Healthy Lunch Ideas

 

shutterstock_77145319A healthy lunch is composed of at least three food groups, which provide the necessary fuel for learning and play. Ideally, we would find a source of whole grain, lean protein, vegetable and fruit inside every child’s lunch box. This combination provides lasting energy.

From a technical viewpoint, the mixture of long-acting and short-acting carbohydrates from the grain and fruit provide a good foundation for energy, while the fiber from the vegetables can slow digestion and provide a lasting sensation of fullness. Additionally, the lean protein takes a bit longer to digest and can also keep an individual satisfied for longer.

The portion sizes of these foods will vary according to your child’s age and activity level. For example, someone in kindergarten or first grade may only need half a sandwich whereas an athletic high-schooler may need a whole sandwich plus another source of carbohydrates. What you are serving will most likely depend on what you keep in your home. Include your child in the process of making the lunch, so he or she doesn’t come home with a full lunchbox.

When you’re planning lunches for the week, explain what needs to be included with each one and get your child involved. Some suggestions include:

  • Long-lasting carbohydrates: Whole wheat bread, bun, tortilla or pita
  • Quick-energy carbohydrates: Sliced banana or apple, raisins, honey
  • Lean Protein: Peanut butter, crabmeat, chicken, turkey, ham, lean roast beef, tuna, hard-boiled egg
  • Veggies: Lettuce, spinach, cucumber, tomato, bell peppers
  • Low-Fat Dairy: Shredded cheese, sliced cheese, soft cheese spread, Greek yogurt
  • Healthy Spreads: Peanut butter, honey mustard, hummus, black bean dip, light cream cheese, light mayo, avocado

There are a variety of ways to meet the criteria for a healthy lunch using a crisp salad, fresh sandwich, or tasty wrap. Using the staples mentioned above, you could make any of the following:

  • Elvis’ Favorite: Peanut butter and banana
  • Veggie delight: Sprouts, provolone, & honey mustard
  • Mediterranean: Pita with hummus and roasted red bell peppers
  • Sweet N’ Spicy: Jack cheese, thin slices of green apple, mayo
  • South of the border: Chicken, black bean dip, tomato and avocado with a squeeze of lime
  • Under the sea: Open faced with tuna salad; pack the tuna in a separate container and spread on bread or bun at school
  • Tea time: Herbed cream cheese, hard-boiled egg, and cucumber
  • Cinnamon Roll: Cream cheese on whole-wheat cinnamon raisin bread
  • Turkey and cheese roll-up
  • Philly beef and cheese with peppers wrap
  • Hawaiian wrap with ham, cheese and pineapple
  • Personal pizza wrap with turkey meat balls, shredded cheese and assorted vegetables
  • Veggie wrap with hummus and assorted vegetables
  • Taco wrap with refried beans, Greek yogurt, shredded cheese and vegetables with guacamole and salsa

Once your entrée is complete, augment your creation with an assortment of raw vegetables and fresh fruit!

Try not to settle on the same old lunch routine as last year. Remake that lunchbox as a new beginning to fun and creative lunches.

Additional Resources

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About Laura Isaacson, MS, RD, CNSC and Cassie Vanderwall, RD
Laura Isaacson and Cassie Vancderwall are registered dietitians. UW Health's Registered Dietitians provide accurate, evidence-based nutrition information that promotes health and wellness to empower individuals to make healthy lifestyle changes that will enhance their health. Visit the Nutrition and Health Library on uwhealth.org for more information.
View all posts by Laura Isaacson, MS, RD, CNSC and Cassie Vanderwall, RD

Comments

  1. Marni says:

    We always cut up a week’s worth of veggies on Sunday, to make it easy to pack for lunch every day!

  2. Kari says:

    A favorite quick and healthy snack is organic peanut butter and celery sticks.

