• Crystal Narten, RD

Healthy School Lunches

Back to school time is now upon us, and with it comes busy mornings, cooler weather, and the return of routines. Children spend the majority of their day at school, and having healthy food options is important to fuel their day. Healthy food choices at school help fuel a child’s brain and give them the energy and nutrients they need to focus and learn. Keep reading for some helpful tips and tricks about packing school lunches to reduce back to school stress.

Plan ahead

Make school lunches a part of your weekly meal planning:

  • Set aside some time to make a plan - usually weekends have more time than busy school nights. Consider what works for you - planning for the entire week, or just a few days at a time. Having a plan helps to save time during the week. Click here for some meal ideas for the week.

  • Plan to make leftovers for weeknight meals and pack them single serve portions to take as lunches. Leftover fish, poultry, or meat can be sliced up to use in sandwiches or wraps.

  • Wash and peel vegetables in advance and store in closed containers in the fridge.

  • Pack lunches the night before so that the morning rush doesn’t end up getting in the way--one less thing to worry about during busy mornings!

Keep it balanced

Keep Canada’s Food Guide in mind when putting together your child’s lunch. Including a variety of foods helps ensure your child’s lunch is balance and has a variety of different nutrients. Choose vegetables and fruit, whole grains, and a source of protein. Ask your child for their favourites from each of these categories and mix and match to create a yummy lunch together! For more information about Canada’s Food Guide, click here.

Involve your child

When kids help out in the kitchen, they are more likely to eat what they prepare. To stop school lunches from staying uneaten or being traded away, involve your child in planning and preparing the lunch:

  • Take your child grocery shopping and have them help pick out options for their lunch. Give controlled choices between two or three healthy options. For example, ask “would you like an apple or a peach?” or “would you like a sandwich or a pita?”

  • Older children can take on more tasks such as helping make sandwiches or wraps, while younger children can help place snacks in reusable containers and load their lunch in their lunch box.

Keep it safe

Perishable foods shouldn’t stay at room temperature for longer than two hours, so it’s important to keep cold food cold and hot food hot:

  • For hot foods: Put food that needs to stay hot in a thermos - remember to warm up the thermos as well as the food. Pour hot water into an empty thermos for a few minutes, empty, and add very hot food.

  • For cold foods: Using an insulated lunch bag with an ice pack will ensure cold foods stay cold. You can also freeze yogurt, applesauce, or milk containers to keep other foods cold and they will thaw out in time to eat for lunch. Keep lunches in the fridge until it’s time to leave for school.

Throw out any uneaten perishable foods when your child comes home from school to avoid getting sick. For more food safety tips, click here.

Be realistic

Sometimes we can get lost scouring Pinterest for hours for the next ultra-creative lunch idea. But if you just don’t have enough time to cut butterfly-shaped sandwiches or put together an elaborate Instagram-worthy bento box, don’t fret!

The most important thing about creating a lunch routine is finding something that works for your schedule. Taking healthy shortcuts like buying pre-cut and washed veggies or individually packaged yogurt containers are a convenient way to save time and still include healthy choices in your child’s lunch. Focus on what is realistic for your family.

Have a go-to list

Make a list of lunchbox staples in your household that your child likes to eat and refer back to it when trying to put together a lunch. Keep some staples on hand to put together a quick and nutritious lunch on the fly! Here is a great list of ideas to have on hand for last-minute lunches. And don’t forget the snacks! Check out our blog post for more great snack ideas for kids.

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