What are Some Healthy Lunch Options for my Child to Bring to School?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Packing a healthy lunch for school children should provide a balance between appeal and health. Some children will naturally eat healthy foods, and will enjoy crunchy vegetables added as a side. For other children one has to get creative and disguise healthy food in more appealing ways.

Bananas.
Bananas.

Normally a healthy lunch should contain one serving of dairy, a serving of whole grains, a serving of protein, and a serving of fruit or vegetables. Serving both fruit and vegetables is great if your child will eat both. These recommendations are based on the US Food Guide Pyramid. Recommendations for main meals are to include at least four out of the five main food groups.

Sliced apples can be a good healthy addition to a lunch.
Sliced apples can be a good healthy addition to a lunch.

A healthy lunch should not include foods high in sugar like sweetened jams, cookies or chocolate milk. One should also avoid foods high in fat. Potato or corn chips are not recommended. However baked tortilla chips or lightly salted pretzels can be a good way to include grains without including fats.

Fruits are a healthy snack for children.
Fruits are a healthy snack for children.

A healthy lunch should also be packed in a healthy way. For kids who carry a lunch box, purchasing one with a pocket for ice or ice packs to keep food cool is essential. When children carry brown bags, they’re often limited to a few food items only. By keeping food cool, one can add many different types of food without worrying about food spoilage. Thermoses are also excellent since one can send warm and healthy soups for chilly days, or keep milk cold on warm days.

Sprouts are a healthy addition to a sandwich.
Sprouts are a healthy addition to a sandwich.

That old classic, peanut butter, is actually quite a healthy lunch sandwich when spread on whole grain bread. It is high in protein, and fairly low in saturated fats. For variety, almond butter, or other nut butters can be equally as healthy. Do look for peanut butter that is unsalted and does not include fillers or sugar.

Low-fat meats can make a great school lunch sandwich.
Low-fat meats can make a great school lunch sandwich.

The peanut butter sandwich can include a small amount of fruit spread. Fruit spread still has a high sugar content but is sweetened only with fructose, not sucrose. So if peanut butter and jelly really hits the spot, look for fruit spread only. Peanut butter can also be sweetened with sliced bananas, raisins or grated carrots, all of them terrific ways to get that veggie or fruit serving in.

Plain yogurt can be sweetened with fruit for a child's lunch.
Plain yogurt can be sweetened with fruit for a child's lunch.

If your child enjoys meats, look for low fat meats. Avoid deli meats that are high in salts, nitrates, and fats. It’s better to give a child a slice of roast beef in a sandwich that you have prepared yourself, then to buy sliced roast beef from a deli or the refrigerated section of your grocery store. Sliced homemade chicken or turkey, and tuna are also great ways to keep a sandwich high in protein and low in fat. Use low fat mayo, and always choose to add lettuce, sprouts, tomatoes, and even other sliced veggies to a sandwich for a healthy lunch.

Pretzels provide grains without the fat.
Pretzels provide grains without the fat.

Serving yogurt can also be part of a healthy lunch. Again look for yogurt that is not sweetened with sugar as many store brands are. Yogurt with fruit can be very appealing, and provides both protein and a fruit serving. Alternately fill up the thermos with a homemade yogurt smoothie. Strawberries and bananas sweeten plain yogurt quite nicely.

Raisins can be a healthy addition to a child's lunch.
Raisins can be a healthy addition to a child's lunch.

Avoid fruit juice, as it is high in sugar. Instead offer milk or water. If you can’t keep milk cool enough to the child’s taste, most schools also sell milk relatively inexpensively. A child might pack most of his or her lunch and buy milk at school. If your child is not a milk fan, cubed, sliced or string cheese can fulfill the dairy requirements of a healthy lunch.

Children might like eating julienne-slilced vegetables for lunch.
Children might like eating julienne-slilced vegetables for lunch.

Make food and vegetable servings easy to eat, and appealing for a healthy lunch. For example, little hands may have a tough time peeling an orange. If it is cut into sections, or already peeled, it is much more likely to be eaten. Mini carrots can be fun to eat, especially when the child is provided with a yogurt dipping sauce. Different veggies can be cut into rounds, julienne slices, or even silly shapes. Apples should be quartered with peels left on.

Sectioned and peeled oranges are an easy-to-eat option for a child's lunch.
Sectioned and peeled oranges are an easy-to-eat option for a child's lunch.

Many children truly dislike lack of variety. Thus keep the lunch menus varied. You may even want to involve your children in menu planning by giving them a list of healthy lunch options to choose from. If children are involved in the planning, or even the preparation of a healthy lunch, chances are they will be happy to eat it.

Ice packs may be used to keep healthy food cold when packed in a lunch box.
Ice packs may be used to keep healthy food cold when packed in a lunch box.
Milk is a healthy alternative to soda.
Milk is a healthy alternative to soda.
Citrus fruits and low-sugar juices are healthful lunchbox options.
Citrus fruits and low-sugar juices are healthful lunchbox options.
Crackers are a healthy snack option for school lunches.
Crackers are a healthy snack option for school lunches.
Club sandwiches made with lean meat and plenty of vegetables are a good lunch option.
Club sandwiches made with lean meat and plenty of vegetables are a good lunch option.
Bottled water is a healthy alternative to sugary drinks like soda.
Bottled water is a healthy alternative to sugary drinks like soda.
Many children like mild salsa served with crispy tortilla chips.
Many children like mild salsa served with crispy tortilla chips.
Fruits, such as bananas, can be healthy options for kids' school lunches.
Fruits, such as bananas, can be healthy options for kids' school lunches.
Peanut butter can be a healthy option to include in a school lunch.
Peanut butter can be a healthy option to include in a school lunch.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

FirstViolin

I'm lucky enough to live in a school district that offers both healthy breakfast and lunch menus! I don't know how I got so fortunate, but it's great -- my kids get two of their three squares a day at school, and I save on groceries.

closerfan12

What is a good healthy diet for lunch for a 8 year old girl?

I can never seem to strike the right balance when making lunches for my daughter, but I want her to have a healthy lunch menu rather than the unhealthy ones they serve at school. How can I provide that?

Planch

Do you know, I am just so glad that you wrote this article -- so often I see parents packing terribly unhealthy lunches for their kids to eat at school, just because it's easy to throw together.

Now, although some schools do have healthy school lunch programs, if you really want to pack a healthy lunch meal for your children, it's not that difficult. I mean, these days even vegetables come in little packages, so you don't even have to cut them.

If you need some inspiration, there are tons of websites out there on healthy lunch ideas and choices -- just browse around and you should be able to find something that suits both your budget and your child's taste buds.

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