  3. Melissa Y. says:

    My kids love cut up veggies (carrots, peppers, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.), especially when served with dip! Fresh fruit is also always appealing. Sometimes, if I ask them if they want a snack, they will say no, or say they don’t know what they want, so often I will just cut up a variety of foods and arrange them prettily and set them down near where they are playing, and they will eat them up. :)

  4. Tammy says:

    I try to design her food to look more fun for her to eat. I make sandwiches to look like butterflies- a banana as the body, raisins as the spots and then healthier fillings in the sandwich which she will be less likely to notice since she is having fun checking out the butterfly! So far it has worked!!!

    Also when her friends were eating those Lunchables she would build her own with real ham, real cheese and a whole grain cracker! No added preservatives or junk that was not needed in her body! She was just as happy and for the pizza one- just as easy to do our own with spaghetti sauce, shredded cheese and a piece of her choice of meat if any! More often than not her friends would prefer to eat hers than their own… I always packed extra :)

  5. Cathy says:

    We try small portions of a number of different items for lunch, mostly raw type foods. Use a variety of different tastes and textures to appeal to children.

  6. Michelle says:

    A love note on a napkin!

  7. Jaime says:

    When my daughter’s sick of pb&j I make her salads with lots of veggies chopped up, or lots of things to dip in hummus.

  8. Karen Block says:

    My husband cuts up a huge fruit platter every Sunday morning to share with any of the family for breakfast. The fruit plate includes fresh pineapple slices, watermelon in season, blueberries, cantaloupe, strawberries, and raspberries. Everyone enjoys the colorful and healthy treats that are bite-sized and ready to eat.

  9. Sara Noeske says:

    Mine are little– but it’s nice when I know they are soo excited about a certain item that they helped pick out at the store or the fact that they always eat their fruit and sometimes veggie before they eat anything else!

  10. Lisa Johnson says:

    Avacado slice, fried egg, cheese, on whole wheat bread!

  11. Becky B says:

    We make energy balls (Pb, oats, honey, raisins, flax seed, wheat germ). Delish!

  12. Tiffany says:

    One of our favorites is pb and celery..simple yet soo good!

  13. Kristie F. says:

    My kids love grapes and natural applesauce.

  14. Ginger says:

    Ants on a log, veggies, fruit, soup, or a sandwich cut into a shape makes things fun.

  15. Heather Waite says:

    My boys are picky eaters, but I can usually get them to eat a variety of fruits & veggies along with their sandwich, which is sometimes just a couple of slices of whole wheat white bread with jam (since my 8 year old is allergic to peanuts).

  16. Jen S says:

    Home-made jam on wheat sandwich, carrot sticks and a yogurt is so far the most common lunch thus far. Add a Fiber One granola bar for an occasional treat.

  17. Kate Rietmann says:

    I prefer not to send peanut containing items to my son’s school… and that makes packing lunches very hard. Peanut butter is a super easy way to get good stuff into his body. So… it just requires us to get a lot more creative. He is so picky, so we’ve made a list of items that he likes to eat and transferred this list onto slips of paper. Each category (grains, fruit, veggie, protein) goes into a different jar and he picks a slip from each jar. He has the strangest looking lunches, but I know that it’s all stuff he will actually eat and he has a balanced meal.

  18. Connie says:

    I’ve been teaching my daughter about healthy foods and how wonderful the foods taste without all the chemicals and additives. We don’t eat corn with butter as it takes away from the wonderful flavor of the sweet corn. We try to make meals and snacks from scratch.

  19. DAnielle F says:

    my kids love apples and peanut butter. I preslice the apples, and put a rubberband around it to hold it together so it doesn’t turn brown.

  20. Toni says:

    Some nice quick snacks we offer are the basic banana, apple, and grapes. But also like to make homemade granola too.

  21. Sarah says:

    We always have fruit on hand (washed and ready to eat). My kids also like having granola bars, string cheese, or yogurt as well. My children are 5 and 2 and love anything they can just grab to eat themselves instead of waiting for Mom or Dad to make it for them. They love celery and peanut butter as well, but since they don’t like to wait around for it we don’t have it very often and they think of it as a treat.

  22. Kari O says:

    My son got addicted to the apple peanut butter “sandwich” last year. Core the apple, slice into rings, create a pb “sandwich”

  23. Andrea says:

    We slice up nectarines and peaches into discs and call ‘em “cookies”!