7 Tips for Making School Lunches Healthier

While breakfast is certainly important for school-aged kids, lunch is just as crucial for helping fuel a child’s school day, says Emily Bailey, RD, LDN, and director of foods and nutrition at Memorial Medical Center.

Similar to breakfast, lunch should contain a variety of foods, including carbohydrates for energy and protein to keep your child feeling full. Colorful foods, like fruits and vegetables, provide your child the vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy body.

Whether your child takes a lunch from home or purchases it at school, there are things you can do to help ensure lunchtime packs a nutritional punch.

When purchasing lunch at school

  1. Take time to review the school menu. Decide which days your child will purchase the school-provided lunch and which days he will bring his lunch, so there will be no surprises at meal time.
  2. Discuss healthy and balanced meals with your child. Promote whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat or fat-free dairy. The food eaten at lunch is used to keep your child’s mind sharp as well as provide energy — both important for those afternoon classes and afterschool activities.
  3. Talk about foods to limit. Encourage your child to stay away from fried foods, foods covered in cheese or gravy, and sweets. These foods often provide limited vitamins and minerals and can make your child feel tired and worn down.

When packing a lunch

  1. Keep your child involved. Kids are more likely to eat foods that they have picked out. When grocery shopping, let your child select which fruits and vegetables to purchase for lunches.
  2. Variety is key. Even if you plan on packing the same deli meat all week, switch out the bread for a whole wheat wrap, pita, English muffin, or a lettuce leaf for some variety.
  3. Don’t forget the dip. Some kids just refuse to eat their fruits and veggies! Try sending peanut butter to encourage your child to eat that apple or celery sticks. Try hummus for vegetables like carrots and zucchini or yogurt dip for grapes and berries.
  4. Leftovers are always a success. As long as your child has a way to keep his lunch cold and a microwave to heat back up, the sky is the limit. Pack that lasagna you had for dinner last night, add a fruit and vegetable along with a carton of milk for a healthy, belly-pleasing meal.

Make sure you arm your child with fundamental nutritional knowledge, but allow him to make some of his own food choices. Not only will you be assured that your child is eating his lunch, you’ll feel good knowing it will be a nutritious meal!

Emily Bailey, RD, LDN, is the director of foods and nutrition at Memorial Medical Center.