruits and vegetables so they’re ready to go. Shred chicken, hard boil eggs, or use leftovers that don’t take much preparation. Pre-package foods like crackers, cheese cubes, or trail mix into baggies or containers that can quickly be added to a lunch bag. Get the school year started off right with a healthy, easy lunch routine that is both parent – and kid – approved.

Bonus: some fun grab-and-go snack ideas 

  • Granola, fruit and nut bars – Read the labels for bars high in protein and fiber and low in sugar.
  • Fruit skewers and yogurt – Skewers of fruit with a dip of high protein Greek yogurt are a delicious snack and help meet calcium requirements.
  • Bean dip or hummus and veggies – Kids love to dip, and what’s better than a protein rich dip paired with grape tomatoes, jicama, baby carrots or red pepper strips?
  • Apples or celery and nut butter – Slice up apples or celery sticks, and top them with your favorite nut butter and a sprinkle of dried fruit for a sweet and savory snack.

For more healthy recipe ideas, go to

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