School lunch has significantly improved over the last decade. Now, federal guidelines ensure that every student is served fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and milk, while monitoring total calories, fat and sodium levels. When your kids take school lunch, you can rest assured that they are offered a well-balanced, hot meal.
However, not every child is going to like the menu of the day. Even in our family, one of the kids always pleads for a cold lunch on taco day. On the few days that your child convinces you to pack a cold lunch, make sure you are sending a nutritious meal, not just what’s convenient. Don’t always believe the packaging when it tells you it’s for kids.
Try to AVOID sending:
- Desserts (cookies, pudding cups, etc).
- Juice Boxes or other high sugared beverages
- Fruit Snacks (this is NOT a fruit and they offer little nutritional value)
Instead, sends foods that have nutritional value and will help keep your child focused and engaged in school activities.
- Whole grains (breads, crackers, pasta, etc)
- Protein (natural peanut butter, string cheese, lean meats, yogurts, nuts)
- Water bottle or milk (milk can typically be purchased from school during lunch)
Examples of a well-balanced healthy cold lunch:
- Natural peanut butter and sliced banana on a whole grain tortilla, bag of carrot sticks, apple and a milk (purchased from school)
- Yogurt parfait with granola and fruit, fresh pea pod, trail mix (nuts, raisins, cheerios) and bottled water or milk
- Turkey & cheese sandwich on whole grain bread with lettuce and tomato, celery sticks, grapes and bottled water or milk
Cold Lunch Ideas
- Hummus with whole grain crackers and veggie sticks
- Peanut butter & banana on whole grain sandwich/wrap
- Sliced turkey or chicken & real cheese on whole grain sandwich/wrap with lettuce and tomato
- Veggie & hummus wrap using whole grain tortilla
- Whole grain crackers, sliced turkey or chicken and sliced real cheese
- Whole grain muffin or crackers with mixed nuts
- Whole grain muffin with hard-boiled egg
- Yogurt parfait with fruit and granola
- Broccoli florets
- Carrot sticks
- Cauliflower florets
- Celery stick with peanut butter
- Cherry tomatoes
- Cucumber slices
- Pea Pods
- Side salad
- Sliced green & red peppers
- Apple or apple slices
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, black berries)
- Cherries, remove seeds before putting in lunchbox
- Dried cranberries
- Kiwi, sliced or halved
- Mango, cubed or sliced
- Melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew)
- Orange, orange wedges, clementine
- Other dried or freeze-dried fruit (bananas, blueberries, apricots, apples, strawberries, etc)
- Pineapple, cubed or sliced
- Pomegranate, remove seeds before putting in lunchbox
- Unsweetened applesauce
- Bottled water
- Milk (purchased from school)
Lunch Box Food Safety
Make sure that the lunchbox your child is using is well insulated. Just because it has their favorite character on it or it came free with their backpack, doesn’t mean it will keep the food cold. Once you fill the lunch box, it can be a tight squeeze, but ice packs are MUST! Try to fit more than one if you can. You want to try to keep the food below 41℉.
If cold lunch seems a bit overwhelming, you always have school lunch options. You know the school food is safe, well balanced and almost always includes a hot entree option.