Think Outside the Lunchbox

Back to school also means back to lunchboxes. Even if you make sure your kids eat nutritious meals at home, it can be challenging to pack healthy yet convenient lunches that they will want to eat when you’re not around. 

Loading up with the many convenient, pre-packaged foods from the supermarket is tempting, but these are often expensive, high in fat and salt and low in nutrition. But there are easy ways to give your child a healthy, delicious lunch that’s not too expensive. It just takes a little advance planning and creative thinking.

Here are some tips for a packable lunch for kids – and even adults – that is nutritious and delicious (as well as quick and economical)!

Make sandwiches using whole grain bread and cut into different shapes with cookie cutters. Use whole-wheat pita bread, tortillas or different types of rolls. Pack lettuce and tomato separately to avoid sogginess. 

Sneak in vegetables by packing baby carrots and cut-up bell peppers or broccoli. Add some hummus as a dip for extra flavor.

Include bite-size fruits such as banana, apples, grapes, blueberries or strawberries, and a small cup of yogurt (preferably low in sugar). Dried fruit, which contains just as many vitamins as raw fruit, is also a great addition to any lunch, especially since it doesn’t get squished like raw fruits.

Don’t limit lunch to “lunch-type” foods. Cereal with fruit and yogurt make a healthy lunch.

Cook larger meals than you need for your family’s dinner, and set aside portions of the leftovers for lunch. This will also save you time in the morning because the lunches are ready to go.

Make a healthy pizza for lunch using a bagel or English muffin for the crust, and then add tomato sauce, cheese and vegetables.

If your child is going straight on to an after-school activity, add a handful of nuts to keep his or her energy up.

Adding something fun besides food – such as a trivia question, a riddle or just a little note saying “hi!” – will entice kids to open up their lunch boxes to find out what’s inside. Renaming foods can also help kids get excited about their lunch. For example, tell your child that he or she has a “Flying Superhero Turkey Sandwich” rather than a simple turkey sandwich for lunch.


Be a Role Model

Remember to be a good role model and prepare the same healthy lunch for yourself. Children learn from watching what we do. Changing your routine can help make lunches more appealing. You can take turns packing each other’s lunches, or have your child prepare your lunch while you pack his or her lunch. Give your child a more active role by providing choices, such as allowing him to pick the type of fruit. Just make sure that you are happy with the choice!

Getting your kids and other family members involved in preparing family meals, such as chopping and prepping the foods, and grocery shopping will make it more likely that they will eat – and enjoy – the healthy foods you’re serving. This will set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating habits.


Rachel Freiberg, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian and behavioral health educator with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Health Management Resources (HMR) Weight Management Program. Advice is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a physician.

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