How to Make School Lunches Your Children Will Not Trade or Throw Out

School Lunch girl holding apple

As students head back to school, it’s time to think about healthy lunches. Whether your child brings a bagged lunch or buys food at school, it’s important to make healthy choices. Healthy school lunches give you a chance to help your children form good eating habits.

But even parents who pack lunches with the healthiest intentions run into roadblocks. Namely, kids who’d rather throw out or trade away their lunches than eat something healthy. How do you make school lunches your children won’t swap for sugary snacks or simply toss in the trash?

First, get your child involved in packing their lunch. Set up some rules for what they can pack. A sample healthy school lunch might include a whole-grain product, at least one fruit and veggie, some protein, a dairy product (if they don’t buy milk at school), and an optional snack. See how creative your child can be when they packs their lunch. Talk about the choices they’re making while putting the lunch together. Letting them make choices within some healthy parameters will encourage them to eat what they’ve packed and establish good habits.

Second, make lunches easy and quick to pack. Say goodbye to rushed lunches and early-morning anxiety. Prepare some things the weekend before. Put fruits and vegetables in bags or containers and leave them in the refrigerator for later in the week. All you will have to do is make a sandwich, grab the other foods for lunch, put them in a lunch box, and your child is ready for the day! Be sure to keep the lunch cold by adding a frozen juice box or frozen water bottle.

Third, keep lunches appealing. Change up routines and talk with your child about what they liked — and didn’t like — in their lunch box. Add some flair with these simple lunchtime ideas:

  • Mix fruits and vegetables: Baby carrots and raisins pair well. So do orange segments and cucumber spears.
  • Wrap it up: Avoid the traditional sandwich and place turkey deli meat in a whole-wheat tortilla with mustard, low-fat cheese, lettuce, and tomato.
  • Dip it: Peanut butter with celery sticks or apple slices are an easy snack.
  • Stay hydrated: Low-fat or skim milk or a water bottle are healthy thirst-quenchers.
  • Be (a little) sweet: Graham crackers, a small bag of mixed nuts and dried fruit, or low-fat pudding make great snack or dessert options.
  • Switch it up: Children love variety! A bento box-style lunch will keep kids interested. See Pinterest for ideas.

Remember: You can stop the swap and feel confident that the healthy choices your child makes now will continue throughout their school years ahead!


Robin Peters
Healthy Living Field Specialist
Phone: 603-255-3611
Office: Cooperative Extension, Taylor Hall, Durham, NH 03824