Back to School Healthy Lunch Tips

As you get ready to send your little ones back to school, how will you ensure that you are doing so in the healthiest way?

At school, children spend the day learning new things and exploring different ideas. Seeing that they are receiving proper nutrition will help ensure that they perform well and stay alert throughout the school day. It can also help them maintain a healthy weight and foster good eating habits. Here are some tips to keep in mind this school year:

Before the kids head out the door or step into their first classroom, make sure they have eaten a well-balanced breakfast. Research shows that breaking an overnight fast with a balanced meal can make a major difference in overall health and well-being, especially for children and teens. Lunch also plays a critical role in a child’s overall health and school performance. When children skip lunch, they are likely to have trouble concentrating in their afternoon classes, lack energy for sports or after-school activities and are more likely to overeat on low-nutrient snacks.

The goal for both breakfast and lunch is a nutrient-rich meal to fuel children’s brains and bodies for the whole day. The trick is providing meals that not only pack a nutritional punch but are also appealing. 

Get the kids involved in some of the decision making.

When kids help plan or prepare a healthy meal, they are much more likely to eat it and try new foods. If your child’s school has a lunch program, review the menus together and pick the ones he or she enjoys. If your child is more likely to eat a lunch packed at home, create a system that works for both of you. Agree on what goes into every lunch.

Keep Nutrition Guidelines in Mind.
A well-balanced meal should contain a combination of the following: a protein source, whole grains, low-fat dairy (or dairy substitution) and at least one fruit and one vegetable.

Sample Menu:


  • Hard-boiled egg.
  • Slice of whole-wheat toast.
  • A few orange wedges.
  • 6-8 oz. of low-fat milk (depending on child’s age)


  • Homemade quesadillas (stuffed with low-fat cheese, black bean spread and salsa).
  • Apple slices with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter (or an alternative like nut/seed/soy butter).
  • A side of cucumber slices and tomatoes. 

Encouraging your child to make a list of what he or she likes in each category can help you keep lunch new and exciting as well as make planning meals easier. For example: “The vegetables I will eat in my lunch are: baby carrots with hummus, cherry tomatoes with ranch dip, cucumbers or a mini-salad.”

Tips for a Varied Menu:  

If your child gets bored with sandwiches quickly, vary your repertoire by using:

  • Wraps (which now come in variety of colors and flavors).
  • Cracker sandwiches (the usual ingredients on round or square crackers). You can make your own “Lunchables”-style meals by adding cheese cubes, chunks of chicken or diced ham, etc.
  • Little salads with protein (cheese, nuts, beans).
  • Breadless sandwiches, such as a slice of lunch meat wrapped around a cheese stick.
  • Lettuce wraps with hummus and other favorite spreads or fillers. (You can use the leaves of different types of lettuce, like bib or romaine, cabbage, etc.)

Making a weekly menu can really help keep you focused. Take time on the weekend to prepare items that require more time.

Make Packaging Attractive.

Choose a reusable lunch bag or box with your child’s favorite cartoon characters or colors. Make foods as bright and colorful as possible. Have fun with shapes (use cookie cutters on sandwiches and fruit).

So as you wrap up your back-to-school shopping list, make sure to stock the refrigerator with healthy, fresh ingredients that will keep your little ones well-nourished and focused as they explore the world.

For additional information on how to prepare nutritious, healthy meals, I recommend you visit the following websites: USDA Food and Nutrition Service ,, and Kids eat right

natalie castroAbout Natalie Castro-Romero, M.S., R.D., LDN
Natalie Castro-Romero is the Chief Wellness Dietitian for corporate wellness at Baptist Health South Florida. She earned her bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from Florida International University. She completed her master’s degree in nutrition and exercise science at the State University of New York, University at Buffalo. Ms. Romero is certified in adult weight management and works passionately to improve the health of both adults and children. Her clinical experience includes working with patients suffering from gastrointestinal disorders and critically ill patients in intensive care. In addition, she has conducted research on eating behaviors and pediatric obesity. Her research has been published in several peer-reviewed medical journals.



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