Family, Youth and Community Sciences News

Research-based information, resources, and tips for families, consumers, and educators; provided by the faculty of the University of Florida/IFAS Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences.

Tips for Nutritious School Lunches

lunch box with reusable containers and apples

For sandwich variety, try various types of breads, pita, bagels, tortillas, flat bread and crackers. Gradually move toward whole grain foods if they are new to your child. New varieties of whole grain bread are lighter in color and texture and may appeal to children.

To pack a nutritional punch in sandwich spreads (such as tuna fish, egg salad, and even reduced-fat cream cheese), add finely minced (food processor works great) carrots and celery.

When including lettuce leaves (the darker the better!) and/or tomato slices for sandwiches, pack them separate from the sandwich so it does not get soggy by the time lunchtime rolls around.

Peanut butter is a quick, easy, healthful (in moderation), and popular sandwich choice. Use whole grain bread, and add sliced banana, fruit preserves, or honey and a thin slice of Muenster, Monterey Jack, or mozzarella cheese to your child’s favorite peanut butter. (Check that your child’s school does not have a peanut butter ban in place due to allergies.)

At the grocery store, let your children pick out fresh fruits and veggies for their lunch boxes – a great time to teach them about buying “in season” and buying locally (where possible).

Include a small bag or plastic container of one or more cut up fresh vegetables in your child’s lunch box. Veggies that travel well include carrots, celery sticks, whole string beans, bell pepper slices (red, yellow and orange varieties are great, but usually expensive), grape or cherry tomatoes (fruits that we eat as vegetables), and pea pods. A separate container of low-fat dressing may be included if your child likes it.

Include low-fat or fat-free milk in your child’s lunch box, preferably in a reusable plastic container. You can freeze a half-full container of milk overnight and fill it with cold milk in the morning. The frozen milk will keep the food safe until lunchtime.

Buy a few plastic containers to use for fresh veggies, berries, dried fruit, milk, juice, and other take-along foods for lunch boxes. They are reusable and help teach the value of preserving our resources.

Purchase a variety of healthy breakfast bars that contain at least three grams of fiber and that are low in fat. Include one of these bars in your child’s lunch box some days. Your child can eat it as an extra treat during lunch, or keep it for a snack later in the day.

If your children purchase school lunches, ask them occasionally what they selected at school that day. Asking casually will help you avoid a confrontation, although if they are choosing pizza, French fries, and a sweet drink every day, you may have some cause for concern!

Find out what foods your child’s school cafeteria serves. If you are not satisfied with the foods available to your child, get involved in the school’s wellness council or other group that can affect policy.

Additional Resources

Note: These resources contain links to Web sites created and maintained by other private and public organizations. UF/IFAS provides these links as a service to our users; the presence of a link does not indicate endorsement of all materials and views found on these Web sites.

National School Lunch Program Web site

School Lunches, KidsHealth

Back to School Lunchbox Makeovers, Center for Science in the Public Interest

Written by: Linda Bobroff, Ph.D., RD, LD/N, Professor, Food and Nutrition