Tasty Tips for Healthy School Lunches

school lunch

A sandwich stuffed with processed cold cuts, a bag of chips and a couple of cookies.

“That’s what used to be in a typical kid’s school lunch,” says Candice Schreiber, RD, CSO, LD, a JamesCare for Life clinical dietician at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James and Richard Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

As we bring more attention to proper nutrition for children, more and more parents are making healthy school lunches part of their children’s culinary curriculum, packing varieties of veggies, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins instead of preservative-laden pre-packaged meals and sugary cookies and snack cakes.

Are you ready to start creating nutritious and delicious lunches for your kids? Schreiber is here to help with suggestions and tips on what to prepare and pack for the students in your home so they can start building healthy eating habits.

Make veggies part of a delicious duo

Most people know that vegetables are an important part of any good diet—but that doesn’t mean kids want to eat them. Schreiber’s solution: take (or rather, send) a little dip.

“Try some cut-up peppers, celery sticks, carrots, cucumbers with some hummus or even some ranch dressing—whatever will get your child to eat veggies.”

Dinner tonight, lunch tomorrow

Leftovers are a great way to make sure healthy habits follow your kids to the cafeteria, and can help you get more mileage out of your food dollar.

“It’s a good idea to include food that doesn’t have to be heated, like a black bean and veggie quesadilla,” Schreiber says. “Today for my daughter, I packed some leftovers from the homemade pizza with broccoli we made the other night, and I added some freeze-dried strawberries and bananas.”

Stacks of snacks can make magnificent meals

Stackable containers can make mealtime fun for your kids, while ensuring that their lunchtime construction projects include healthy ingredients.

“I love the little Bento boxes,” Schreiber says. “I really like the build-your-own pizza idea, with some whole-grain crackers, a little bit of tomato sauce, some veggies like tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers, and some cheese—that makes it fun for them to put together. I also like to do apple slices with maybe a little cinnamon, and grapes and all the different types of berries are a real kid’s favorite.”

Give the classic lunch a healthy new spin

While that cold cut sandwich and chips combo we mentioned earlier isn’t the healthiest choice, it is a popular one. With that in mind, Schreiber suggests giving your kid a similar experience with a nutritious twist with leftover roast chicken on whole-grain bread with lettuce and a slice of tomato, and baby carrots and fruit instead of chips.

Lead by example

Healthy eating, like many habits, starts at home. That’s why Schreiber recommends making a nutritious diet the norm for your whole family. Doing so can help you prevent cancer and other health problems for yourself while increasing the chances that your child will follow your lead.

“Kids model their behavior from their parents, so a good first step is to set a good example for them at home with a plant-based diet. It’s not that hard and it’s easy to create meals they’ll really like to eat.”