Back to School: Packing a Healthy Lunch


Jennifer Carland, RD, CDN

As this long, hot summer comes to an end, children are heading back to school and families are scrambling to prepare for the year ahead. While checking off items from the never-ending school supply list, it’s also a good time to start thinking about how you’re going to fill those new lunchboxes in a healthy way!

Nutritious Meals: It is important to provide children with the vital nutrients and minerals that help them develop strong bones, muscles, and immunity.

You can do this by Including a variety of food groups in lunches:

• Fruit: 1/2 – 1 cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit

• Vegetables: 3/4 – 1 cup of fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables

• Dairy: 1 cup of milk or yogurt

• Grains: 1-2 slices of bread/grains (Try to choose whole grains)

• Protein: 1-2 ounces of meat, poultry, fish, egg, or nut butter.

• Limit “empty” calories: Consuming too many snacks high in sugar, saturated fat, and sodium on a regular basis can lead to weight gain and other problems. Provide snacks such as chips and cookies in smaller portion sizes or limit to occasional treats.

Food Safety: In addition to nutrition quality, following food safety practices is also necessary to provide a healthy lunch. Food should never stay between 45-145 degrees (room temperature). This is considered the “Danger Zone” where bacteria can multiply and cause foodborne illness. Here are some ways to stay safe:

• Insulated Lunch Boxes: Keeps cold food cold and hot food hot longer.

• Ice Packs: Keeps food cold. Do you think your child will lose them? Try freezing their apple the night before to act as an ice pack in their lunch bag!

• Wash hands: Remind children to wash their hands with soap and hot water for 20 seconds before eating lunch.

• “Best By” Dates: Check milk cartons, yogurt, lunch meat, and other products for this date and discard if the date has passed.

While you’re out school shopping, include the whole family when making healthy decisions for nutritious school lunches to help them feel empowered! Keep your children healthy this school year with a well-balanced meal and by following food safety practices.