Pizza, PB&J, or pretzels? 5 tips for a healthy lunch at school

September 11, 2018

Getting kids to eat healthy food for every meal is difficult.

And with the new school year upon us, parents may worry that their children aren’t eating a healthy lunch when out of their sight. Packing whole grains, protein, fruits and vegetables is the best way to give kids a well-balanced meal, but getting them to eat it in the lunchroom is a different matter.

You can’t be sure your kids aren’t throwing all their healthy food into the trash or trading it for somebody else’s candy bar. However, you may have a little more luck with carrots than with Brussels sprouts or asparagus. Here are a few tips that may make your kids more likely to eat their lunch this school year:

Diversify lunch

Make a list of several foods in each category that lunches should include-complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Mix up the foods you include each day to give your kids some variety in their meals.

Make it fun

Your kids loved dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets and heart-shaped toast when they were toddlers. Now that they are school-aged, your big kids may not have grown up as much as you think. Make healthy foods fun by cutting them into interesting shapes. Use cookie cutters to make fun sandwich shapes or use special vegetable cutters. Even a cool lunch box could make the difference for a kid who turns his nose up at homemade lunches.

Enlist the kids

Get your kids involved in the process and let them choose which foods they want to include from your lists. Kids will be more likely to try different foods if they are able to pick them themselves. Bring the kids to the store to pick out items to include in their lunches, and then let them help pack the lunch or do it themselves if they are old enough.

Spencer Jensen, executive director of Orem Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing, says, “Kids are famously picky eaters, but they may try new foods if you put more options in front of them. Give them lots of healthy choices so that whatever they will pick will make both of you happy.”

Buy a school lunch

Although you may want to pack your kids’ lunches every day to be sure they are eating right, letting them eat a school lunch once in a while could give everyone a needed break. School lunches have gotten healthier, and it can be exciting for a kid to grab a hot lunch. If your school receives federal subsidies for lunches, the meals are required to have less than 30 percent of their total calories from fat, with no more than 10 percent from saturated fat. Schools also have been adding more fruits and vegetables to their lunch menus and providing more balanced options.

Make sure they eat

Feeding your kids a healthy lunch can be difficult if you can’t afford to send a lunch to school at all. Kids who don’t get enough to eat can have a hard time concentrating and may suffer in school. If money is tight, be sure to take advantage of programs that will help your kids stay fed. The National School Lunch Program provides balanced meals for kids at a reduced cost or for free every day. Talk to your school about whether your family qualifies for the program.

Most kids can be picky eaters, and some more than others. Giving them a little more control over their lunch and letting them be part of the process may help them to try more foods and even like them. Providing them with a balanced meal for lunch can help your child be happy and successful in school.

Update hourly