You Can Finally Make School Lunches Tastier and Healthier

It has never been more important for parents to take an active role in their children’s diets. Over the last 30 years, childhood obesity has increased 200%, and the Centers for Disease Control agree that unhealthy diets are a large reason for the increase.

One area where children’s diets can definitely improve is lunch. Despite recent changes to school lunch standards, typical cafeteria food still lags behind home-prepared meals when it comes to nutrition and taste. This guide will help parents prepare healthy school lunches for their kids that will be eaten and enjoyed.

Healthy Substitutions

Although parents know that hamburgers and pizza do not make the healthiest meals, many consider eating “fast food” only once a day as harmless. This misconception can have serious negative effects. Consider that the typical school hamburger has over 400 calories and 7 grams of saturated fat; when combined with the ubiquitous chocolate milk, an elementary school child who cleans his plate has taken in over 150 calories more than he should have. Continuing this trend for a year would result in a 10 pound weight gain. Clearly, every meal matters.

Luckily, there are a number of healthy alternatives that can easily be substituted for the traditional school lunch calorie bomb.

Traditional Food Healthy Alternative
French fries Baked chips like Sun Chips, carrot and celery sticks
Chicken nuggets or patty Roast chicken or turkey
Fish sticks or patty Light tuna salad (recipe below)
Hamburger or hot dog Baked tofu wrap (recipe below)
Pepperoni pizza Homemade cheese pizza (recipe below)
White bread or bun Whole grain bread, pita or tortilla
Chocolate chip cookies and brownies Oatmeal cookies, fruit bars, graham crackers
Chocolate milk Plain, skim milk or water

These nutritious recipes are simple, so encourage the kids to help with making lunch. The activity instills and reinforces healthy food habits.

Light Tuna Salad (from Whole Foods)


6 oz chunk light tuna (1 can)

Mix together tuna with

½ cup low-fat cottage cheese
3 TBL sliced almonds
3 TBL raisins
2 TBL grated carrot

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a slice of lettuce on whole grain bread. Wrap for school with Sun Chips and an apple.

Baked Tofu Wrap (from Eating Well)

Spread on a whole-wheat tortilla

1 TBL Thai peanut sauce (store-bought)

Then place in a 3” line across the center of the tortilla

4 cubes of store-bought baked tofu (1 each)
8 slivers of sliced, fresh red bell pepper (about ½” long)
8 slivers of sliced fresh snow peas (about ½” long)

Fold the side nearest you over to the top. Pull it tight, fold one end over (to close a hole), and roll the wrap up. If it won’t stay rolled, wrap it in wax paper or a paper towel with the open end exposed. Package for school with a handful of pretzels and an orange.

Homemade Cheese Pizza

Cut in ½ and toast an English Muffin according to the package directions. Top each half with

1 TBL low sodium pizza sauce
¼ cup part skim mozzarella cheese

Broil (on low) or bake (350°) just until the cheese melts. Let cool, and wrap for school (don’t worry, the kids will eat this cold).  Serve with carrot and celery sticks and a small bunch of grapes.

More Nutritious Lunch Recipes

Kids enjoy making and eating these delicious, easy recipes.

Ham and Cheese Wrap (adapted from meals matter)

Spread on a whole wheat tortilla

1 TBL light mayonnaise

Top with

3 slices shaved ham
1 slice low-fat cheese
1 leaf lettuce
¼ cup chopped tomato

Fold the side nearest you over to the top. Pull it tight, fold one end over (to close the hole), and roll it up. If it won’t stay rolled, wrap it in wax paper or a paper towel with the open end exposed. Wrap for school with baked chips and an apple.

Bagel Fun Lunch (adapted from Parenting)

Slice in ½ and toast

1 bagel, whole wheat

Separately, place in separate containers or bags, 5 or so of the following:

1 TBL peanut butter
1 TBL light cream cheese
¼ cup thin sliced bell peppers
¼ cup sliced cucumber
¼ cup shredded or sliced carrot
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup sliced strawberries
¼ cup blueberries

Wrap for school. Serve with an apple or carrot sticks, or both.

Field Trip Bento (adapted from Happy Little Bento)

A little bit of this and a little bit of that, Bentos are like Japanese lunchables. If you do not want to purchase a special Bento box, recycle a strawberry container and line it with wax paper. Fit in a hearty main dish with a fair amount of fresh fruit and veg and you’re done. Here’s an easy example:

Spread on one side of each of two pieces of whole grain bread

1 TBL almond butter, creamy

On one of the slices, place:

½ banana, sliced
2 strawberries, fresh, sliced

Drizzle 1 tsp honey very lightly over the top

Top with the other slice. Place the sandwich in the Bento box. Top it with two raisins for eyes (using a dab of almond butter to make them stick) and a radish slice and raisin for the nose. Arrange artfully around the sandwich, filling the entire container with:

½ cup cherries, fresh
¼ cup carrot sticks
2 broccoli florets

And whatever other fresh fruit or veg that strikes your fancy. Secure the lid tightly.

Eating Well All Day Long

Healthy eating should not be limited to lunchtime, and the entire family should take care to have balanced, nourishing meals. Parents can instill healthy habits with the help of The whole family can use the Daily Food Plan to tailor their individual diets to their heights, weights and ages. Likewise, every member of the family can keep track keep track of their intake, exercise and nutrition with SuperTracker.

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