Pack a Lunch with a Punch

In our house the new school year begins end of August.  This means the first two weeks of August leaves me little time to buy back-to-school supplies, clothes, AND go grocery shopping for lunches. Like all parents, I want my kids to have a successful school year. If that’s going to happen they’re going to need healthy lunches to keep their brains fueled throughout the school day. Fresh fruits and veggies along with a filling sandwich or wrap is always the base of my kids lunches. Add in a sweet treat and a bottle of water and they have a healthy, nutritious lunch.

Here are some simple lunchbox hacks. Use a combination of what works for your family.

To be a lunch box hero, focus on what to put in the lunch instead of what to keep out. Start with a protein [and] add a whole grain, then a fruit or vegetable serving. A dairy serving – milk, cheese or yogurt – is also important to support bone growth and development.

Some lunch box ideas:

Nut butter on whole-grain tortilla with fresh fruit slices and container of low-fat milk;

Hummus and veggie wrap made with whole-grain tortilla, hummus and veggies. Served with a container of yogurt or milk;

Lunch kit with 3 to 4 whole-wheat crackers, 2 to 3 slices turkey or chicken breast; and low-fat cheese or mini cheese squares or wedges;

Whole-wheat pasta salad (with veggies, chicken or tuna) and low-fat milk or yogurt;

Whole-wheat wrap filled with chicken or turkey, avocado and lettuce. Serve with cherry tomato and mozzarella cheese pieces on a skewer; and

Tuna or chicken salad in half of a whole-wheat pita pocket with leaf lettuce, a piece of fruit or fresh fruit cup and low-fat milk

As you plan snacks, think of them as a “mini meal” that includes two of the four food groups.   Try these simple nutritious snack ideas:

Whole grain crackers with a cheese stick.

Fresh cut fruit with a yogurt dip

Nut-free trail mix.

Yogurt tube and small oatmeal muffin

Your child’s taste may change from one day to the next. Try new foods regularly and don’t be afraid to try them more than once. You may have to offer new foods many times before your children learn to like them!

Children experience food using taste, touch and sight. Keep them interested with lunches that include a variety of shapes, colors and textures.

Cut sandwiches into triangles or diamonds. Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes.

Change the bread – try different kinds of grains (rye, pumpernickel, flax) as well as the type of bread like whole grain tortillas, bagels and pitas.

Offer various types of cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, Jack, Swiss) in different forms (cubes, strings, slices and balls). To create a cheese ball, shred and then shape into balls.

Switch up the veggies and fruit. Give your kids something different to experience with each bite. Group foods according to: Type (citrus, tropical.); color (green, red, orange, yellow, purple); shape (balls, strips, chunks, whole); or texture (soft, juicy, crunchy)

Kids love to dip. Use cottage cheese, hummus, yogurt, or guacamole as healthy dips.

From planning to packing, get everyone in the family involved when making lunches and snacks.

Give them healthy options to pick from – they will be more likely to eat a lunch that they choose.

Older children can help make sandwiches or stuff pitas, while younger children can place snacks into containers.

Take your children grocery shopping and let them choose some of their favorite foods like breads, vegetables, fruit and yogurts. Use these shopping tips to help you guide your children in making healthy choices.

Pick a few from each list to keep on hand so that you’ll always have healthy foods to pack in the lunchbox.

In the pantry:

Whole grain breads

Ready to eat cereals

Whole grain crackers

Canned and dried fruit

Canned tuna and salmon

Canned legumes like chick peas, black beans, baked beans in tomato sauce

In the fridge:

Yogurt (fruit yogurt, yogurt drinks, plain yogurt for dips, soy yogurt)

Cheese (block cheese or cheese strings, cottage cheese, cream cheese)


Fresh vegetables and fruit

In the freezer:

Whole grain pita and tortillas – they don’t take up much space and you can use just one at a time. They defrost easily in the microwave.

Frozen fruits for smoothies

Leftovers like chili, lasagna, and soups in single-serving containers. (When you pack leftovers don’t forget to label and date).

100% juice boxes for keeping lunch cool

“Pack a Lunch with a Punch”, Written for Vertex Fitness Personal Training Studio by Ashvini Mashru, RD

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