Tips for Healthy Brown Bag Lunches

Published in Lifestyle Health, Pediatrics, For the Health of It, Healthy Eating Tips Author: Pediatric Registered Dietitian Kristin Johnson, RD, CSP, LD

School lunch can provide healthy options but getting children to choose these options can be difficult. Sometimes, children will eat the cheeseburger and fries and leave behind the orange and green beans. One way to assist your children in eating a healthy lunch every day is to pack a brown bag lunch.

However, brown bag lunches aren’t always healthy if they are loaded with chips, soda and cookies. They also can get tiresome and boring. Below are some ideas to add a little variety, while still including nutritious food to provide children with the fuel they need to make it through the afternoon.

  • The main part of the meal should include whole grain carbohydrates (such as whole grain breads, pita bread, tortillas, bagels or English muffins) and protein (such as lean meat, eggs, cheese, peanut butter or tuna fish). Additional items can be added such as vegetables and spreads (i.e., salsa, mustard, light mayonnaise, hummus, low-fat cream cheese). Other alternatives could be leftovers including casseroles, beans, pasta or soup.
  • Round out the lunch with fruit and/or vegetables and dairy products such as low-fat 1% or skim milk, or low-fat, no sugar added yogurt. Freeze the yogurt overnight to keep it cold.
  • Occasionally add a treat such as graham crackers, animal crackers, fig bars, applesauce, pudding, a small piece of chocolate or Jell-O.

It is important to keep foods safe from harmful bacteria. To do this, pack the lunch in an insulated bag with two cold sources — two frozen gel packs or one gel pack with a frozen water bottle. Remind children to discard perishable leftovers.

Add fun to brown bag lunches by sending a note to wish your child luck on a test, include colored or crazy straws for milk, decorate napkins or cut a sandwich into a fun shape with a cookie cutter.

Menu Sample

Monday

  • Whole grain crackers
  • Cheese slices
  • Baby carrots with ranch dressing
  • Sliced kiwi
  • Water or milk

Tuesday

  • Peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread
  • Apple
  • Celery sticks
  • Graham crackers
  • Flavored water

Wednesday

  • Half a piece of whole wheat pita bread, opened
  • Mayonnaise spread in the pita
  • Slice of turkey and lettuce leaves in pita
  • Grapes
  • Celery with peanut butter
  • Low-fat or fat-free milk

Thursday

  • Whole-grain wrap spread with peanut butter and sliced bananas
  • Small bowl of berries or melon
  • Sliced peppers and baby carrots
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Water

Friday

  • Whole wheat tortilla
  • Two slices of lunch meat
  • Cheese stick
  • Fruit cup
  • Animal crackers
  • Water or milk

Monday

  • Wheat English Muffin
  • Tuna fish salad
  • Grape tomatoes and peapods
  • Small orange
  • Skim or low-fat milk

Tuesday

  • Pita chips
  • Hummus
  • Raw broccoli and cauliflower
  • Trail mix (nuts, dried fruit and M&Ms)
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Flavored water

Wednesday

  • Taco Salad (lettuce, sliced carrots, peppers, tomatoes, black beans, shredded cheese, crushed tortilla chips with low-fat dressing on the side)
  • Fruit cup (packed in juice)
  • Tortilla chips
  • Water

Thursday

  • Vegetable noodle soup in a thermos
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Cheese stick
  • Grapes
  • Low fat pudding cup
  • Water

Friday

  • Antipasti salad (whole grain noodles, raw vegetables, tomatoes, cheese chunks and olives in Italian dressing)
  • Apple
  • Baby carrots with ranch
  • Low-fat or fat-free milk