As usual, the summer has flown by and many of us are gearing up for the start of school. Back to school means a return to the daily grind of making a sack lunch.
As a mom to four kids, I’ve done my fair share of packing lunches for school.
5 Tips for a Healthy Sack Lunch
Here are some quick tips from this pediatric nutritionist and mom to help you start the new school year with a sack lunch that keeps nutrition front and center.
1. Include Most Food Groups in School Lunch
Try to include a serving of each food group. They are: Whole grains, fruit, vegetables, meat and alternatives, dairy and dairy products.
At a minimum, target 3 to 4 food groups for a healthy balanced meal.
Some combinations for a sack lunch could be:
- Hard boiled eggs, toast with nut-free butter like Wow Butter (cut into fingers and wrapped in foil to maintain crunchiness), red pepper slices, and grapes.
- Tuna wrap with lettuce, baby carrots, applesauce, and milk to drink
- Whole grain bagel with cream cheese and turkey, fresh berries, and a frozen vanilla yogurt stick (wrapped in tin foil to prevent “sweating”)
2. Cook Food in Bulk
When you have some extra time on weekends or evenings, bake a big batch of whole grain muffins or oatmeal cookies and freeze in plastic zipper bags.
When you’re cooking the evening meal, make extra that can easily become a leftover lunch.
Cooking in bulk not only saves you time when packing a sack lunch, it also adds some great variety to the usual lunch choices.
3. Plan the Lunch Menu and Prepare in Advance
As much as possible, cut up vegetables on the weekend, clean fruit when you purchase it, portion out yogurt or leftovers into individual containers or fill drink containers the night before.
Enlist your child’s help so that he can learn how to pack lunch and become more independent in this area.
The more you are able to prepare in advance, the more likely you will pack healthy foods and avoid the morning rush.
4. Ensure Your Sack Lunch is Safe
Use an insulated lunch bag along with ice packs to keep cold food cold until it is eaten.
If you’re planning on packing something warm like chili, soups, spaghetti or scrambled eggs, don’t forget to warm up both your food and the thermos in which you are putting the food.
Untouched food may be perishable at the end of the day. Discard any uneaten chilled food to avoid food borne illness.
If you have a child who is uninterested in an insulated lunch box, and would rather take a brown bag lunch, I can relate! Read this.
5. Involve Your Child in Food Decisions for School Lunch
Get your child involved in preparing his/her lunch in a way that is age appropriate.
Younger children can help portion things like yogurt or trail mix; older kids can make their own sandwiches or wraps.
List healthy food options your child will eat. When you’re wondering what to pack on a particular day refer back to it this list. Revise and update it often with your child as the year progresses along.
Involving your child not only teaches him how to plan a healthy school lunch for themselves, it will also eventually reduce one task for you.
A school lunch planner can help you map out the week of food, get input from your child, and ease the morning chaos. I’ve got a FREE school lunch planner below, just click on the blue box to get access.
I also have a guide to help your child learn how to pack healthy school lunches on his own. Check it out below:
Here’s to a healthy and fun school year! Happy packing!
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: August 30, 2017
Updated on: August 14, 2019