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How to Pack a Healthy School Lunch

Updated on August 7, 2013
Diane Lockridge profile image

Lockridge homeschools her children and holds an EdS in Curriculum and Instruction, an MS in Elementary Education, and a BA in History.

Don't fill that lunch bag with junk foods just because it's easier. Packing healthy foods can be just as easy with some simple tips.

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When packing your child’s school lunch (or your own sack lunch for that matter) you are most likely to look for convenience rather than nutrients. After all your mornings are hectic enough trying to get ready for work and trying to get the kids off to school to worry about comparing labels and viewing product packaging.

But you shouldn't sacrifice nutrition for convenience; packing a "lunch with a punch" of nutrients just may help your child do well throughout the school day, both academically and socially. Adding things he needs to his diet— such as protein— may help him concentrate in class, rathern than doze to sleep.

Packing your child’s lunch with nutrition does not necessarily mean you will end up with a bag full of green veggies and weirdly spelled foods that your child (or you) can't spell or even pronounce for that matter. And it doesn't mean you'll only be able to shop at Whole Foods or the Farmers Market either. What it does mean though, is that you'll need to spend a bit more time planning the lunch to make sure it is well rounded, while considering what foods your child will actually eat.

While you may have the main course covered (PB&J or ham with cheese anyone?) looking for conveniently pre-packed side items will help your morning run smoother, and keep your child’s tummy satisfied with both taste and nutrition. And a child who isn't hungry during school time can concentrate better, resulting in better grades, and it also means you'r child is likely to act-out in class (talk about a win-win-win situation!). So, what should you put in your child's lunch? Here's several convenient and yummy options you can find easily in your favorite grocery store.

Video:"How to Pack a Healthy Lunch"

Not only is yogurt yummy, but it's fun to eat— especially when you lick the lid!

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Yogurt

If you like the idea of your child eating yogurt but don’t want the added expense of disposable spoons (or if you are worried about loosing your regular cutlery) consider buying freezable yogurt in a squeezable tube, such as the Yoplait brand's “Go-Gurt”. Freeze the yogurt overnight and pack it into your child’s lunch along with other things. By lunchtime, the yogurt is still cool, but thawed out enough to easily squeeze out.

Don't look for this in the freezer section though, you'll find it shelved next to the traditional yogurts in the dairy case.

Drinkable yogurt may be an option for your kid too, although these generally need to be kept at cooler temperatures. The drinkable variety may provide more flavor options for the more fickle of eaters though.

Another benefit, these types of yogurt contain about 10% of the suggested daily amount of calcium, which is good for your bones and your brain. With squeezable yogurt in the tube, your child is sure to enjoy the taste and squeezing action.

The choice of cheeses is endless.

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Cheese

Who says kids shouldn’t play with their food?

If you are looking for a fun and nutritious addition to your child’s lunch consider cheese sticks. Buy the prepacked cheese sticks yourself or cut your own sticks (or cubes) from store-bought bricks of cheese. Babybel cheeses come in prepacked portions and are easy to toss into a lunch, and let's face it, they are fun to open up to!

No matter what way you slice it, the average 1 ounce serving size packs a 7 to 8 grams of protein for about 70 to 80 calories, making it a yummy for their tummy and a good-for-your-brain addition to the lunch.

Cereal

Dry cereal isn’t just for toddlers anymore. Instead of packing greasy chips in your child's lunch, satisfy normal salty cravings with a handful of cereal from the pantry.

Did you know that traditional Cheerios contain 11% of your recommended dietary fiber? And don’t forget about the new Cheerios spin-off flavors either, my personal favorite is the slightly sweeter Multigrain Cheerios, which offers 100% of the suggested values for many nutrients such as Vitamin B, Folic Acid, B12, Zinc, Iron, Thiamin, Riboflavin and Niacin.

Think beyond apples when packing lunch.

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Fruit

If your child has ever forgotten about fruit in their lunch bag, you know the hassle that fresh fruit (or in this case not-so-fresh-fruit) can make in a lunch. Instead, consider prepackaged fruits that are shelf-stable and won’t turn bad over the weekend, such mandarin orange fruit cups in their own juice (not artificially sweetened). This happy prepackaged fruit is only about 40 calories, but offers the full 100% suggested amount of Vitamin C in one serving, making it tasty and good for you.

I’ll admit that I have a bias towards dried fruits (I grew up near the SunMaid Raisin factory and visited it several times in elementary school), but the convenience of dried fruits (which aren't juicy or too messy) can’t be beat!

Did you know a small 1 oz. serving of dried cranberries offers 4% of your daily recommended fiber? And the slightly larger serving size, 1.5 oz. pack, of raisins offers about 10% of the suggested daily amount of fiber. Delicious and nutritious!

Even prunes — they’re just dried plums, you know — are better for you than a fresh apple. A 1 oz. serving offers almost 2 grams of fiber, twice the fiber of a fresh apple!

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