Tips on Packing Healthy School Lunches

By Heather Irwin, MS, RD, LDN

It’s hard to believe that the new school year is almost here. If you are anything like me, I enjoy the lazy days of summer but I also look forward to the routine that fall and a new school year bring. This includes getting back into the routine of packing healthy lunches everyday. Meal planning deserves serious consideration since what kids eat affects how well they learn and concentrate. Also, exposing them to good foods and balanced meals is the best way to teach them about healthy eating. Lunches should contain minimally processed foods, little sugar, and plenty of protein and healthful fats to feed their brains and bellies.  

Here are 5 tips to pack healthful lunches:

1.  Plan Ahead

This should not come as a surprise. Putting together a family meal plan for dinners and lunches can be the ultimate time saver. It’s much easier to pull out the ingredients and make a quick lunch when you have the ingredients in your refrigerator. Make the most of dinner time as well, make extra that can be used as leftovers the next day. Also, packing the night before as you are cleaning up from dinner is essential. Who has time to pack lunches in the morning?

2.  Make your own healthy Lunchable®

The lure of those unhealthy packaged Lunchables® is convenience. But there’s no need sacrifice good nutrition when you can create easy homemade Lunchables® that are far more nutritious and affordable!  (see some ideas below)

3.  Have the right gear

By packing lunches in reusable, divided containers, everything has its own place. If you get in the habit of packing fruits or vegetables in the smaller sections you can easily see what food group may be lacking. Having a small thermos is also great to pack warm foods such as pasta, soups, or other leftovers. (3 compartment bento style lunch boxes work great.)

4.  Prep Ahead

Slicing and dicing fresh vegetables can seem time consuming when you’re trying to hurry and pack lunches during late nights or rushed mornings. A great time to prep them is when you get home from the grocery store – simply take a few minutes to clean and cut what you’ll need for the week ahead. This way, you’ll have servings of fruit and veggies ready to grab-n-go when lunch packing. You can even go a step further and pre-portion into snack baggies making it even easier.

5.  Just Wrap It

Whole grain wraps are a tasty, fun and attractive alternative to the traditional sandwich bread.

Healthy Lunchable® Ideas: 

Grilled Chicken Dunkers

Wrap individually (or place in reusable separate containers) the following items:
• Leftover grilled chicken, cut into bite-size chunks
• Homemade ranch dressing for dipping
• Raw zucchini sticks
• Fresh melon
• Fruit muffin


Wrap individually (or place in reusable separate containers) the following items:
• 1/2 whole grain bagel or sandwich thin
•  Pizza sauce
• Shredded mozzarella cheese
• Apple slices
• Healthy cookie or muffin

Turkey & Cheese Cracker Stackers

Wrap individually (or place in reusable separate containers) the following items:
• Whole grain crackers
• Nitrate-free turkey slices, cut into squares
• Raw cheese, cut into squares
• Mini cucumbers
• Grapes
• Trail mix with dried cherries,  dark chocolate chips, almonds (if nuts allowed)

Sources:  Keeper of the HomeThe Nourishing Home

Heather Irwin, MS, RD, LDN
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