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School Lunches, Healthy Choices

Packing up a healthy school lunch is easy with these tasty tips.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

When you're busy getting kids ready for school in the morning, a healthy school lunch can get lost in the shuffle. You may think your child's lunch rates an "A," when in reality, it doesn't make the grade.

Yet a few simple changes can turn lackluster school lunches into healthy midday meals your child will actually eat.

Healthy School Lunches: The Basics

"Parents can pack the 'perfect' meal, but if their child won't eat it, it's not right for them," says Sandra Nissenberg, MS, RD, author of Brown Bag Success: Making Healthy Lunches Your Kids Won't Trade.

To make sure your kids eat the school lunch they take, have a talk. Find out their food preferences: what they need and when they need it. For example, what's best for the morning snack? Or the afternoon pick-me-up? Then think outside the lunch box with these mealtime tips from the nutrition experts.

Banish Bread Boredom. Trade your child's typical bread choice for:

  • Whole-grain pita
  • Tortillas
  • Raisin bread
  • Mini or full-size bagels
  • Colorful sandwich wraps
  • Whole-grain hot dog or hamburger buns, or whole-grain white versions

Focus on Fillings. Tantalize taste buds by infusing interest into ordinary sandwiches:

  • Stir chopped celery, cashews, or water chestnuts into tuna or chicken salad.
  • Spread cranberry sauce on sliced, cooked turkey or chicken.
  • Add shredded carrots or dried fruit to any nut butter or sunflower seed butter sandwich on whole-grain bread.
  • Spread a whole-wheat tortilla with hummus; add a tablespoon or two of tabouli; and sprinkle with reduced-fat feta cheese and chopped cherry tomatoes.
  • Try a banana "hot dog": Pack a whole-grain hot dog bun spread with almond butter or sunflower seed butter, and a medium banana. Just before eating, your child can peel the banana and place it in the bun for eating.

Search for Sandwich Alternatives: No sandwich? No problem. These combinations get high marks as balanced meals.

  • Whole-grain crackers, string cheese, single-serve applesauce, low-fat milk
  • Whole-grain roll, hard-boiled egg or two (peel at home), baby carrots, low-fat milk
  • Carton of yogurt, whole-grain crackers, fruit
  • Hummus, whole-grain crackers or pretzels, celery sticks, low-fat milk
  • Reduced-sodium condensed tomato soup made with milk instead of water with cooked macaroni or other grain stirred in; fruit, and carton of yogurt
  • Reduced-sodium canned lentil soup, whole-grain roll, baby carrots, carton of 100% orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D
  • Fruit salad topped with yogurt and sprinkled with whole-grain cereal (package cereal and fruit separately to avoid sogginess)
  • Fruit and cheese kabobs: Alternate chunks of fruit with small cheese cubes. Serve with whole-grain roll and 1% low-fat milk or 100% fruit juice.
  • Cooked tortellini tossed with grated Parmesan cheese and cooked (good hot or cold), diced vegetables, fruit, 1% low-fat milk
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