Think Outside the Lunchbox

Back to school days are here again and our kids need healthy foods throughout their school day to fuel up and ensure optimal learning.  A study published in the Journal of School Health revealed that children with healthy diets perform better in school than children with unhealthy diets and those with increased fruit and vegetable intake and less caloric intake from fat were significantly less likely to fail a literacy assessment.

Kids and adults alike perform and feel better when they make healthy food and drink choices. Sending them off to school with a nourishing balanced breakfast – some good quality protein, some whole grain carbs, and some fruit – is important to get their day started off on the right foot. After a good breakfast, having healthy snacks and a nutritious lunch is key to optimize learning.

It is easy to get in a lunchtime rut, especially if your kids on the pickier side like mine. With a little extra thought and pre-planning, though, packing a homemade nutritious lunch can be easy and pleasing for everyone. Here are some tips:

  • Involve your child in packing their lunch, as much as possible. Let them help choose what will go in their lunchbox – with a little parental guidance. The more involved they are the more apt they will be to enjoy it.
  • Pack lunch as you are cooking or cleaning up after dinner.  You are already in the kitchen and if you get it done the night before it is one less thing to worry about in the morning.
  • Think about balance when packing, including a sandwich on whole wheat bread (some whole grains and some protein), one or two fruits and/or vegetables, a nutritious snack item, and a drink – water is best. Let USDA’s MyPlate be your guide:


  • If your child prefers a hodgepodge, or more of a deconstructed lunch, try to still keep balance in mind so that it contains some protein, fruit and/or vegetables, some whole wheat carbohydrate or grains, and a little healthy fat, such as nuts, peanut butter, or avocado. Those little bento box containers available online or at Target are perfect for packing a good variety. Pinterest and Google have tons of great, creative ideas for what to pack in these handy little boxes. They are a great healthier homemade replacement to the ever present Lunchable.
  • Try to stay away from processed packaged foods and beverages that are high in salt, sugar or saturated fat. Instead, opt for low sugar foods, lean proteins and healthy fats.  Look at the Nutrition Facts Label to compare and choose the best options.

Here are some specific examples to meet every kid’s preferences:

The good ole sandwich – lower-sodium deli meat, peanut butter and jelly, cheese, tuna fish on 100% whole wheat bread

Different twist on the sandwich – bagel and cream cheese, bagel and peanut butter, hummus and whole wheat pita bread, cheese and crackers, cream cheese and jelly, whole wheat pita pocket or wrap filled with vegetables and cheese, quesadilla, calzone, Canadian bacon with lettuce and tomato

Alternatives to sandwiches – single-serving cereal or cereal from home in storage container (just add milk), hardboiled eggs, yogurt with granola, dinner leftovers (soup, pasta, or stew) in a thermos, pancakes or waffles, nuts, homemade smoothies (make them the night before and freeze them, by lunch it will be thawed and ready to go), bean salad, homemade whole grain muffin (try replacing white flour with whole white wheat flour), leftover pizza

Fruits – apple, pear, banana, grapes, berries, oranges, grapefruit sections, canned fruit in juice, fruit cocktail, grapefruit sections, cherries, pineapple chunks, melon, pomegranate, guava, papaya, tangerines, clementines, fruit salad – utilize fresh, frozen, and canned packed in it’s own juice

Vegetables to eat raw, steamed, or with dip – cucumber slices, celery, carrots, green beans, snow peas, blanched broccoli, asparagus or cauliflower, grape tomatoes, beets, corn, salad, guacamole, bean salad

Good nutrition and hydration truly are foundations for learning. We can set our kids up for success at school by providing them with healthy choices to fuel their brain throughout the day.