Tips for nutritious back-to-school lunches

Recent research from the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital shows that compared to children who selected school lunch meals, children with a lunch from home were significantly less likely to include fruit, vegetables and dairy foods. What’s more, lunches brought from home were more likely to contain snacks high in sugar and/or fat and non-100 percent fruit juice.

However, when carefully planned out as a family, lunches from home can be both delicious and nutritious.


Dr. Teresia O’Connor, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor, offers the following basic tips on packing school lunches for children and teens.

  • Include a vegetable in your child’s lunch every day – consider including carrot sticks with low-fat dip, lightly cooked green beans or cucumber slices in a small container. Talk to your child about what vegetables they like and make a game of trying new vegetables.
  • Lunch should include a main item such as a sandwich, tortilla roll-ups, stuffed pita pocket or pasta salad.
  • Let kids build their own sandwich. Prepare a sandwich with whole wheat bread or tortillas, turkey or ham and your child’s preferred condiments. Add the lettuce and slice of tomato on the side for them to put on the sandwich when they eat to prevent the sandwich from getting soggy.
  • Make sure every lunch contains a fruit – talk to your child about what their favorite fruit is and try different fruits on different days to give your child a variety.
  • Your child does not need a dessert in their lunch every day. Pick one to two days a week when they get a special treat, such as one cookie, small brownie or granola bar.

She also gives advice for packing a healthy drink every day for kids, including:

  • Have your child buy milk from the school
  • Pack a bottle of water
  • Avoid packing sodas and sweetened fruit drinks since they add a lot of extra sugars
  • If you pack fruit drinks, choose only 100 percent fruit juice

What are your favorite kinds of nutritious lunches that you love to pack for your child – and that they love to eat? Share your recipe ideas here and discover some new recipe ideas from Momentum.

Wondering whether the food you’re packing your child is still safe to eat after being at school all day? See our infographic on the “golden rule” for school lunches.

-By Dipali Pathak

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