September 2, 2021

Easy school lunch and snack tips

Healthy, delicious, and hassle-free snack and lunch ideas to keep kids nourished all year long.

Increase the chances your kids’ lunches will get eaten, not traded or tossed.

Contributed by Sue Heikkinen, RD

As a grade schooler, I proudly toted my school lunches in a metal Yogi Bear lunchbox. Lunches alternated between a bologna and mustard or PB&J sandwich on white bread, rounded out with juice and chips. As a child, this future dietitian was not one bit concerned about the lack of fruits and vegetables.

Now, as a parent and dietitian, I think more about what’s inside the lunchbox. Children who eat well perform better in school, feel more energetic, concentrate better, and, most importantly, they stay healthy and happy. Consider some stress-free strategies to boost the nutrition of kids’ lunches and snacks to increase the chances they’re eaten, not traded or tossed. 

Plan ahead and make it fun

Plan for morning chaos, that is. Invest a little time to make mornings less of a hassle:

Review the school menu with your child to choose which days a lunch will be packed

Keep a drawer of grab-and-go snacks in the fridge. Stock it with yogurt, fruit cups, and prewashed fruit and veggies. Keeping a bin filled with individual portions of popcorn, whole-grain pretzels, granola bars, and other non-perishable snacks in your pantry makes it easy for hungry kids to make healthy choices.

Repurpose leftovers for the next day’s lunch. Combine leftover pasta and chopped veggies with dressing, and add chicken, edamame, or tuna for protein. Soups can be reheated and put in a thermos in the morning. Pesto pasta with roasted butternut squash or meatless empanadas make good leftover lunches. 

Have the right equipment. Stock up on reusable containers, snack bags, and sandwich bags. A bento box or portioned container makes packing easier and lessens the chances of food getting squished. Pro tip: Pick up some inexpensive forks and spoons at a thrift store. Food just tastes better with real utensils, and the stakes are low if they don’t make it back home.

Can’t see yourself carving sandwiches into cartoon-character shapes when you can barely get yourself out the door? A few small touches can make lunches more fun.

Give your kid something to dip. Include vanilla yogurt for melon slices, or edamame hummus for carrot, cucumber, or celery sticks.

Serve a sandwich as a pinwheel. Take a tortilla or flattened bread, add fillings, roll up tightly, and slice into “wheels.”

Mix it up with a breakfast-type option such as a veggie or vegan frittata, breakfast burrito, or a Greek yogurt parfait with fruit and granola.

Offer whole-grain crackers, cheese, and turkey slices to stack as a “sandwich,” or taco fixings to roll into a soft tortilla. These are a great alternative to the excess packaging and poor nutrition of premade lunches marketed to kids.

Need more inspiration?

These simple and packable back-to-school snacks will keep your kids energized and fueled for the school day. 

  • 1 cup of cherry or grape tomatoes and 1 light string cheese 
  • 1 medium apple, sliced, with cinnamon sprinkled on top 
  • 1 corn tortilla baked and cut into chips with 1/2 cup of fresh pico de gallo 

In addition, these fun after-school treats are packed with nutrition. 

  • 1 cup of frozen grapes
  • 1 small, or half of a large, frozen banana (about 4 inches) with 1 cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk, blended; with cinnamon and cloves sprinkled on top before serving
  • 1 medium apple cut in half with the core removed; add 1 tablespoon of raisins on top, sprinkle with cinnamon and cloves, and bake 20 minutes at 350 F
  • 1 cup of berries with half an orange squeezed in for a citrus berry dessert