Packing a Healthy School Lunch (Lunch Menus Included!)

Is one of your biggest back-to-school struggles with the kids figuring out what to pack for lunch? You’re not alone. A recent survey found that 61 percent of parents say packing their child’s lunch is the most stressful part of heading back to school. From adding to the morning-time crunch, to nighttime arguments over which healthy foods will go in the brown bag, it’s easy to turn to convenience foods that can be loaded with sodium and fat to avoid an argument.

There is a better way! Get your kids involved in brainstorming healthy lunch ideas using the MyPlate guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Click here to download a handy poster to reference as you and the kids start planning.)

These guidelines are an easy way to ensure the entire family eats enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy. By engaging kids in the meal-planning process, they’re more likely to try new foods and will get more familiar with the five main food groups, all while discovering which meals they love.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for getting started in building lunches that are both satisfying and nourishing:

  • DON’T make kids adhere to traditional meals. If your child wants to dip grapes in some low-fat ranch dressing instead of carrots, let them. Salsa on whole grain pasta—why not? As long as the meals fall within the MyPlate rules, kids get to choose.
  • DO focus on eating the rainbow. This is especially fun for young kids. From leafy green spinach to bright red bell peppers, bring kids to the store or farmer’s market and let them pick their palate of fruits and veggies for the week ahead.
  • DO embrace whole grains. Kids need carbohydrates for energy during the school day. Whole grains have more B vitamins, iron, magnesium and fiber, keeping kids feeling full for longer. Whole grain bread, brown rice and whole wheat pasta are all great choices. Look for crackers and snacks that have “whole grain” in the ingredient list.
  • DON’T skip the water. Kids won’t drink it plain? Try seltzer or sparkling water. Low-fat milk is another great option. Skip beverages with added sugar.

Still need some inspiration? Here are two lunch menus that meet the MyPlate guidelines:

Lunch One

  • 1 ounce sliced turkey (protein)
  • ½ cup grapes (fruit)
  • Whole-grain pretzels (grain)
  • Baby carrots (vegetable)
  • Low-fat ranch dressing for dipping
  • Low-fat milk (dairy)

Lunch Two

  • Whole-grain pita cut into fourths (grain)
  • Cut-up peppers (vegetable)
  • Hummus or sunflower seed butter as a peanut butter substitute for dipping (protein)
  • Orange slices (fruit)
  • String cheese (dairy)

Using MyPlate as your guide is a surefire fun way to help kids gets a balanced meal while teaching them healthy meal planning and cutting back on the back-to-school stress.


Learn more about Nutrition at South Shore Health.