Healthy Back-to-School Lunches Your Kids Will Actually Eat

Looking for healthy back to school lunches your kids will love? Milk Means More shares their expertise and recipes.

The back-to-school season is an exciting time of year, but figuring out what to pack for school lunch? Not so much. It can be a challenge to pack a healthy lunch that is also tasty enough to appeal to kids’ appetites.

With help from Milk Means More, we’ve assembled healthy back-to-school lunch tips and kid-friendly recipes, but first let’s talk about school lunch basics.

Nutritional know-how

Kids’ nutritional needs vary depending on age and activity, but there are a few basics for every grade level. Myplate.gov recommends that half a plate should be fruits and vegetables, while the other half should be grains and protein. Use these guidelines to help you plan lunch menus.

Myplate.gov also recommends including dairy for growing bodies. Milk Means More suggests either packing milk or having your child buy it at school to fill this important nutritional need. You can also cover kids’ dairy needs by including things like string cheese and yogurt in your child’s school lunch. For cheese, be sure to put a cold pack in your child’s lunch bag. Yogurt in a cup or tube can be frozen the night before and by the time lunch rolls around, it is thawed and ready to eat. Dairy treats like sweetened yogurt and chocolate milk pack good nutrition and kids love them.

Don’t overwhelm little ones with too much food. Younger children need about one-half to two-thirds of a regular-sized portion. Smaller portions and bite-sized foods will make it more likely your child will eat all or most of the lunch you’ve packed.

Older children’s rapid growth requires larger portions plus a variety of foods to keep them full. Be sure to pack in a few extra items to keep hunger pangs at bay. Protein foods, such as dairy, meats or nut/seed butters, will keep older kids satisfied.

Involve the kids

Lunch-making is a lot less stressful when you do some advance menu planning. Plus, planning allows you to involve your kids in the shopping and food-prepping process. Ask them to help grate cheese, wash fruit or put items in baggies.

The bonus: When kids are involved in the process, they are more likely to eat what you’ve packed.

Get creative

Simply changing up how you serve food to your child can often be enough to entice their appetite. Kids get bored with the same old thing, just like you do. Giving some visual interest to your child’s lunch will catch their attention and may make a regular food seem “new.”

For example, use cookie cutters to make fun shapes with cheese or bread. Cut your child’s favorite sandwich into cubes and thread it on a stick with cheese cubes, cherry tomatoes or grapes. Instead of a lunch bag, try a Bento box lunch with bite-sized portions. Cut a sandwich wrap into four to six pinwheels and pack in the Bento along with cubed fruit and a vegetable such as snap peas.

If you normally pack cold lunches, consider switching it up with a hot lunch of homemade soup in an insulated thermos. If you don’t have time for homemade, add some extra vegetables to store-bought soup for a nutritional kick. Include crackers or cheese sticks.

6 healthy back-to-school lunch recipes

Many of the recipes below can be tailored to fit your child’s individual likes and dislikes. Be sure to use an insulated thermos with a tight-fitting lid for soup or mac and cheese. Some items, like the Mini Clown Faces and Cheesy Roasted Vegetable Pockets, are good warm or cold.

Note: These recipes and many others can be found on the Milk Means More website.

Mini Clown Faces

These mini pizzas made with an English muffin base will cheer up any child’s lunch.

Cheesy Roasted Veggie Pockets

Vegetables just seem better when they’re coated in cheese and wrapped up in pizza crust. Change up the vegetables to suit your child’s tastes.

Cheddar Tomato Soup

A warm, comforting take on a kid favorite. Add some croutons or goldfish crackers for topping and include some sliced apples.

Chicken Chowder

This hearty chowder packs nutrition and goodness from chicken, veggies and cheese.

Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese

Your kids will be the envy of the lunch table! Cut-up fruit, some baby carrots and add a whole-grain muffin to round out this meal.

Pumpkin Spice Greek Yogurt Dip

Serve with sliced apples for a yummy fall side dish or sweet treat!

For more healthy back-to-school lunches and recipes, visit the Milk Means More website.

Jenny Kales
Jenny Kales
Content editor Jenny Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years. A natural storyteller, she loves helping Metro Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with their audiences.

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