Inside a Dietitian’s Kids’ Lunchbox by Cari Culp, RD

Sending kids to school with nourishing foods that fuel their body and mind is so important for learning and behavior! I know this is challenging and I admit, it is easy to get stuck in the daily sandwich rut when packing lunches. Especially since many kids don’t have a way to heat their lunch. It’s also difficult, at times, to get kids to eat a variety of foods. There is nothing more frustrating than packing a perfectly healthy lunch and having most of it come home uneaten. With this in mind, I am always trying to come up with creative lunches that incorporate a variety of healthy foods my son will eat.

Many parents tell me their kids are starving when they get home from school and cram whatever they can find into their mouths when they walk in the door. Often times, the reason they are starving is related to eating meals and snacks that lack balance and contain processed carbs and empty calories during the day. Say they fill up on more empty calorie foods when they get home and are less hungry for the healthier options at dinner, they have really missed out on vital nutrients for the day! Now, let’s be real, there are times when my child does not have the picture perfect lunch packed and he eats the school lunch. I think it is important for him to have this experience too but I’ve noticed that he is always starving after a day of eating what is offered at school. The reason is because most of the choices are lacking balance and are heavily processed and refined leaving his body craving nutrition.

Not only are most kids more active than adults during the day, their bodies are working double time to develop both mentally and physically so it is vital to provide the fuel they need for all this work! As daunting of a task as I know it can be to prepare healthy food for your child day in and day out, I thought I would share some ideas that work in our house in hopes of inspiring lunches in yours!

Today’s Lunch:

-Quinoa with roasted veggies and feta cheese in a thermos for a warm option. (I dress with a basic olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar dressing.)

-Apple, carrot, celery, raisin salad

-Cheese stick


-Treat – My version of chocolate pudding which consists of plain Greek yogurt with a little stevia, vanilla extract and cocoa powder and a little bit of a Perfect Bar crumbled on top.

When planning lunches, balance is key! Aim for protein, healthy fat and smart carbohydrates and always include fruits and veggies. Protein options could include roasted chicken, yogurt, cooked beans or peas, nuts or nut butter (if allowed), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower), hard boiled eggs, cheese, hummus, smoked salmon or sliced turkey for example. Some options for healthy fat include avocado, olives, olive oil, nuts and seeds, hummus, yogurt from grass-fed cows and eggs. And, for smart carbohydrates you could use fruit, beans, peas, yogurt, veggies, hummus, quinoa or a homemade cookie, muffin or pancake.

A little planning on the weekend goes a long way, for example, if you made a quinoa, pea or bean salad, this could be included in several lunches for the week. The same applies for soups. Once they are prepared, these options are quick and easy to put into a container for lunches. I typically make one dish like this on the weekend for the following week’s lunches. I also try to make a batch of high protein muffins or pancakes on the weekends to toss in lunches for snacks/treats during the week. Another one of my favorite options to send with my child is a fruit and veggie smoothie. Most kids like these and it is a great way to sneak in extra veggies! With the internet as a resource, there are tons of ideas to create nourishing lunches your child will eat. So here’s to a little planning and nourished kids!

What works for lunches in your house?

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