Back to School Lunchbox Basics

By Olivia Martino, Co-owner and Registered Dietitian at Nourish Northwest

It’s that time of year again already and somehow it always seems to come too soon. Time to buy your Trapper Keeper, set your alarm clock and start planning out your first day of school outfit.  That’s right… the big yellow bus is coming around to pick you up soon.

For many parents this once again raises the challenge of how to ensure their kids are getting adequate nutrition and meals that they will enjoy.  As a registered dietitian, I have spent the past few years working with children, and I know how difficult this can be.  Many children rely on free or reduced school breakfast and lunch to provide their nutrition.  While it is possible to eat a healthy diet at school, this can take careful planning.  Many school districts post their menus and nutrition information online.  Reviewing the menu with your child ahead of time and guiding them towards making the healthier choices can be beneficial.

When your family is deciding on the best option for meals. It often comes down to your child’s food preferences.  There’s no sense in sending your child with a meal they are going to trade away for a Twinkie. If packing lunch is an option for your family, the most important thing you can do is involve your children in the process.  Take them to the grocery store with you.  Bring them to the produce section and let them pick out the fruits and veggies they would like to bring to school.  Also involve them in the preparation.  It is a good idea to pack lunch the night before, as mornings can be a hectic time.

When thinking about what to put in a lunch, you want to make sure to include a whole grain, fruit or vegetable and lean protein.  Avoid those sugary beverages, such as sodas, juice boxes, flavored milk and sports drinks.  Water is all they need.  The occasional treat is okay but dessert in lunch doesn’t need to be an everyday thing.  Get creative! Kids like things cut in different shapes or in bite size pieces.  Here are some ideas to get you started:


  • Mini Chicken Breast Sandwich on whole wheat roll
  • Turkey breast on a whole wheat pita, filled with lettuce, sliced cucumbers and red peppers
  • Snack pack: 1 string cheese, 8 whole grain crackers, 1 cup of grapes, 4 celery sticks with nut butter
  • Banana rolled up in whole wheat tortilla, spread with nut butter
  • Fruit Kabobs with yogurt dipping sauce

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