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Tips for Healthy Brown Bag School Lunches

Published in Pediatrics, For the Health of It, Healthy Eating Tips Author: Registered Dietitian Sierra Quarnstrom MS, RD

Packing a healthy lunch for your child is one thing, and ensuring they will eat it is another. On top of trying to balance their favorite foods with nutrition, parents are also up against challenges with finding foods that do not need to be reheated, that require little preparation, and yet also fit the budget. This can be daunting, but here are some tips that might help.

1. Include at least one item from each food group.

This helps structure the meal (and your mind!) while ensuring your child’s good nutrition. Here are some examples:

  • Protein: such as tuna fish, turkey slices, peanut butter or beans
  • Whole grain: such as whole wheat bread, tortilla or pita
  • Fruit: such as apples, oranges, grapes or blueberries
  • Vegetables: such as carrots, cucumber slices, raw broccoli or grape tomatoes
  • Dairy: such as low-fat yogurt, string cheese or milk

2. Involve your child in the meal planning.

They will be more likely to eat it if they were part of the process. For simplicity, give them two or three options to choose from each food group. For example, for the vegetable, they could choose to pack either carrot sticks or cucumber slices with ranch dip. It’s OK if they choose the same items each time! Consider taking them to the grocery store with you to help make selections.

3. Mix things up.

Instead of the usual PB&J, try making some turkey and cheese tortilla roll-ups, or tuna salad in a whole wheat pita pocket. Consider foods that can serve as a dip, such as hummus for raw veggies, peanut butter for celery sticks or apple slices, or a single pack of guacamole for tortilla chips. This keeps things a little more exciting and increases the likelihood that your child will eat what you pack.

4. Include two cold packs.

This will ensure the food won’t spoil as it sits in your child’s cubby or locker. Consider freezing a yogurt or applesauce pouch to serve as one of the cold packs.

These same tips could apply to after-school snacks as well. Ideally, a snack will include one item from two different food groups, such as crackers (grain) and cheese (dairy), raw cauliflower (vegetable) and hummus (protein), or low-fat yogurt (dairy) and raspberries (fruit).