Creating Healthy and Flavorful School Lunches

One of the many issues facing parents of school-aged children is how to create healthy lunches that actually get eaten and not thrown out. Packing a lunchbox full of nutritious items on a daily basis can be a tremendous challenge, especially when you have finicky eaters. We all want our kids to eat a healthy lunch to maximize their ability to grow, learn and play, but how can this be balanced with making their school lunch something that they actually enjoy eating?

We spoke to Sotiria Everett, RD and nutritionist at the Katz Institute for Women’s Health, to get some tips on creating school lunches that meet kids’ nutritional needs while still being fun and flavorful.  She offered some creative kid-friendly lunch ideas that pack a nutritional punch.

Get Creative with Sandwiches
The sandwich has been a lunchbox staple for generations, and it still is! However, there are now many healthy and tasty alternatives to the old PB&J or bologna sandwich. Consider using tortillas, pita bread or even lettuce instead of sliced bread to create unique sandwiches that kids will love. Venture beyond lunch meat or peanut butter by filling sandwiches with nutritious options like hummus, fresh veggies, quinoa or low-fat cheese.

Offer Alternatives like Pasta, Salad or Soup
While sandwiches are a great lunchbox option, there are many alternatives that can create a visually appealing and healthy lunch. Cooked whole-grain pasta can be tossed with peppers, cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets and cubes of mozzarella to create a kid-friendly cold salad.  Hot or cold soups are also satisfying, healthy options.

Individual plastic containers or reusable Bento boxes can make a fun lunchtime meal. Offer small portions of a variety of favorites like hardboiled egg slices, cubes of leftover roast chicken, carrot sticks, yogurt dip and whole wheat crackers.

Ditch the Juice Box
Fruit juice has replaced the carton of milk as the go-to lunchbox beverage. And, juice manufacturers have done a great job making parents believe that juice is as nutritious as eating a piece of fruit. While juice offers some vitamins and minerals, it contains significantly more sugar and a negligible amount of fiber.

In other words, you’re better off packing a lunch with fresh fruit and skipping the juice box. If your kids love juice, consider only packing a small 4-ounce size juice box that has no added sugar or artificial colors.

A whole piece of fruit is a great addition to a lunchbox, but there are also many other ways to offer fruit. Slices of apples with peanut butter provide both protein and delicious crunch. A skewer with cubes of mangos, pineapple, and berries is loaded with vitamins and fun to eat. Offer lots of options when it comes to fruit and be creative!

Get Them Involved in Lunch Planning
It can be frustrating to find uneaten food in lunchboxes at the end of the day – particularly when you’ve put a significant amount of time and money into packing healthy food. One very useful way to get kids to eat their lunch is to enlist their help when it comes to planning, shopping and preparing lunch items.

Sotiria Everett recommends that parents and their children visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for age appropriate nutritional information that includes activity sheets, recipes and videos. There are lots of ideas for creating delicious, healthy lunches that have been taste-tested by kids.

Have questions related to nutrition? Find out more about the KIWH Nutrition Services Specialty Program or call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-KIWH (5494) to speak with a women’s health specialist.