How to Pack a Healthy, Filling School Lunch

Learning happens all day long at school, and it’s so important that kids don’t have a “brain drain” between the hours of 1-3:00 because their lunch didn’t provide them the fuel they needed.  Many kids also need energy for after-school sports or playtime. (While we wrote this article for parents who needed help with their children’s lunchboxes, these healthy, packable foods can be applied towards meals for everyone who eats lunch away from home!)

Let’s start with lunch’s main course: the sandwich! Get your meal off to the right start by building your sandwich with healthy ingredients. Use whole-grain bread (or white wheat) instead of regular white bread. The extra fiber in these breads takes longer to digest, which means you’ll feel full longer.

People often ask nutritionists about mayonnaise. According to our health and weight loss experts at In Motion, some light mayonnaise is OK. Just make sure you use a small amount: 1 tablespoon is about right (size of a poker chip). Fill your bread slices with a few slices of lean meat and then pile on the veggies — like tomatoes — for more filling flavor. Or get creative with bell peppers, sprouts, or cucumbers for added crunch.

For snacks, cut up assorted raw veggies, like carrots, peas, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and fruits along with some bean, hummus, or guacamole dip, light dressing is an option too. To satisfy salt cravings, choose whole-grain crackers, pretzels, or rice cakes.

See below for a long list of more healthy lunch options and sides:

  • Apples and natural peanut butter (kids love to dip!)
  • Homemade yogurt (with frozen fruit and/or granola in it)
  • Fresh fruit, whole or cut depending on the child. (Fruits with high water content will fill you up more:  apples, oranges, grapes, melons, plums, etc.
  • Dried fruit
  • Hard-boiled egg with salt and pepper
  • Sandwiches: Natural peanut butter and raw honey, peanut butter and banana, leftover roast chicken, turkey, or pork loin/ pork chop, egg salad, chicken salad, or tuna salad (even try canned salmon like tuna if the kids like it), or a cold burrito or refried beans with guacamole or salsa on a tortilla.
  • Light cheese and whole grain crackers.
  • Light cottage cheese with various mix-ins
  • Homemade “lunchables”– stack crackers, cheese slices, and meat slices for the child to assemble with apple slices and light cream cheese dip.
  • Leftovers that can handle the “thermos” treatment: Homemade soups, homemade mac-n-cheese, casseroles, spaghetti and other pasta dishes, and stir fry with brown rice
  • Potato salad
  • Cold grain salads (ex. farro salad:  a whole-grain wheat with diced tomatoes, cucumbers and balsamic vinaigrette. Fantastically healthy for you!)
  • Cold bean salad (three bean salad)
  • Homemade granola bars
  • Natural (no sugar) applesauce.  Add cinnamon for your kids to sweeten it up a little without adding a sweetener.

Dessert doesn’t have to be left out of the party! Try 1 scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt topped with tasty berries for a healthier option. Other lower calorie treats including pudding and jello!

Remember, it’s okay to constantly remind your kids that good food makes you feel good, think better and get stronger. Someday they’ll thank you for it!

+ Sign up for a personal nutritional assessment and counseling with a Registered Dietitian!

We will be publishing expert fitness and nutrition blogs from the In Motion experts through October as part of our Team Lean Challenge. You can also keep up with the weight loss group and learn expert weight loss tips on the official Bon Secours Hampton Roads Facebook page and Bon Secours In Motion Facebook page! Through this process, we hope our Bon Secours Wellness team will inspire others to begin or continue on their own wellness journey.

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