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It’s in the Bag: Healthy School Lunches


It's in the Bag: Healthy School Lunches

Children and teens can get their hands on plenty of junk food, fast food, and other treats throughout the day. By sending them off to school with a healthy lunch, you can help ensure that they have at least one chance to fuel their bodies with nutritious options.

The ground rules are simple. Healthy basics are protein, whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat milk or other dairy foods. Good sources of protein are lean meat, such as chicken breast; peanut butter; and beans, including soybeans in the form of fun-to-eat edamame.

Packing lunches with creativity

In addition to covering the basics, your kids will love surprises as well as being part of the planning. Try these ideas to pack a lunch that your young students will eat, rather than trade or toss out:

  • Get your children's input. Kids are more likely to eat their lunch if they help prepare it. Ask your children what foods they prefer in each category, such as fruits and vegetables, and be sure to collect several ideas. Stock up so you'll have enough ingredients on hand at all times.

  • Bring in some novelty. It's easy for children to get into a rut, eating the same foods over and over. Take your child with you when you go to the supermarket and make a habit of trying new foods. The produce department offers many kinds of fruits with appealing shapes and textures, like starfruit and pomegranates. Also venture down the international foods aisle, where you're likely to find unique beans, noodles, sauces, and other options to expand your child's palate.

  • Prepare lunch with a creative flair. When it comes to feeding your children, you're up against tough competition. Fast-food chains and snack makers know how to appeal to kids with brightly colored packaging and lots of added sugar. Counter these temptations by tossing fun options into their lunch bags or boxes to make mealtime more interesting. Fill a small, reusable container with honey mustard, barbecue sauce, or ketchup for dipping pieces of chicken or with low-fat ranch dressing for dipping baby carrots. Instead of always stacking sandwiches between two pieces of bread, roll up your fillings in a wrap or dispense with the bread entirely and place shaved turkey breast in a deli-sized slice of cheddar cheese and a lettuce leaf. Instead of packing one large sandwich, consider making a handful of tiny sandwiches on whole-wheat crackers. For a snack, replace chips with apple slices and a small container of almond butter for dipping or popcorn sprinkled with flavorful herbs.

  • Make lunch healthy and safe. Perishable items, such as meats and many cheeses, need to stay cold and shouldn't linger at room temperature for more than two hours. Place a reusable frozen gel pack or frozen juice box into an insulated lunch box or bag to help keep foods cold.