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5 Easy Tips for Quick and Healthy School Lunches

Avoid lunch-making stress with these simple ideas.

Medically reviewed in January 2021

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For many parents, the most challenging thing about school isn’t picking up the kids from soccer practice or making sure they do their homework. It’s packing all those school lunches, day after day, year after year. Instead of stressing out about your kids’ midday meals, make your life much easier with these expert tips.

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Think Outside the Lunchbox

School lunches don’t have to be dull or unappetizing. Avoid the lunchbox grind by jazzing up your typical offerings:

  • Cut sandwiches made with whole-grain bread into fun shapes.
  • Make deli meat pinwheels by wrapping meat and cheese together, or roll hummus and lettuce in a tortilla.
  • Up the visual appeal with a mix of colorful fruits and veggies.
  • Pack leftovers that can be eaten cold, such as pasta, grain or chicken salads.
  • Give them healthy, homemade muffins or baked berry oatmeal.
  • If your school allows food with peanuts, keep it fun with this recipe for peanut butter, banana and cranberry sushi.

Here are some other quick and creative lunchbox suggestions. Check out this video with registered dietitian Samantha Heller for more yummy tips, too.

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Try New Foods

Sure, it’s easy, but giving kids the same lunch every day can get pretty old, pretty fast. If they keep bringing their meals home untouched, try experimenting for a week with a variety of new finger foods. Each morning, fill small containers or a Bento box with different items—think broccoli trees, nut-free trail mix or cheese cubes—so they can choose what they like. Ask your child to bring home what they don’t eat, since it’s a good way to judge what works at lunchtime and what doesn’t. Just remember: no guilt trips! 

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Make Your Kid the Chef

Let your child pack lunch. Offer a variety of parent-approved items and let them decide what goes in the bag. Or, have them help with prep, whether it’s making a sandwich or cutting up pieces of cheese to serve with crackers. You can even keep a low pantry or refrigerator shelf stocked with grab-and-go foods like baked chips or applesauce, so they can throw them in their lunchbox when the time comes. When kids have a say about what goes into their lunch, they’ll be more likely to eat up. 

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Keep It Healthy

Lunch should rev up kids for the rest of their day, not weigh them down. So:

  • Skip the juice drinks—even those made with real juice—as they’re often loaded with sugar. Instead, let kids pick out a thermos or water bottle, and fill it with water or low-fat milk.
  • Try not to make processed meats like deli turkey and ham an everyday affair since they can be high in saturated fat, sodium and preservatives.
  • Be wary of full-fat yogurt with fruit topping, given its fat and sugar content. Opt for low-fat dairy with fresh fruit. 

Find more lunchbox no-nos here, and follow these three rules for assembling a balanced lunch chock full of energizing nutrients. 

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Keep Food Safety in Mind

Start with the right gear: an insulated lunchbox or bag with a reusable freezer pack to keep food at safe temperatures. Always remember to wash your hands before making lunch and clean the lunchbox between uses. Pack foods that won’t spoil quickly, such as trail mix, carrot sticks or whole fruit. Finally, make sure you rinse both ready-to-eat fruits and fruits with a peel in cold water to eliminate harmful bacteria that can spread during peeling.

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