Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Your Top 12 Tips: Back-To-School Lunches For Healthier Kids

Earth Eats fans weighed in with their two cents about how to put healthier food choices (that they will actually eat!) into your kids' lunchboxes.

school lunch tray with healthy food

Photo: gamene (flickr)

Healthy lunches don't have to be boring!

There are lots of reasons why your kids may not be getting the healthy, nutritious lunches that their growing minds and bodies need.

As you probably know, most school cafeterias fall short in the nutrition department, and many kids will be tempted to go after sugary or fatty snacks over boring ‘health food.’

Teaching your child healthy eating habits at home is a good start, but making sure they eat right when they are at school is a little trickier.

Your Top 12 Tips For Healthier School Lunches

Recently on our Facebook page and on Twitter, we asked you to share your advice/opinion on healthy school lunches (that your kids won’t be able to wait to unpack)!

Here are some of your picky-kid-proof tips that will satisfy their tummies and their taste buds:

  1. Raise the dough to start a school garden. Kids will have fun planting their favorite fruits and veggies. When it’s time to harvest, they will not only have a healthy snack, but a feeling of accomplishment and a job-well-done. [submitted by: Brittany Bowdish]
  2. B.Y.O.L. Bring your own lunch! If you can’t rely on the cafeteria to serve healthy options, send your kids off with a lunch made with love. Also, kids love a fun lunchbox. Let them pick one with their favorite animal or cartoon character, and they will gladly carry it with a smile. [submitted by: Grace Thomas]
  3. Keep it warm. On a chilly winter day, nothing beats a thermos of mom’s homemade chili. [submitted by: Sho Shanna]
  4. Keep it cool! Easy-to-find, BPA-free containers are great for kids’ lunches. They can be used over and over again and will teach them good habits for helping reduce waste. Toss in a reusable ice pack, and they’ll have the coolest lunches in the whole school. [submitted by: Leisa Quintero]
  5. Go au natural. Packing healthy snacks for your kids is really pretty simple. Nature has already made them! All you need to do is resist the temptation (or nagging from the kids) to buy overly-processed foods. Their tummies will thank you! [submitted by: Prathamesh Shah]
  6. Make your own ‘convenient foods.’ One appeal of cafeteria food is the convenience of tiny, individually packed snacks. Reuse 6 oz. cups and fill them with your own fun, nutritious ideas, like ‘decorated’ yogurt, fruit slices or whole-wheat crackers. [submitted by: Jeri Young]
  7. Try sandwich alternatives. Tired of the same, old PB&J routine? Wraps are one fun and easy way to pack lots of nutritious food into your kid’s lunch. You can also try lunch kabobs using regular coffee stirrers. Use cherry tomatoes, cheese cubes, meat chunks… get creative! [also submitted by: Jeri Young]
  8. Have fun with dunkin’ and dippin’. One keen mother notes: “It’s not the chicken nugget kids love — it’s the miniature thing they dip.” She suggests steamed veggies with marinara sauce, pear slices with pureed cashew-date cream or pita tris with hummus. Think your kid won’t go for it? You may be pleasantly surprised by the power of the dip! [submitted by: Helen Kopp]
  9. The little things count. It could be that small changes, such as using whole-wheat pasta over white, will go a long way toward improving your child’s overall health. [submitted by: Jennifer Jungenberg]
  10. Add plenty of color. Kids (and grown-ups too) are attracted to bright, colorful foods. Not only do they look more appealing, but (if colored naturally) they are packed with great vitamins. What better way to add color to your kids lunchbox than with a fresh, vibrant salad? Try a pretty and sweet seasonal fruit salad. [submitted by: Jean Kautt]
  11. Get complex… simply! Include good complex carbs that will keep your kids full until their after-school snack. Some suggestions: pasta salad, black beans and mashed potatoes (MUCH better than greasy french fries.) [submitted by Ellen Kennedy Michel]
  12. Teach them habits that will stick! Get your kids involved in the process. Let them help make the grocery list and when they are old enough, teach them to pack for themselves. They will love the independence and will learn healthy habits that will go beyond the grade school cafeteria. Sandra says that her son still keeps yogurt and granola in his dorm room fridge! [submitted by: Sandra Dickson]

Thanks to our readers for all your words of wisdom!

Help grow strong, happy kids by putting health and fun back into lunchtime. :)

Tips we missed? Let us know if you have any other ideas for healthy school lunches by leaving a comment.

More On School Lunches (from Earth Eats):

Molly Plunkett

Molly Plunkett is a journalism student at Indiana University and an online producer for Earth Eats. She is originally from Wheaton, IL.

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  • dgsiemer

    Some great suggestions! Especially the dip (though it won't trick my toddler), fruits & veggies. Be careful about yogurt, though. Think flavored milk is bad? Read the label! A 6 oz can of yogurt has more sugar than a 12 oz can of Coke. And unless your kids likes it a bit sour, flavoring it yourself won't make much difference. (8 oz milk and 6 oz plain yogurt both have about 15g of sugar already.)

  • Sandra D.

    You're right on that fact! Because of cost and sugar, my kids only had plain yogurt they flavored themselves. Tip on that, if you use whole milk yogurt it's not as sour and more pleasing to little pallets and unless it is contraindicated for your child, in most cases is a better nutrition choice for young children. (of course, everything in moderation, too much fat, is too much fat!)

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  • cucee sprouts

    What a great article. Here are some other ideas for healthy back to school snacks and lunches http://cuceesprouts.com/2010/08/healthy-back-to

  • Christywesselpowell

    Hi Molly,
    Great post! But I see most suggestions are about avoiding the provided school lunch altogether. Are there things we can do to push for healthier provided school lunch options? Why do lunches end up so monochromatic, have few options for vegetarians, and low nutrition in the first place? And where is the push for local foods in public schools? Just wondering what the issues are here.

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