Back to School: Healthy Lunches

I personally LOVE back to school time- picking out new school supplies, getting a new set of teachers and classmates, feeling cool because you're one year older-so I'm starting a new series on navigating parenthood during back to school time and beyond.

I am not a parent yet, but I've talked to enough to know that although it's exciting to have the kids back into a routine and in the care of someone else for most of the day, September brings a host of gripe-worthy challenges. Supply lists multiple pages long, carpools, sports games, new clothes, 'my best friend isn't in my class' woes, homework help, and of course........

Packing Lunches

You want to make sure that kids are eating a variety of foods throughout the week because foods have different levels and types of vitamins and other nutrients. Eating a balanced meal of low glycemic foods (won't significantly raise your blood sugar levels) will keep kids attentive and ready to learn.

There is not going to be a one-size-fits all lunchbox, because the lunch room is full of kids who have different caloric needs, allergies, and aversions to certain foods. Moderately active kids ages 4-8 needs 1400- 1,600 calories per day. Moderately active girls age 9-13 need 1,600-2,000, while moderately active boys age 9-13 need 1,800-2,200. It's also important to remember that lunch is just one meal of the day. While it is important to try to get in as many food groups as possible while managing portion sizes, it is also possible to forgo a veggie and make sure to have extra at dinner time or another snack.

One thing I've learned is that kids have very little time to actually eat before being rushed out to recess or back to class, especially if they are chatting away with friends. Keep this is mind while packing lunches. Use thermoses to keep foods warm instead of having to heat up, don't pack things that require a lot of assembly.

Food trades are real! Know your kid and what they like to eat so they won't be tempted to trade for a Tastycake or sour cream and onion chips. Think of junk food along the lines of peanut allergy- although it may not be as convenient to make something other than a PB&J, you don't send that in because it could cause serious harm to other kids.

Healthy Lunch Guidelines

Here are some recommendations for what a healthy lunchbox could look like. Portion-friendly tupperware with different sections are great for moderation so there's less eye-balling portions or having to measure out.

Pick 1

 1/2 sandwich on 100% whole wheat bread, fresh cut (deli) low sodium lean meats like turkey, chicken, or baked ham with mustard or avocado

Pick 1

carrots, peppers, or broccoli (can add hummus or yogurt-based dip)

Pick 1

1 cup low fat milk
cheese on sandwich

Pick 1

grapes, strawberries, apples, bananas, unsweetened applesauce
small juicebox

Other snacks

greek yogurt
lowfat cheese sticks
baked snacks like goldfish or pretzels (aim for low-sodium)

Things to Avoid on a Typical Day

soda, lemonades, cookies, cakes, potato chips, chocolate, Lunchables or prepackaged boxes that are full of preservatives

Treats are okay every once in a while- maybe one day a week or on special occasions like birthdays.

I hope this information has been helpful! Stay tuned for more healthy living tips for back to school and navigating life with school-aged children. You're also invited to join my private Facebook group Creating Healthy Habits with Bridget for all things healthy living and to ask questions of your own.

I'd love to know- what's your go-to packed lunch? Send me an email at or see you in the Facebook group!

For more about balancing your kids' diets, check out the USDA's "My Plate" website