Teen eating a healthy school lunch

Healthy School Lunch Ideas

Written by Kaylee Sprau RD, LD, Registered Dietitian, Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition

Does your child walk through the door after school and immediately claim they’re starving? Beginning the day with a healthy breakfast is key to starting the day out right. Equally as important is making sure your child has a healthy and balanced lunch to help keep them full and energized through the afternoon. As the new school year begins, parents find it can be challenging to pack exciting and nutrient packed lunches each day.

When it comes to any type of meal planning, we want to always keep the MyPlate picture in mind. Including at least 3-4 food groups (Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Protein and Dairy) in a meal will make sure your child is getting adequate vitamins, protein, fiber and carbohydrates. The combination of these nutrients will provide lasting energy, fullness and the right vitamins and minerals for general health. A typical meal should be around 400-500 calories for growing children. Think outside the box when creating lunches, a sandwich does not always have to be included. Instead, make your own lunchable with whole grain crackers and cheese or a high protein granola bar paired with a yogurt and fruit. It’s also important to limit added sugars in foods to avoid “empty calories”. Common products with extra sugar include yogurt, granola bars, cereal and beverages. When choosing yogurts, aim for 12g or less per serving. Granola bars and cereals should have 6g or less per serving and beverages should ultimately be sugar free. Water and low-fat milk are the best drinks to offer at meals. Listed below are some healthy lunch combinations along with websites that provide more fun ideas.

Healthy School Lunch Ideas

  1. Homemade Lunchable: whole wheat crackers, reduced fat cheese cubes, turkey pepperoni, cucumbers and grapes
  2. Whole wheat tortilla filled with a lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, grilled chicken, drizzled with a yogurt-based ranch dressing paired with low-fat milk and an orange
  3. Yogurt Parfait: light yogurt, cup of mixed berries topped with low-fat granola along with bell peppers and a water
  4. Whole wheat crackers topped with tuna or chicken salad made with low-fat mayonnaise paired with cucumber slices, banana and a water
  5. Deli low-fat ham on whole wheat bread with sides of low-fat string cheese, apple, carrots and hummus and water
  6. Snack Pack: apple slices and celery sticks with peanut butter, high protein granola bar and low-fat milk

Check out our Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition resources for more healthy eating tips and meal ideas.

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