Healthy Back-to-School Lunches

Back-to-school time provides the perfect opportunity to begin packing a healthier lunch for your kids. Lunch is a meal that is just as important as breakfast or dinner particularly for children. A healthy lunch can give a child the energy they need to get through the rest of their day and to ensure optimal performance during extra-curricular activities such as sports, dance or cheerleading.

Planning ahead, ensuring ingredients are available, and preparing items the night before can help avoid rushing in the morning. Additionally, there are many containers, coolers, and lunch box options available that include insulated compartments and ice packs for keeping food at the right temperature. Include your child when picking out lunch carriers so that they can personalize the items with their style.

As a mother, I know how difficult it can be to come up with healthy lunch ideas that the child will actually eat. The concept of a bento-style lunch is a fun trend for creating exciting, kid-friendly school lunches that they will be sure to eat. The word bento is the Japanese word for a boxed lunch and the main idea is that it contains a variety of different types of foods including whole grain carbohydrates, lean proteins, fruits, veggies and sometimes a small treat. The foods are selected to provide a balance of nutrients, colors, flavors, textures, and most of all fun! Below are two ideas for kid-friendly, healthy bento box lunches.


Pizza Roll-Up Bento Lunch

This easy pizza inspired roll-up is a kid-pleaser. Make crunchy vegetables more appealing by selecting colorful varieties like orange and purple cauliflower—and don’t forget the dip! Keep them smiling with watermelon or other fresh fruit cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters. A few small cookies can be added for a special treat with the recipe included below.


  • 1 8-inch whole-wheat flour tortilla
  • 2 tablespoons prepared pizza sauce
  • 12 leaves baby spinach
  • 3 tablespoons shredded part-skim mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup cucumber spears
  • 1/2 cup cauliflower florets
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat creamy dressing, such as ranch
  • 1 cup small watermelon pieces
  • 2 banana oatmeal cookies (see preparation below)


  1. Place tortilla on a plate and spread pizza sauce over it. Top with an even layer of spinach and sprinkle cheese on top. Microwave on high until the cheese is just melted, about 45 seconds. Carefully roll the tortilla up. Let cool for 10 minutes before slicing into pieces, if desired. Pack the slices in a medium container.
  2. Pack cucumber and cauliflower in another medium container. Nestle a small, dip-size container among the vegetables and add dressing.
  3. Pack watermelon in one small container and cookies in another small container.
  4. Mix 3 very ripe bananas with 1 cup rolled oats and ¼ cup raisins. Roll into 1 inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet 3 inches apart. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-13 minutes. Let stand before packing into lunch box. Makes 6-8 cookies.
  • Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate the pizza roll-up for up to 1 day.

Nutrition Facts: 419 calories; 11 g fat (2 g sat, 1 g mono); 14 mg cholesterol; 65 g carbohydrates; 16 g protein; 6 g fiber; 679 mg sodium; 415 mg potassium.


Egg Salad Bento Lunch

This egg salad bento box is a hearty lunch and snack all in one. Spoon the egg salad into a lettuce “bowl” to keep it looking pretty and enjoy with cocktail bread and veggies. Toss banana and blueberries with yogurt to keep the bananas from turning brown. Save the chocolate chips and pistachios for an afternoon pick-me-up.


  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped (See tip below)
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced celery
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon minced scallion greens
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 leaves Boston or Bibb lettuce
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup banana slices
  • 2 tablespoons nonfat or low-fat vanilla yogurt
  • 2/3 cup broccoli florets, cooked or raw
  • 6 cherry tomatoes
  • 3 slices cocktail-size pumpernickel bread
  • 1 tablespoon shelled unsalted pistachios
  • 1 tablespoon bittersweet chocolate chips


  1. Mash eggs in a small bowl with a fork. Stir in celery, mayonnaise, mustard, scallion greens, and pepper until combined. Line one container with lettuce leaves and fill with the egg salad.
  2. Combine blueberries, banana and yogurt in another container. Arrange broccoli and tomatoes in a third container. Place bread in a fourth container. Place a small container in with the bread; fill it with pistachios and chocolate chips.
  • Make Ahead Tips: Cover and refrigerate egg salad (Step 1) for up to 2 days.
  • Tip: To hard-boil eggs, place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook at the barest simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, pour out hot water and cover the eggs with cold water. Let stand until cool enough to handle before peeling.

Nutrition Facts: 556 calories; 24 g fat (6 g sat, 8 g mono); 425 mg cholesterol; 69 g carbohydrates; 25 g protein; 10 g fiber; 611 mg sodium; 1146 mg potassium.

Kelly la Rocca and Ken MasonKelly La Rocco and Ken Mason serve as registered dietitian and first cook, respectively, at Homestead Hospital.

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