Nutritious school lunches are important! Not only do they help your child perform their best during class and afterward at their sports or extra-curricular activities, but studies show that establishing healthy eating habits while young will impact food choices later in life.

By packing school lunches from home, you can create healthier habits for your kids, and you stay in control of what they’re eating for lunch. You can help them not only learn to eat new foods, but also to make healthy choices. And it doesn’t have to be difficult!

Get some good lunch boxes 

You’ve heard that presentation is everything? Kids may enjoy their lunch even more if they like the way it looks. Bento-style lunch boxes are very popular lately—kids of all ages seem to love them. Besides the kids liking them, it will cut way down on the baggies you’ll go through in a school year, and they keep the ingredients well-separated. The insulated ones will also help keep the cold foods cold, and the warm foods warm.

You can find these lunch boxes in a lot of places. Look for ones made with non-toxic materials and that are dishwasher safe. Because really, who has time to hand-wash lunch containers?

Follow a formula

Pick something from each of the following lists for a healthy, balanced lunch.

If your child is old enough, you can put a cheat sheet on the fridge. (It can read: Choose one protein, one carb, and at least one fruit and at least one veggie.) Then you can let them make their own choices. As long as they’re choosing one food from each category (or more of the fruits and veggies, if they want), they can’t go wrong.

By combining the categories, you can pack a variety of things like hummus with pita chips or veggie slices; cheese and crackers; chips and guacamole or salsa; tortilla wraps with turkey, cucumber slices and cream cheese; ham sandwich; pear slices with swiss cheese; etc. The combinations are endless!

Of course, you’re not going to have all of it on hand all the time, but by having several different options each week, you can keep a good, healthful variety.

Plus, following a formula just makes decision-making and packing lunches easier.

1) Protein options

  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Hummus
  • Turkey/ham/chicken
  • Yogurt
  • Nuts
  • Almond butter
  • Turkey and sliced cheese roll-ups
  • Cheddar cheese cubes
  • Cream cheese
  • Sliced cheese
  • Cottage cheese

2) Carbs

  • Pretzels
  • Sweet potato chips
  • Whole wheat crackers
  • Whole wheat bread
  • English muffin
  • Tortillas
  • Pasta salad
  • Granola
  • Pita bread
  • Tortilla chips

3) Fruits

Any fruits will work! The healthiest and easiest fruits for lunch boxes may be:

  • Apples or natural applesauce
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Other fresh berries like blackberries or raspberries
  • Grapes
  • Watermelon
  • Cuties/Clementines
  • Pineapple chunks
  • Mandarin oranges
  • Raisins
  • Peaches
  • Pears

4) Veggies

Again, any vegetables will work. Here are ones that are easy to pack for lunch:

  • Carrot sticks or baby carrots
  • Sweet pepper slices
  • Snow or snap peas
  • Cucumber slices
  • Celery sticks
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Guacamole
  • Salsa

5) Optional: something fun

  • Trail mix
  • Granola bars
  • Fruit snacks
  • String cheese
  • Popcorn

Keep sending the good stuff! 

Your kids may not immediately love everything in his or her lunch, but if you keep serving up nutritious foods, they’re going to get hungry and begin eating what you’ve packed. Over time, they will develop a taste for the nutritious things they’re getting for lunch.

And if your kids are young, they like to play with their food. So, try cutting up the fruits and veggies into strips and let your kids try different dips. All kids like Ranch dressing, but see if you can introduce nut butters, hummus, guacamole, salsa, or yogurt as dips.

Consistency is the key. Even if they resist at first, once they realize the fruit and veggies are here to stay, they’ll inevitably start eating them.

Healthy school lunches can lead to a lifetime of healthy eating 

Introducing your kids to healthy options when they’re young and impressionable will lead to a lifetime of better eating. Packing school lunches leaves you in control of what they’re eating, and as they get older, they can feel in control of making their own healthy choices as well. Here’s to a good school year ahead of healthy eating!