Dust Off Your Lunch Box

School lunch

Simple, nutritious ideas for packing school lunches

Kids need a variety of nutritious foods to fuel their bodies through the school day and beyond. Packing a lunch with a variety of healthy foods is a great way to help them perform at their best. Ask them what they would like and include them in the process of planning and packing lunches.

Make sure to include:

  1. Protein: Meats, hard boiled egg, reduced fat cheese or yogurt, seeds or nuts (if allowed at your child’s school) or beans
  2. Whole grains: 100% whole wheat breads, bagels, pitas or wraps; whole grain pasta; whole grain tortilla chips or crackers; popcorn; dry cereal or a granola bar (aim for 8 grams or less of sugar and more than 2 grams of fiber)
  3. Vegetables (1/2 cup): Sliced vegetables (carrots, peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, string beans or snow peas), a small salad or extra veggies on a sandwich (lettuce, baby spinach and sliced vegetables for added crunch)
  4. Fruit (1/2 cup): Fruit cup packed in 100% fruit juice, sliced apples or pears (studies show kids eat more fruit when it is already sliced — toss sliced fruit with a few teaspoons of orange juice to prevent browning), grapes, cherries, berries, bananas, etc.
  5. Fluids: Pack a bottle of water and have kids buy a carton of milk at school (kids need 3–4 servings of dairy foods per day to get the calcium, magnesium and potassium their growing bodies need)

 Here are some simple, packable lunch ideas to get you started.

Make Your Own PizzaMake Your Own Pizza


  • 1, 100% whole wheat deli round
  • ¼ cup tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • Toppings, such as diced peppers, shredded carrot, quartered cherry tomatoes, diced mushrooms, or 5 quartered turkey pepperoni

*Add a serving of fruit and a bottle of water, pack a plastic spoon as well.

To assemble: Split deli round in half – use the spoon to spread the tomato sauce evenly, sprinkle with cheese and toppings. Enjoy!

Nacho DipNacho Dip


  • 10 whole grain tortilla chips
  • ½ cup salsa
  • ¼ cup reduced fat Greek yogurt (such as Fage 2% or 0% fat)
  • ¼ cup shredded cheese
  • Optional: ¼ cup guacamole or refried beans

*Add a serving of fruit and a bottle of water, pack a plastic spoon as well.

To Assemble: In a 2 cup container layer guacamole and/or beans (if using), salsa and greek yogurt top with shredded cheese. Tip: you want the container to be big enough to fit the chips for scooping.

Ham & Cheese CrackersMake a meal of snacks: Ham & Cheese Crackers


  • 2 slices of ham (or turkey) cut into squares (10)
  • 2 oz of reduced fat cheese (cut into 10 small squares)
  • 10 whole grain crackers
  • ½ cup sliced vegetables (baby carrots, peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes)
  • ½ cup apple slices (tossed in orange juice to prevent browning)

To Assemble: Package all ingredients individually and let your kids assemble these themselves at lunch. 

More suggestions:

Mac n’ Cheese Thermos: Layer your kid’s favorite macaroni and cheese with cooked vegetables (broccoli or mixed veggies) in a thermos.

Pasta salad: Combine 1 cup cooked whole grain pasta with ½ cup chopped veggies and 2 ounces cubed reduced-fat cheese. Toss with 1–2 tablespoons of Italian dressing.

PB & Fruit: Spread a thin layer of natural peanut butter (look for brands with 2 ingredients: peanuts and salt) onto 2 slices of whole grain bread. For a lower sugar option, pack fruit slices for your child to add at school in place of jelly (banana, apples, strawberries or raspberries are delicious).