School Lunch Ideas: 4 Easy & Nutritious School Lunch Menus

Friday, December 15, 2006 - 9:29am

By Marissa Lippert, RD

School-age children are notorious for being picky eaters, particularly when school cafeteria lunches are unappetizing. An unappealing lunch-line often compels kids to choose French fries, pizza or the candy machine. All these foods spike blood sugar levels, which prompts the "crash and burn" syndrome soon afterwards.

Give your kids a healthy, head start by packing a well-balanced lunch with a creative twist to spark their interest and their energy levels. We’ve put together some simple ideas that rev up energy levels and sneak-in wholesome nutrients, while avoiding all the added sugars, calories and additives kids can live without.

Healthy lunches at lightening speed

Preparing your child’s lunch every day doesn’t have to be a time-consuming, pain-staking task. Simple lunches packed with nutritious items can be planned ahead. Honing an easy routine is half the battle! To pack items quickly, set a schedule and build 10 minutes into your evening or early morning. Encourage your child to join you in the kitchen and enlist his assistance when selecting and preparing lunch items. Providing a few basic options for kids to choose from fosters a sense of responsibility and decision-making power. They’ll be extra-excited for lunchtime knowing they had a role in creating the meal.

These healthy, fun lunch options recharge kids’ batteries and ensure they’ll remain active and academically on-point throughout the day!

1.   Tried and true peanut butter & jelly

Peanut butter is an incredibly wholesome choice for sandwiches, not to mention an all-time favorite of most kids and adults. It’s an excellent source of "heart-healthy" monounsaturated fats as well as antioxidants, vitamin E and folate. Peanut butter satisfies hunger with its energizing balance of healthful fat and protein. If your child has a peanut allergy or your school follows an anti-peanut policy, test out the equally delicious and nutrient-rich almond or cashew butters. Whenever possible, choose all-natural or organic nut butters to avoid hydrogenated trans-fats.

Mini Menu:

  • All-natural peanut butter and jam (or banana slices) on wholegrain bread
    • Fun tip: Cut sandwiches with cookie cutters into star or heart shapes!
  • Fresh-cut red pepper strips, sugar snap peas, and baby carrots with hummus or low-fat yogurt dip
  • 2 organic fig cookies
  • Low-fat organic milk box

2.   Time-crunched turkey roll-ups

If you’re pinched for time, stocking your fridge with lunch basics like freshly sliced roast turkey and cheese makes things easy. Try a fun twist on the standard turkey sandwich by opting for a whole wheat or multigrain wrap. Kids love the different shape of a roll-up. Broaden their taste-buds and give them a few options of spreads such as Dijon mustard or hummus. Seek out hormone and antibiotic-free turkey and cold cut brands such as Applegate Farms on your next grocery trip. Keep kids healthy and alert by limiting the additives, nitrates and excess sodium found in many conventional cold cut brands.

Mini Menu:

  • Turkey and cheese roll-up in a whole wheat wrap with lettuce, tomato and mustard or roasted red pepper hummus spread
  • All-natural trail mix granola bar
  • 1 cup red or green grapes
  • Mini-bottle of water

3.   Tuna - an academic brain booster

If tuna fish salad is a big hit in your house, put a new spin on it with a fun mini-wholegrain roll or whole wheat pita pocket. Tuna is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which promote cognitive function while providing a great source of lean protein. Keep in mind warnings about excess mercury consumption, however, and choose chunk light tuna packed in water. Limit tuna to one to two times per week as a precaution. Pair tuna with a bit of light-mayonnaise or try Italian tuna salad made with "heart-healthy" extra-virgin olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Encourage your children to taste new flavors, tastes and textures.

Mini Menu:

  • Mini tuna fish salad sandwich made with lite organic mayonnaise on a small 7-grain roll with lettuce and tomato
  • Mini all-natural oatmeal-raisin cookies
  • 1 cup mixed berries
  • 4-ounce 100% juice box

4.   Cold-weather chili

Add a little fall flavor and spicy kick to your child’s lunch by remaking last night’s leftovers. A hearty chili packed with vegetables and beans is an easy way to sneak in nutrients and fiber. This dish provides the energy your child needs to power through the rest of the school day. Use a small insulated thermos container to keep chili warm. Involve kids by having them pick toppings such as a sprinkle of shredded cheddar cheese, a dollop of low-fat sour cream or a handful of diced red onion. Add lean ground turkey or chicken for a healthy, low-fat protein boost.

Mini Menu:

  • Veggie or turkey chili (pack in small thermos container—1-2 cups)
  • Fresh whole fruit or 1/4 cup dried fruit
  • Organic chocolate pudding or low-sugar yogurt
  • 1 mini-bottle of water

Lunch storage and transportation

Now that lunch is prepared, consider storage and transportation before leaving the kitchen. Whether you choose a brown-bag or a colorful lunchbox, food safety is often a concern for many parents. Remember that lunches are left out at room temperature for several hours. It may be a good idea to invest in an insulated lunch box for your little ones. Check out,, or for child-friendly, insulated lunch boxes that keep food cool and fresh.

With these flavorful menu suggestions and cool lunchbox ideas, kids will be happy, energized and much healthier. Better yet, mom and dad can finally forget any complaints about soggy sandwiches and warm milk.

for further information on packy healthy lunches for your children see the following article from TheDietChannel: Children's Nutrition: Lunch Box Ideas for Back-to-School.