Healthy Back-to-School Lunches

You want your child to eat healthy meals, but the daily rush little time to consider how to provide children the nutrients they need for their school lunches. Nutrition is an important part of health and development. Lunches power our school children through their days of learning and extracurricular activities, giving their growing bodies the fuel they require. Here are some simple, nutritious, and stress-free school lunch ideas.

Think of MyPlate

When packing your child’s lunch consider what is known as the MyPlate model: you want half the meal to be comprised of vegetables and fruit (aim for more veggies than fruit), one-fourth whole grains; and one-fourth protein. You should add a small serving of dairy on the side for calcium.

Here are some healthy lunch ideas:  

Dinner leftovers: Cooked green beans, sliced strawberries, brown rice and sliced rotisserie chicken, plus a piece of string cheese.

Snack plate: Sliced raw bell peppers and cucumbers, apple slices, hummus, whole grain crackers, and low-sugar yogurt.

Kids classic: Celery and carrot sticks, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread, and a small bottle of milk.

Simple sandwich: A turkey and cheese sandwich on whole grain bread or in a whole grain pita pocket, with raw broccoli florets, and a banana.

Taco salad: Combine romaine lettuce and mixed greens with guacamole, rinsed black beans, salsa, cucumber slices, corn, diced mango, whole grain tortilla strips and low-fat shredded cheese. (Kids love this one!)

Time Saving Lunchbox Ideas

Keep it simple: You don’t have to pack a different lunch every day. It’s perfectly fine for your child to have the same sandwich three times in a week or dinner leftovers twice in the same week.

Cook once, eat two or three times: Make extra servings when you cook dinner and pack it for a healthy, balanced lunch the next day.

Meal prep: On the weekend, decide in advance what you’ll pack for lunch that week. Go grocery shopping and make sure you have enough food for the week. Then cook a big batch of quinoa or brown rice, wash and slice veggies, and proportion snacks into Ziplocs or reusable containers.

What to Avoid

While a bag of chips or a snack cake is fine as a treat once in a while, limit the sugary, salty and processed foods in your child’s lunchbox.

Avoid packing soda. Soda is full of calories and sugar, but low on nutrients, leading to late day energy crashes. Pack a reusable bottle of water that your child can refill at school. Ensuring that your child stays hydrated will help them stay energized and focused. 

Food Safety

Include an ice pack in the lunchbox to prevent perishable foods from spoiling. You can also check with your child’s teacher to see if they can put perishable foods in a classroom fridge. 

By making a little effort on the front end, you’ll save your family time and money, and ensure your kids have the right foods to help them grow and perform well in school. 

For more health and wellness information, visit

Megan Greathouse, RD, LDN

Registered Dietitian
UNC Health Pardee

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