Healthy School Lunch Ideas

Published: December 2, 2021

At this point in the school year, you may be struggling to find healthy, delicious, and easy meal ideas to send with your children for lunch. When packing school lunches for children, it is easy to just send pre-packaged foods, which are fine in moderation, but not ideal in the long-term as it is often lacking the nutrients that your child needs to stay strong and healthy. Talk to your child and see if they can help provide input and ideas on healthy school meals that they would like and new fruits and vegetables they are open to trying during their meals.

A healthy school lunch is important for children because students who eat filling and nutritious school meals have been seen to show various benefits in school including academic and behavioral benefits, healthy eating patterns in and out of school, and increased consumption of the necessary nutrients for maintaining ideal health for the child’s age (especially if they are undergoing periods of growth). Some of the academic benefits of healthy school lunches include improved cognitive function, higher test scores, and increased attention spans. Additionally behavioral benefits of healthy school lunch consumption include better classroom behavior, fewer absences, and an improved mood. 

Tips

Getting kids ready for school in the morning can be difficult and it can feel as though you have no time to pack a meal. To save yourself some time in the morning, try to pack portions of your child’s lunch the night before (especially if it is a pre-packaged or dry food) so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning.

Involve your child in prepping their lunch meal by giving them healthy options and asking them to choose from their options. Additionally, you can ask them about their favorite fruit or vegetable that they would like to have in their lunch box that day. When packing the lunch box, try to give you child smaller portions of a variety of different foods and pack colorful fruits and vegetables so that they can be exposed to and try different tastes and textures during lunch.

Meal prepping or making slow cooker recipes on Sundays is a great way to save yourself time throughout the week. By making your meals ahead and just packaging them up the night before or morning of school, you can save yourself time and energy throughout the week. This can also be a great way to make sure your child is getting whole grains, fruits, and vegetables by being able to think about them in advance instead of scrambling to prepare the meal in the morning.

Recipes

Below are two recipes that you can make to help add healthy new lunch ideas into your child’s lunchbox throughout the week. The first recipe is a bento box, which allows you to add portions of each meal component into your child’s lunch box. If you don’t have a bento box on hand, you can just prepare this meal in their regular lunch box and make sure you incorporate all the elements for a well-rounded meal! The second recipe provided is a meal prep pasta salad that allows you to make the meal in advance and use throughout the week (3-4 days) so lunch ideas don’t have to constantly be on your mind!

If you decide to prepare a big meal on Sunday to put in your child’s lunch throughout the week, involve your little ones in preparing these recipes to let them see how fun cooking and working with new foods can be. Children also tend to try new foods when they are involved in the cooking!

Chicken Wrap Bento Box Lunch

Screen Shot 2021-12-02 at 1.23.04 PM

This bento box lunch is a quick and easy lunch to prepare in the morning for your child that has lots of fruits and vegetables. This can be made in less than 5 minutes and is sure to be a hit with your child!

  • Ingredients:
    • Chicken Wrap:
      • Cooked chicken, diced or shredded
      • Diced cucumber and/or lettuce
      • Whole grain tortilla or sandwich wrap
    • Homemade Ranch Dressing:
      • tablespoon dried parsley
      • ½ - 2teaspoons garlic powder
      • ½ - 2teaspoons onion powder
      • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
      • ½ - 1 teaspoon salt
      • tablespoon fresh chives
      • cup non-fat plain greek yogurt
      • 1/3 cup buttermilk
      • teaspoon Dijon mustard
      • teaspoon lemon juice
    • Snacks:
      • More seasonal vegetables: cucumber slices, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, sliced red and yellow peppers, broccoli florets, etc.
      • Seasonal fruit: grapes (sliced if your child is young), strawberries, blueberries, apples slices, mandarin oranges, peaches, pears etc.
      • Whole grain crackers
    • Directions:
      • Homemade Ranch Dressing Directions:
        • Place the spices (dried parsley - fresh chives) into a food processor and pulse a few times, until the spices have been ground up a bit.
        • Scrape down the sides.
        • Place the remaining ingredients - greek yogurt, buttermilk, Dijon, and lemon juice - into the food processor and pulse until the ingredients have been fully incorporated.
        • Scrape down the sides, if needed, and pulse again.
        • Transfer into a sealable container (like a mason jar) and place in the fridge until you're ready to use it.
      • Wrap up some cooked chicken, diced cucumber (or some other green, like lettuce), and a squirt of ranch dressing into a tortilla or sandwich wrap.
      • Add some extra snacks like cucumber slices, grapes, and crackers to pair. 

Tip: For more easy bento box recipes for your child’s lunch, check out the following resources:



Pasta Salad Meal Prep

Screen Shot 2021-12-02 at 1.19.42 PM

This pasta salad recipe is very quick and easy to make, yet it is extremely delicious and filled with whole grains and vegetables. You can also easily adjust the ingredients to your child’s taste. Make this pasta salad on a Sunday night to prepare for the busy school week so that you don’t have to worry about making school lunches (or coming up with ideas for them) for your child for a few days.

  • Ingredients:
    • 1 (12 oz) box whole grain rotini pasta
    • 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
    • 1 1/2 cups diced cucumber
    • 1 1/2 cups tiny chopped broccoli florets
    • 1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
    • 1 cup olives, sliced
    • 3/4 cup thinly sliced baby carrots
    • 1/3 cup chopped red onion
    • 1/2 cup finely shredded parmesan cheese
    • 2/3 cups light Italian salad dressing (can omit, substitute with a different dressing, or use less salad dressing)
  • Directions:
    • Cook pasta according to package instructions to al dente but do not season water with salt (the dressing has plenty). Drain and rinse under cold water.
    • Pour pasta into a bowl, add tomatoes, broccoli, bell pepper, olives, cucumber, carrots, red onion and parmesan.
    • Pour dressing over and toss to evenly coat.
    • Cover and chill at least 30 minutes (or up to 1 day). Add a little more dressing if needed.


For more information on recipes for kids and how to help them eat more fruits and vegetables in their school lunches, check out the following links.

Written By:

Katherine Jones
MPH Candidate
UTHealth School of Public Health in Austin
Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living


Discussion