Easy, Clean, and Nutritious Lunches for Kids Heading Back to School

Across the country, schools are starting back to in-person learning and may require students to eat in their classrooms. There are a few things we need to consider when packing lunches for kids. We want it to be easy for the kids, teachers, and for you! Also, we do not want to make a mess or have lunch items that need lots of help. Lastly, we want them to be nutritious! 

Our dietitian moms have come together to provide some resources and ideas to make packing lunches for kids simple and manageable. 

Getting the Gear

Let’s start by talking about the gear that works best! Our team has used these products and kids get so excited to bring them to school!

Cold Lunches for Kids

When we think about packing school lunches, we think of cold lunches that are filled with sandwich-like items and sides of various foods. Our favorite selection for cold lunches is bento boxes. 

Bento boxes help to keep foods organized, easy to eat out of at their desk, and present well. It also helps decrease your carbon footprint by minimizing baggies and other disposable products. When selecting a bento box, you want to find one that is leak-proof and dishwasher-friendly. You can check out our recommended bento box

Now picking the lunch bag is important to make sure that your bento box will fit. Keep in mind that an ice pack and maybe a milk carton will need to fit. A bonus would be to find one that has an outside pocket for a napkin, silverware, hand sanitizer, and maybe a little happy note to your kiddo. Check out this lunch bag that is roomie enough to fit a bento box, milk carton, and an ice pack. 

Keeping food cold is very important to prevent food-borne illness. It’s important to choose a larger ice pack that will keep everything cold at lunchtime. When shopping, you want to pick an ice pack that stays cold for around 4 hours. 

Hot Lunches for Kids

Getting variety in school lunches is always a challenge, however, adding in a hot option may provide that variety you are looking for. You can pack a thermos of a hot entree with a side of fruit and veggies or even serve a more complete meal in the thermos. 

Keep it mess-free! You will want to think about the age of your child and what would work best for them. For example, sending soup for your 5-year-old may lead to a spill. Whereas mac and cheese would be a better option with a lower chance of a mess.

There are lots of options for thermoses these days, from a thermos that come with a spoon and handle, to a more simple thermos. You want to pick a thermos that will keep the hot food hot for at least 4 hours. 

It is important that food stays hot (above 140 degrees) until lunchtime to prevent foodborne illness. A tip is to heat up the entrée until above 200 degrees in the microwave and place it in the thermos immediately and seal it up. Since you are cooking it to a high temperature, you want to make sure you have more liquid than normal in there to keep the texture right. For example, more sauce on the pasta than normal. 

Making it Nutritious 

The easiest way to think about making healthy lunches is by making sure each key food group is present. 

  • Grains (or a complex carbohydrate) 
  • Fruit 
  • Vegetable
  • Protein

Having a variety of food brings in all the different nutrients and keeps kids’ taste buds happy. It also teaches kids about eating balanced meals. This will set them up for success to become healthier adults.

Now we know all about picky eaters and how it can be challenging. Each child has different taste buds, tolerance to textures, and relationship with foods. If you find the menu limiting and would like to work with one of our dietitians, you can schedule here.

Letting your kids explore and try new foods at home before packing them for lunch is always the better option to prevent stress at school over the food that was packed. There are some great ways that you can add in new foods at home. Find a few tips on our blog about feeding a family when everyone wants something different. Our picky eating blog may also be helpful if you have young ones that have more selective eating habits!

Treats are yummy! Teach kids that treats are for every once in a while, and not daily. Teach your child about moderation and that every food has a place. A cookie, chocolate milk, or chips are great examples of “every once in a while” foods. 

Clean & Easy Lunch Menu

Need some ideas? Here’s a menu we’ve created that you can cycle through!

You can go traditional with sandwich-like items or do a cold bean or pasta salad. There are so many different options to choose from. Here are some COLD ENTREE ideas: 

  • Turkey and avocado roll-up 
    • Can cut into small rolls for young kids
  • Whole wheat pasta salad 
    • Add colors and favorite fix-ins for kiddos 

With cooler weather or for added variety you can include simple leftovers from warm dinners or meal prep a few of these on the weekend. Here are some HOT ENTREE ideas:

  • Mac ‘n Cheese 
  • Spaghetti with meatballs/spaghetti sauce 
    • Young kids might do better with a macaroni, fusilli, penne, or bowtie pasta since spaghetti noodles may be too messy
  • Taco meat for build your own taco/burrito (cold fix-ins on the side) 
    • This is a better option for older kids

Always incorporate some color in the meals! If meals don’t already incorporate a veggie, have a veggie on the side. Also, you’ll want to add some fruit. To keep it cleaner in the classroom, use more whole or easy to pack fruits (ie. whole apples, cuties, grapes, etc.).

Check out this three-week menu! You can take a few items or all of them to create your lunch menus.  

Need assistance feeding kids? Have picky eaters? Not confident about your kids habits around food?

Book an appointment with Tammy or Nicole to learn more! Tammy works with families that have picky eaters, texture-related issues, and more. Nicole has kiddos of her own and is a working mom, so she knows what it’s like being busy! The best thing is that insurance may cover 100%!


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