Winning lunches

How to pack a nutritious school lunch your kids will enjoy

By Edwena Kennedy

As a parent of school-aged children, packing school lunches may be something you dread every year as the kids get geared up to head back to school. Packing school lunches can be frustrating for all, but especially when your child brings home a full lunch bag.


Try to include a variety of different foods from different food groups in your child’s lunch box. It can be easy to get into a food rut and pack the same thing over and over, and sometimes it can be difficult to come up with new ideas.

Variety doesn’t have to be as difficult as you think. It could be as simple as making your child’s favourite sandwich on a wrap or pita instead of bread. Including a variety of foods not only keeps kids from getting bored, it’s a great way to ensure your child is getting a wide variety of nutrients. Try to include a protein, a healthy fat, a high fiber carb, a fruit, and finally a vegetable with each lunch. Here are some examples of lunches I’ve packed over the last year for some inspiration:

Lunch #1: leftover meat, rice and tomato stuffing from a stuffed pepper dish I made earlier in the week, a fruit salad with kiwi, mango, and apple, ready-to-go frozen corn kernels I let thaw in the lunchbox (always defrosts by lunchtime), celery sticks with soy butter and a sprinkle of hemp seeds, and some Hungry Buddha coconut chips for a healthy fat.

Lunch #2: rotisserie chicken and cheese quesadilla (protein and healthy carb), avocado (fruit + healthy fat), tomato (actually a fruit, but hey, I’m counting it as a veggie for the day), persimmons (fruit), and unsalted plain popcorn (healthy carb).

Getting your children involved

Allowing your children choice over what goes into their lunch can make the world of difference in whether they eat it. It could be bringing them to the grocery store and letting them help pick out snacks or ingredients or giving them options to choose from such as, “Would you like an apple or an orange today?” I always like to scroll through some inspiration online with them and allow them to pick out a few ideas we could try together. They love doing this. Finally, get them involved in the packing process, even just packing one item every morning. Children who pack their lunch feel a greater sense of pride and control over what they’re eating, which means greater chances of coming home with an empty lunch box.

Make it child friendly

Before sending your child off to school with their lunch, it’s always a good idea to make sure they can open all the lunch box containers, packages, and baggies.

It sounds simple, but this may be one of the reasons why they’re coming home with untouched food. Kids often don’t have much time to eat their lunch or don’t always have an adult around to help them, so making lunches easy to open and access is key. A great tip is to place a rubber elastic band around a thermos lid so that it provides extra grip and makes it easier for kids to open.

Invest in a good lunchbox

This can be extremely important, especially for picky eaters. It’s common for children to not want their foods touching, so I recommend investing in a lunch box that has separate containers or sections, like a bento box. This not only looks appealing, it helps keep moist foods moist and dry foods dry. Nobody enjoys a soggy sandwich.

You can buy some inexpensive ones that don’t break the bank, like the Cool Gear Ez-Freeze Collapsible Bento Box (only $10.47) or go a little fancier with a highly durable leak proof Bentgo lunchbox that shows all the contents immediately upon opening ($37 online).

Ensure the correct temperature

Some days you may feel as though your child is one of the three little bears and you can’t seem to get the temperature of their food just right. To ensure food stays cold make sure to have an insulated lunch bag with ice packs. If packing the night before you can even put the whole bag in the fridge to make sure everything stays cold! On the other hand, when trying to keep things hot it may be helpful to heat up your child’s thermos with hot water before filling with their lunch (soup, pasta, etc.). These tips may not only make the food more appealing, it will decrease the risk of your child contracting a food borne illnesses.

Have patience

Although it may be frustrating when your child doesn’t eat all their packed lunch, try to move on. The more pressure you put on your kids to eat their lunch, the more likely they will do the opposite. Your job as a parent is to ensure your child has lots of healthy options at lunch time. It’s their job to decide what and how much they are going to eat. Everyday may not be consistent and that is okay. Trust your child to follow his or her own hunger cues. Without added pressure you may find the lunchbox comes home empty more often.

Edwena Kennedy is the registered pediatric dietitian and mom of two behind My Little Eater, an online course platform with multiple courses to help parents raise happy, healthy eaters from ages six months to 12 years. Sign up for her free resource, 25 lunch ideas for your school-aged child. She lives in Halifax, N.S. and loves to travel with her family, try cuisines from all over the world, and does interior decorating in her spare time.

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