Dump the Junk: How to Pack a Nutritious Lunchbox that Makes the Grade with Your Student Every Time

Posted On Wednesday, 01 August 2018
Dump the Junk: How to Pack a Nutritious Lunchbox that Makes the Grade with Your Student Every Time

With back-to-school season approaching, a familiar foe for many parents is also returning from summer break: school lunches.

Most parents would love to send their children off to school every day with a healthy and nutritious lunch. But, many are stumped about what to pack to ensure kids get the nutrients they need and that the carefully prepared meal doesn’t get tossed for cookies and chips.

Fear not: What follows are the building blocks of a healthy school lunch, that when combined will offer flavor, color, nutrition and fun for children of all ages; some tips that will make packing school lunches less tedious for parents; and a recipe that kids will surely love.

Start with a Plan

A little planning can go a long way when it comes to packing school lunches. Sidestep the daily drudgery of figuring out what to pack by creating a weekly meal plan. To maximize time, consider cooking in bulk and setting aside one day specifically for meal preparation. Resources such as My Plate can assist with making smart food choices and preparing balanced meals.

Packing 101

To keep the contents of your child’s lunchbox contents from being tossed, these basic rules apply:

  • Provide different food choices every day to avoid taste fatigue.
  • Keep food stored at the correct temperature utilizing ice packs or insulated lunch boxes or bags.
  • Serve hot foods only if there is a microwave available at school to reheat meal to a safe temperature.
Start with the vegetable. Salads incorporating sturdy greens like kale will remain crisp and tasty (even after being dressed) and are always a good choice.

Next, you’ll want to include a fruit – fresh, frozen or canned (in light syrup only). Cutting fruit in a variety of sizes and shapes will bring pizazz to the lunchbox and add an element of surprise and fun to the unpacking process.

Always select a whole grain: Wheat couscous, pasta, a wheat tortilla, brown rice or whole wheat bread are all good choices. The best bets for protein are items like beans, lentils, tuna, chicken, hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, and low-sodium luncheon meats.

Finally, finish the meal with a low fat serving of dairy like light yogurt, cheese or cottage cheese.

Kale, Broccoli and Chicken Salad?

Yes! You’ll be surprised how many children love this combo.

Delicious and simple, this recipe provides enough versatility to last throughout the school year and is easy to make.

Toss together: Cooked chicken cut into small pieces with one or more vegetables (e.g., kale, broccoli florets, broccoli slaw, sliced Brussels sprouts, tomato, etc.). If desired, add shredded low-fat cheese, red onion, dried fruit and nut mix (cranberries and pumpkin seeds), chopped apple or lemon juice. Drizzle balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste and voila! You have the basis for a perfect lunch.

Sarah Kavlich, RD, CLEC

Sarah Kavlich, RD, CLEC, is a clinical dietitian at CHOC Children's.

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