school lunches

Are you in a lunch-making rut?  Do you pack the same thing every day?  Are you wanting to make your kids’ lunches a little healthier?  Well, today I’m here to help you out.  I’ve got a few tips that have helped me out over the last few years and I’m going to share them with you today.  My kids’ lunches aren’t perfect and I’m okay with that but I do try to provide a variety of real, wholesome, healthy foods along with a few convenience foods when needed.  I don’t do anything fancy or cutesy but I have found a system that works for us.

Keep in mind that my boys are 5 and 7 years old.  So if you have toddlers or much older kids your lunches will probably look different.  But I still think these ideas will help point you in the right direction.

Think outside the typical lunch{box}.
Think beyond the typical lunch of sandwich and chips.  Think through all the things your kids like to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack.  Any of those things can be added to their lunch.  Think variety.  Think fresh.  Think healthy.  Also, don’t be afraid to think about hot items as well.  Leftovers make a great lunch and can be packed in a thermos to stay warm until lunch.

Make a list of things your kids like and eat on a regular basis.
I keep a running list of things my kids like to eat and I have it posted inside one of my cabinet doors.  I add to it every time I think of something new.  That may seem a little silly but sometimes I’m at a loss for what else to add to their lunch.  When that happens, I’ll take a peek at the list and it helps me find something else to add.  I try to stick to fresh, wholesome foods as much as possible.  I do put in things like crackers and veggie straws but I try to keep those as just a small part of the lunch.  I make sure to add in a fruit and veggie when possible and I supplement with things like nuts and seeds, granola, olives, edamame, etc.  Your list will look different than mine because every kid is different.  Solicit your family’s help when compiling your list.  I use this list to pack snacks as well. 


Click to enlarge.

Give choices and let your kids have some control over what they eat each day.
It’s important for kids to learn to eat a variety of foods and if you pack the same lunch every day you aren’t creating that habit with them.  I try to rotate through all of my ideas rather than packing the same thing every day.  I usually offer a few choices to my kids when we pack lunch.  I make sure to offer things I already have on hand that I know they like to eat.  When they have a little bit of control over what they eat (within the limits you create) they are more likely to eat the lunch you’ve packed.  If they are old enough, have them help you pack their lunch each day (or the night before).  Just remember to encourage variety with the choices you provide.

Try to determine just the right amount of food to send.
Sometimes it can be hard to know exactly how much your kids need for lunch.  If they are throwing away all of the leftovers when they are done you really can’t tell how much they are eating.  I tell my kids it’s okay not to eat it all if they aren’t hungry enough but they do need to bring the leftovers home so I see what they are able to eat.  It’s Not About Nutrition wrote a great blog post on this topic.  In the post she asserts that sending in too much food actually encourages kids to be more picky.  They are going to eat more of the things they like and less of the things they don’t.  But if you figure out the right amount of food to send they are more likely to eat it all, including the more healthy options.

Consider packing less chips/pretzels/crackers, etc.
When you pack a big portion of those snack type foods they will probably be eaten first.  Then when kids’ tummies are full they are less likely to eat the fruits and veggies you’ve packed.  Instead, pack a small portion of those types of foods and add in more fresh, wholesome foods.  See the blog post I linked to above.  Again, if you pack too many of the snack-type foods (that all kids love) they are less likely to eat the other foods in their lunches.

Purchase a bento style lunch box.
There are so many options out there.  Some are quite expensive and others are really pretty cheap.  Two that are supposed to be really good are the Planet Box and the Yumbox.  Both of those are really popular.  I use this one from Pottery Barn Kids.  I bought them several years ago on sale and we’ve been really happy with them. This style of lunch box makes packing a healthy lunch so much easier.  It encourages you to do away with the pre-packaged foods and opt for more variety and fresh, healthy foods.

This is the lunch bag I buy at Target that fits the bento box perfectly and it has a pouch on the side for the water bottle.  I always make sure to buy a lunchbox that has space for water.

lunch box


Treat dessert as a “treat” at lunchtime.
Treats really should be considered a treat.  To me that means it’s something they have every once in a while, not every day.  My kids know that we don’t have more than one treat a day (and many days we don’t have any) and they usually opt for something after dinner rather than in their lunch box.  But every once in a while they want something, especially around Halloween and Easter.  If you are trying to create long term healthy habits you will want to consider cutting back on the amount of treats you pack in their lunches.  Plus, when a treat is packed it’s often eaten first and the more healthy foods are not eaten.

Consider packing water every day for lunch.
Water is truly the healthiest (and cheapest) drink option for your kids.  I use stainless steel water bottles and fill them up each morning.  Juice adds a lot of calories and sugar and little to no nutrition to your kids lunch.  Plus, it costs money!  If your kids are used to drinking juice maybe you can begin to cut back.  Start by sending water one day a week.  Then move to two days.  Keep going until water is the norm.  You could always let them choose to bring juice as their daily treat every once in a while.  If you want to read more about why I don’t buy juice, read this for a great explanation.

Don’t fall pray to the idea that you need to make everything cutesy and Pinterest-worthy.
I promise you, your kids will survive without the perfectly styled lunches and cute cut out sandwiches.  If you have time and really enjoy doing that, then by all means keep it up.  But, if you are like me and don’t have the time or the desire, ditch that extra stress!  Instead just insert a quick “I love you” note every once in a while.  That will certainly make them smile and feel special.  Spend the extra time you save cutting up fresh fruits and veggies for their lunches.

Don’t use lunch as a time to have your kids try new things.
School lunches are probably not the best time to send a bunch of new things you want your kids to try.  They have a short time to eat and are more likely to eat the things they know and like first, leaving little time to try new things.  Instead, build on what you know your kids like and practice variety with their lunches.

Every once in a while I’ll throw in something new or something I’m hoping they will try.  I did this the other day with my 7 year old.  I added a few yellow peppers to his lunch.  He saw me making it and immediately told me he didn’t like peppers.  I told him that I know he hasn’t really liked them so far but I was adding them in case he decided to try them again.  His lunchbox came back that day empty except for the peppers.  Oh well…

What tips would you add to this list?  I’m always looking for practical ways to make my boys’ lunches healthier.

My first grader’s school is starting a lunch-helper program so I’m going to be volunteering during his lunch time every few weeks.  I can’t wait to see what all the other kids are packing and I’m hoping to get some other ideas and inspiration for our school lunches!

If you need some more lunch-box inspiration see this post from last spring.

Also, come visit me over on Facebook and Instagram where I share more of my boys’ lunches.

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