Healthy School Lunches

Dr. Tanya Hudson
Paper lunch bag and apple on a table
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I have to admit, I don’t love making school lunches.  But I 100% want my boys to eat healthy during the day for focus, learning, and engagement.  They are also involved in soccer, basketball, and tennis, and need healthy proteins and fats for athletic endurance and performance.  

But packing those lunches takes so long!!!!  I know! Read on for tips to make the process much simpler and doable.

Overall tips

  • Meal plan.  Yes, meal plan.  Takes some time on the front end to go through cookbooks and websites and do the shopping on Sundays (or pick a weeknight to avoid the crowds), but it will save you TIME and MONEY the rest of the week.  Trust me!  Not sure where to start?  Check out my new resources page >>HERE<< for websites and cookbooks that I love.  
  • Check out the appPaprika, to keep all those recipes organized.  Once you upload a ton of recipes, it makes for a quick meal planning session.  
  • Get the kids involved!  Younger kids can help plan the lunch menu, go grocery shopping with you (I know this can be challenging), prepare foods, get involved with baking, and packing their lunch.   
  • Containers galore!  Have containers organized and purchase glass when you can (or at least make sure the plastic is bpa free).  I just cleaned out our container drawers and feel like dancing!  Oh, to know where all the lids are!  🙂
  • Purchase an insulated food jar for soups, smoothies, rice bowls, etc.  So handy!!
  • I love the wax paper bags for snacks!  Reusable containers, such as these are also helpful.  Always good to avoid plastic.
  • Freeze muffins, cookies, even sandwiches ahead of time (this works for nut butter and jam).
  • Make lunches the night before.  I know it might be the last thing you want to do late at night, but it makes the morning routine much less stressful.  
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Now for what to pack!

First off, keep it simple and get the kids involved. 

Why involve the kids?  Because eventually they will go to college and they need to know what to eat!  My boys make their lunch 2-3x a week.  I help out on other days because a) nutritious foods are vital, b) sleep is beyond important (and we leave at 7:30 am!) and c) evenings are packed with homework and sports!

Make a sign on the kitchen wall listing what should go in the lunch:

  • Protein–i.e. deli meat, baked tofu, hard boiled egg.
  • Healthy fats–i.e. nuts, hummus, smoked salmon.
  • Veggie
  • Fruit
  • Whole grain–i.e. whole wheat crackers, whole wheat bread, quinoa, brown rice.
  • Healthy treat–i.e. these cookies or muffins!  Freeze for the following week (and hide them so your kids don’t eat them all in a day!).

Lunch box ideas

  • Lunch box #1–turkey or ham sandwich on whole wheat (or gluten free) bread, carrots and hummus, nuts, apple, breakfast cookie.  
  • Lunch box #2–wrap with smoked salmon and cream cheese, cucumber slices, grapes, chocolate covered almonds (love Trade Joe’s for these).
  • Lunch box #3–burrito with beans and grated cheese, roasted broccolini, mango slices, guacamole with whole wheat crackers.  Trader Joe’s has some awesome individual packs of guac to keep things easy or pack in small containers.  
  • Lunch box #4–my favorite–bowls!  Brown rice with beans, roasted sweet potatoes, avocado, kale chips (make these ahead of time–I’m addicted!), and this amazing hemp chimichurri sauce.  Grapes or berries on the side.  
  • Lunch box #5–Miso almond butter sandwich, sugar snap peas, dried mango slices, lara bar or Rx bar.  To make the miso almond butter simply combine 1/3 cup unsweetened apple butter, 1 teaspoon of white or yellow miso (yay!  probiotics!), and 1/4 cup almond butter.  Spread on whole wheat bread or rice cakes.  

Aim for colors of the rainbow!  Make it a goal to get at least 3 colors per lunch box–such as blueberries, red peppers, and cucumber slices. The more color, the more nutrients!

Need more help and inspiration?  I highly recommend the books by Cynthia Lair.  They might be old (latest release is from 2016), but I LOVE her lunch box ideas and her focus on eating whole foods and nourishing the entire family.  Click >>HERE<< for her recent book.  Cynthia taught my whole foods cooking course in medical school and she is a wealth of knowledge!

One of those mornings?  Been there.  Keep it extra simple–PB and J sandwich, apple, carrots, dates, and some pretzels.  🙂