Healthy and Cool School Lunches

peanut butterParents and kids often have different ideas about what is a good school lunch and what is not. Here are a few tips and recipes that will help you create a lunch that is healthy, fun and will get noticed by the other kids.

Most schools will not provide a refrigerator to store lunchboxes, so select an insulated one with a re-usable freezer pack. Or, instead freeze a bottle of water and add it to the lunch box. It will keep the lunch cold and fresh during morning classes and by lunchtime, it will have thawed and be ready to drink.

There is no reason a homemade lunch needs to look dull and unappetizing. Buy colorful, reusable containers in different shapes to pack your child’s lunch. If your child is drawn to characters, buy some stickers and decorate the containers. It is inevitable that some containers may not make their way home, so you may want to purchase inexpensive or "semi" disposable containers that will not disappoint you if they accidentally end up in the trash.

Related: Functional and Healthy Foods for Families 

Offer plenty of choices: Provide small servings and many choices -- variety is a key to healthy eating. Many lunch foods can be prepared in advance, in large quantities. Each morning, simply fill up small containers with different foods. Quick lunchbox food suggestions include:

  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Fresh fruit pieces or a piece of whole fruit
  • Applesauce (no sugar added)
  • Celery sticks filled with cream cheese and raisins, or white bean dip
  • Sugar snap peas with Ranch dressing for dipping
  • Yogurt or a smoothie
  • Lunch meat roll-ups with cream cheese and an asparagus in the middle
  • Hard boiled egg
  • Cheese cubes or string cheese logs
  • Peanut butter (or sunflower butter) and apple slices or crackers
  • White bean dip or hummus with carrots and mini pita breads
  • Whole grain crackers or pretzels
  • Trail mix made from cereal, nuts and dried fruit

Talk to your child about lunchtime: Don't assume that your child's uneaten lunch is sign that he did not like the food. If you ask a few questions, you may find that your child does not have enough time to eat lunch or that he is spending more time socializing with his friends than actually chewing. Asking questions will give you the opportunity to help him learn other important skills such as managing his time and selecting times to socialize.

Simple lunch box recipes: 

Pineapple Kabobs

Ingredients: Makes 4 mini-kabobs

  • 4 Fresh Pineapple Chunks (1/2-inch pieces)
  • 2 ounces Colby Jack Marble cheese cubes (½ inch pieces)
  • 2 ounces deli ham (1/4 inch slice, cut into 1-inch squares
  • Toothpicks

Using toothpicks, assemble the mini-kabobs on a toothpick in the following manner: 1 ham square, 1 pineapple chunk, 1 ham square, and a cheese cube.

Per Serving: 66 Cal (17% from Fat, 16% from Protein, 67% from Carb); 3 g Protein; 1 g Tot Fat; 12 g Carb; 1 g Fiber; 9 g Sugar; 14 mg Calcium; 0 mg Iron; 131 mg Potassium; 48 IU Vit A; 0 mg ATE Vit E; 48 mg Vit C

Veggie version: Substitute teriyaki-flavored baked tofu for the ham/cheese. Baked tofu can easily be sliced into small cubes and is very tasty with the pineapple.

Per Serving: 54 Cal (11% from Fat, 11% from Protein, 79% from Carb); 2 g Protein; 1 g Tot Fat; 12 g Carb; 1 g Fiber; 9 g Sugar; 34 mg Calcium; 0 mg Iron; 116 mg Potassium; 48 IU Vit A; 0 mg ATE Vit E; 47 mg Vit C

Related: 8 Ways To Get Kids Eating Healthier

Trail Mix

Combine any or all of these ingredients in an airtight container and toss gently to mix. Store airtight. Lasts for weeks.

Dry snacks: cereal (low in sugar – under 5g per serving), small pretzels, graham cracker or rice cake pieces, or animal crackers.
Dried fruits: Cherries, apricots, raisins, mangoes or coconut flakes (Tip: big pieces of dried fruit can be cut up easily using kitchen shears).
Nuts and seeds: sliced almonds, pecan pieces, cashew pieces, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or peanut pieces.

Kiwi Wraps or rolls

These wraps can be served as a traditional wrap sandwich or slice it into pieces (like a sushi roll) for bite sized treats.

1 tablespoon peanut butter or sunflower butter
1 tablespoon cream cheese
1/2 kiwi
Tortilla -- whole wheat or plain (squared)

Remove the skin from the kiwi and slice it into thin rounds. Spread peanut butter over half the wrap and cream cheese on the other half of the wrap. Arrange the kiwi slices evenly over the cream cheese. Beginning on the cream cheese end, gently roll up the tortilla forming a log shape. The peanut butter will act as the glue to keep it together. Serve.

Per Serving: 323 Cal (46% from Fat, 12% from Protein, 43% from Carb); 10 g Protein; 17 g Tot Fat; 35 g Carb; 4 g Fiber; 5 g Sugar; 92 mg Calcium; 2 mg Iron; 308 mg Potassium; 235 IU Vit A; 52 mg ATE Vit E; 42 mg Vit C

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About the author: Cheryl Tallman is the co-founder of Fresh Baby, creators of the award-winning So Easy Baby Food Kit, and author of the So Easy Baby Food Basics: Homemade Baby Food in Less Than 30 Minutes Per Week and So Easy Toddler Food: Survival Tips and Simple Recipes for the Toddler Years. Visit Cheryl online at to learn about her latest creation, the Kid’s Portion Plate.

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