National Consumers League

First lesson of the school year: planning healthy lunches


As the first day of school looms closer and the school year routine begins to reassert itself, the age-old question returns: what to put in those school lunches? Rather than sending your kids off with healthy items you hope they'll eat, packing lunch with your child is a great way to ensure you include not only healthy items, but healthy items that get eaten. Whether you pack on a daily basis, or only occasionally send your child with a homemade lunch, keep these important points in mind:

  • Pack a safe lunch. Ensuring a safe lunch means keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold, from the time your child leaves the house until he/she sits down to eat. Use a thermos for hot foods, such as soup, and include a cold pack with foods that need to stay chilled. If possible, pack your child’s lunch in an insulated bag.
  • Meet your child’s caloric needs. Children’s caloric needs vary greatly, depending on age, activity level, and other factors. Talk to your child’s pediatrician to get a general estimate of what his/her caloric needs are, and aim to provide one third of those calories at lunch time.
  • Pack foods your child will eat. The nutritional quality of the lunch you pack means nothing if your child refuses to eat it (or trades components away for more appealing options). Brainstorm with your child to come up with healthy options that he/she wants to eat. See if dinner leftovers, soups, or salads appeal to your child. If he/she is tired of sandwiches or more traditional lunches, think in terms of smaller “snacks” that together create a healthy meal.
If your child buys lunch at school, view it as an opportunity to talk about choosing healthy options when faced with a range of choices. For a complete set of tips on planning healthy school lunches, click here.