Tuesday, December 7, 2021
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Healthy Back-to-School Lunch Tips from a Registered Dietitian

Kids are heading back-to-school! Beach plans are coming to an end, sleeping in and relaxed mornings are over. Majority of parents and caretakers are excited to see their children back into a routine and out of the house.

However, the biggest dread for most parents and older kids who pack their own lunches is the dreaded school lunch!

Why is packing school lunch such torture? We have been feeding our kiddos all summer or they have made their own lunches, so why does it become such a burden when we attach the word “school” lunch?


Related: What Do You Know About Nutrition? (Quiz)


For most families, it’s the pre-planning. Unlike summertime, we can decide in the moment or whip together a quick lunch before heading down to the pool. School lunches take more thought and energy because most kids are walking out the door by 7:00 AM or earlier and all parents are hoping their child has a well-balanced meal to get them through the day.

I know most students these days do not have enough time at lunch to stand in the cafeteria line, pay and eat their lunch so packing their lunch has become a necessity.

Other families have to deal with picky eating and food allergies which presents a whole another set of limitations. Peanut butter seems to be a huge staple of most younger kids lunches and that makes it challenging to come up with other tasty meals. (Sunbutter is a great replacement for peanut butter!)

So, what should we pack?


What Does a Healthy Back-to-School Lunch Look Like?

Wholesome nutrition starts at the grocery store or farmer’s markets. You do not even have to step into the grocery store to have all your needs for a school lunch.

Harris Teeter, Publix, Whole Foods, and other grocery stores have an online ordering that you can drive over and pick up or even have them delivered to your door (additional charges are applied).

Lunches for all ages should include carbohydrates foods. As a dietitian, I see so many kids not being allowed to have carbohydrates at their lunchtime. WHY DO WE HATE CARBS?!


“balanced back-to-school lunch includes carbohydrates, protein, fruits, vegetables, and fats.”


Carbohydrates, starches or grains (which can all be interchangeable) are used for energy. If you do not think your child doesn’t need energy because they are sitting all day it the classroom, think again! Carbohydrates are the brain food or the food that your brain can only use to function appropriately.

Protein should also be included. Fish, chicken, beans, red meat, legumes or yogurt are needed for their wonderful amino acids. Amino acids have bigger roles then building muscles. They also help make antibodies to fight off infections and other very important functions.

Fruits and vegetables should be included for their vitamins and minerals. Dairy should also be included for an excellent source of protein and calcium.

Fats are so important for our nails, skin, and hair and help keep satiety as well as many other important roles.

Desserts, chips and other foods should be provided at parent’s discretions and are very important to include.

Every high schooler and child will want to eat like their peers and they will find a way to consume foods that aren’t packed in their lunches so make sure to include these foods!

If you balance out your kid’s meals, they will feel energized and balanced and will not feel deprived and lead to disordered eating.


Tips for Packing Back-to-School Lunches

Try and pack the night before. For some reason, it makes the morning rush a little less hectic. As your cleaning up the kitchen, have your child or high schooler pack up their lunch or vice versa (kids aged 4 and older are really good dish scrubbers)!

Use leftovers as a lunch idea or make a sandwich and that way cleaning up the kitchen is all done at once.

Bento Boxes! This has made life a lot easier. Bento boxes have small compartments that make it quick and easy to think of the various food groups. Some bento boxes even have the labels that tell you what to place in each box.

There are also salad shakers and all the recipes for mason jar salads that are helpful.

Why is packing school lunch such torture? What should we pack for a healthy lunch? Check out these healthy back-to-school lunch tips!


Healthy Back-to-School Lunch Ideas

Here is a list of websites to use for meal ideas. And when in doubt, lean on Pinterest to help expand your mind.

100 Days of Whole Foods: Lisa’s website includes school lunch supplies (what to use when packing lunches), recipes, and pictures for all her kid’s school lunches.

One Crazy House: This website has great pictures and ideas for when your child goes into a rut of eating the same foods over and over.

Yumble: Meal delivery system for school lunches. You can subscribe to this delivery system and select the meals you want for the week. (Kind of like the dinner meal subscriptions like Sun Basket, Hello Fresh, and Blue Apron).


Share Your Favorite Back-to-School Lunch Ideas

In conclusion, do not stress about your kid’s lunches. There are enough ideas online to help guide you to simple easy lunches (over 2 million Google search options).

Involve your child in the packing process and pre-plan. And when in doubt, bring your child lunch and sit and have lunch with them (ok maybe not with a high schooler). It really is an experience to sit with your child in the school cafeteria!

What are your favorite school lunch ideas? Let us know in the comment section below!


Click here for more content by Lindsey McKeon, RD, LDN, MA!

Lindsey McKeon, RD, LDN, MA
Lindsey is passionate about living and advising others on healthy lifestyle choices, eating habits and teaches others about finding balance in their lives. She devotes considerable time to continuing education in the area of eating disorders diabetes, weight management and any other eating problems. Lindsey is very comfortable working with patients on a personal level, group setting, working with family members or which ever meets the client’s specific needs. Lindsey believes in providing a safe and nurturing environment in which individuals will learn healthier eating habits and new behaviors to heal.


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