Nutrition Articles

Healthy School Lunches Kids Will Actually Eat

40 Real-LifeTips from Real Moms

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Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but lunch runs a close second. Studies have shown that children who eat a well-balanced lunch often do better in school and are more alert. It can be difficult enough to get your child to eat right when you're there to monitor what he or she eats. But in the cafeteria, where the temptations of pizza, vending machines and other unhealthy snacks await, you have to up your game to get kids to actually eat what you've packed.

To help you provide healthy lunches for your family, SparkPeople's sister site, BabyFit.com, has asked members and experts for tips and advice on packing kids' lunches.

First of all, remember that it's not your lunch. If you pack broccoli and your son hates it, he won't eat it. Let your kids weigh in on what they want to pack in their lunches, and offer them a few healthy choices so they feel like they're in control.

Save Money and Pack Smart
  • Though you might be tempted by their convenience and kid-friendly sizes, avoid pre-packaged, processed foods for your kids' lunches. They're expensive and loaded with sodium and preservatives.
  • Think outside the lunchbox. Did your kids love last night's roasted chicken and vegetables? Pack some in a thermos to eat the next day. Pack leftover meatballs into a whole-grain hotdog bun for a lunchtime sandwich. Mix leftover rice and vegetables and top with chunks of pork or chicken.
  • There's no rule that lunch has to include a sandwich, chips and a cookie. Try a tasting plate of chicken chunks or deli turkey roll-ups with a handful of grapes, and carrots with a small container of low-fat dressing. Finger foods are usually a hit with kids.
  • Be safe. Pack lunches properly to ensure food safety and freshness. Invest in a reusable ice-pack, a thermos to hold warm foods and a variety of different sized containers. Include a cloth napkin and reusable utensils to cut down on waste. Remind your child to always wash her hands before she eats.
A Balanced Meal
Include something from each food group, but be creative. Here are some tips for creating a well-balanced meal.
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About The Author

Samantha Donohue Samantha Donohue
Samantha discovered fitness as a teen, and now hikes, swims and bikes whenever possible.

Member Comments

  • This would be a dream article for me except, when my daughter went to school, she ate nothing.... I even packed candy a couple of times and it came back untouched. Not milk, not fruit, not trail mix.... nothing. The teacher said that my daughter was too busy socializing during lunch, so it would all come back.

    She is home-schooled now, so I don't have those issues, but I am still trying to get her to eat healthy. I just wish I knew how to get her to even eat! - 5/22/2014 11:09:02 PM
  • Great article. Our kids need to eat healthier meals. - 1/11/2014 12:15:43 AM
  • My child's school has a lot of children with severe nut, mango, kiwi and legume allergies. Definitely makes it a challenge to pack a healthy lunch, but we make do. I've noticed some other comments stating that it's not fair that the kids can't take products that have nuts in them. I understand the frustration, but I've seen first hand (I work in a school) of how even the tiniest bit of nut oil was transferred and a student went into anaphylactic shock. I definitely think the health of kids' with allergies outweighs another child's wish for nut based food. - 1/10/2014 5:38:24 PM
  • too bad - schools don't allow any nut product and believe it our not - our schools don't even allow soy products. Makes my life interesting because I have a child that doesn't like meat - of any kind including fish and is not fussy on eggs or cheese. It is okay right now because he is in day care and they given them fruit and veggies for snacks and I supply the lunch but next year at school will be harder. Oh yeah - he is not a fan of sandwiches neither - I think in the 10 months I have had him - he has eaten maybe 4 slices of bread, no tortillas and no pitas. Lots of fun and a challenge. Of course suppers are also fun. 4 1/2 years old and on the way to becoming a vegetarian. Sure hope his eating habits change as he gets older.
    - 1/10/2014 12:40:25 PM
  • TJROGERS1
    I agree with the comment about potential allergens being banned at schools. Ours have been for years. NO nut products of any sort. It is a very important food group but can be consumed at home. Not worth risking another child"s LIFE!
    Fruit leathers that are 100% fruit are definitely available (even some with veggies too) however they really stick in the teeth and cause a breeding ground for cavities. Not a good choice for school were you can't brush them right after.
    Some very good ideas though. Having very picky eaters it' always a challenge :) - 1/10/2014 10:19:37 AM
  • "Real Life Tips For Real Life Moms" - I've got a real life tip for the author - mom's aren't the only ones that prepare lunches for their kids. - 1/10/2014 9:35:52 AM
  • Great tips! Very practical advice. Thanks. - 11/2/2013 2:47:58 PM
  • If your kid is active with no weight problem, you really don't have to use "low fat" versions of anything. I'd rather have them eat "real" fat than a bunch of chemicals and artificial ingredients used to simulate real fat.

    Sorry, I just keep reading so many of these articles on SparkPeople and think "How 80's and 90s." Time to come in to the 21st century and read the newer research on what people should eat to maintain health. (And...research not funded by major corporations who are trying to sell their products with the results.) - 10/29/2013 7:47:28 AM
  • I am so glad that my children naturally choose healthy food options. - 9/17/2013 5:40:15 PM
  • In our area, parents are required to sign forms that they will not send their children with any potential allergy foods, such as peanut butter, nuts, or sesame seeds...so some of these suggestions would not work. I would love to see an article that would provide suggestions while keeping this in mind! - 8/19/2013 7:14:51 PM
  • JESSICAKEIBER
    This is an interesting take on school lunches but, getting the kids to make good choices in a "society" of peer pressure isn't as easy as making a good lunch is. - 8/19/2013 5:42:18 PM
  • I question advising canned fruit in it's own juice, but letting fruit leathers by with all the added sugar??? Wouldn't it be important to not add sugar to fruit leathers, too. I know the recipe for homemade fruit leathers says to add sugar for some varieties, or it never turns to leather.

    But wouldn't a whole piece of fruit be the best? and leave the fruit leather for a dessert? or leave it out altogether? - 8/18/2013 11:17:25 PM
  • YOUDUNN
    Hi- To get around the no nuts policy in most schools here's what we buy.

    Non-GMO toasted soy butter. It's called WOWBUTTER and it tastes like peanut butter. School lunch stickers are provided so everyone around the lunch room knows your child is not bringing in nuts. It is 100 cal. per 1Tbsp. with 8 g fat, and 4 g protein. Sodium is 50 mg.

    Kae from Ontario, Canada - 8/4/2013 8:38:21 AM
  • LCERUOLO
    For my second grader, I normally give him for lunch/snack: spring water in a thermos, plus an organic milk carton (chocolate, vanilla or strawberry - depending on his mood), an organic gummy fruit snack or twisted fruit, real fruit (apple or strawberry slices) and a ham or turkey and cheese (or just cheese) on honey whole wheat bread (all organic - yet again!) or on crackers (mini sandwiches!). If I'm out of sandwich stuff, I throw in a Clif bar. I let him know when his lunch is or is not nut-free so that he can sit at the right table.

    He's not into yogurt or string cheese at school, so those snacks I save for home. He's also not into dips, so veggies are out....he gets a veggie pot pie or steamed veggies at dinner.

    For class parties, I usually send in the Kinni Toos oreo-type sandwich cookies - nut, gluten, lactose free...but not taste free! :)

    I will have to try some of these new ideas to see if any of them are a hit. Thanks! - 1/23/2013 10:07:37 PM
  • How exactly does one pack guacamole? Do you freeze that too? - 9/24/2012 6:42:34 PM

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