Back to School: Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids

Filed under: Big Kids, Tweens

healthy kids lunch

Healthy lunches can be tasty, too! Credit: Craig Kohlruss, Fresno Bee / MCT

When it comes to healthy lunch ideas for kids, stick to the basics. Because, while the Internet may be full of lunch box suggestions, says Melinda Johnson, a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, "simple is usually better."

Johnson says you should get kids involved in the lunch-making process early on.

"Make a list of acceptable 'entrees,' 'veggies,' etc.," she says. At least three food groups should make the list and parents should keep any treats to a minimum. Remind your child to eat the entrees and vegetables before any candy or cookie treat.

Keep the healthy lunch list lively by adding new foods as your child learns about them or expresses interest in trying something new. Spend some time reviewing the list of foods together when meals seem to be getting old, boring or not eaten. Try introducing unusual vegetables such as jicama or edamame.

When you talk to your child about nutrition, Johnson suggests using the time to motivate them to make healthy choices.

"My boys really want to be big and strong, and so I relate healthy food to that," says Johnson, a registered dietitian who lectures at Arizona State University.

Also try adding foods that relates to what your child is learning in school. E-mail your child's teacher to see what foods they may be studying. If the class is learning about nutrition or specific foods in class, Johnson says to "make sure the food ends up in the lunchbox."

Knowing how your kids prefer their vegetables can help, as well.

"Some kids like veggies added to wraps, soups and sandwiches, and some kids prefer them plain," Johnson says. Other kids might only eat their vegetables with a heavy dose of ranch dressing. Johnson suggests replacing regular ranch with a low-fat version to cut down on the fat and calories -- and kids probably won't notice the difference.

Parents should include drinks in the planning and list process, ensuring the beverage is also nutritious.

"Stick to either low-fat milk or 100 percent fruit juice," Johnson says.

While choosing the food is important, do not forget to pay attention to food safety. If something needs to be kept cold, add an ice bag or, try this trick Johnson recommends: Freeze a 100 percent fruit box to keep food cold until lunch.

Related: Back to School: Lunch Bags, Keeping Kids Healthy During Back-to-School Season

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.