Back to School Lunch Planning

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Summer vacation is winding down and soon we will see the school buses rolling. Soon children will be off to school and teacher’s will be back at work, and everyone is again faced with the important question: what’s for lunch? With overweight and obesity rates on the rise, having a nutritious lunch is an important part of an overall healthful diet. Since most people consume one- third of their daily total calories at lunch, here are some tips on helping your super student eat more nutritious foods with fewer calories.

Tips for Packing the Lunch Pack

  • Plan ahead!! It helps to have all the right ingredients on hand for making the best lunch. You might even consider coming up with a weekly menu. Involve the kids in planning whenever possible.
  • Avoid last-minute rushing by preparing all or part of lunch the night before.
  • Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes with sandwiches, etc. (a good friend of mine said she could hardly wait to open to her lunch in elementary school to see what Mom shape she had that day!)
  • Make sure you always include at least one fresh fruit or vegetable – both is even better!
  • Hide special notes or cards in the lunch box.
  • Best beverage bets include skim milk, water or 100% fruit juice.
  • Try to use more low-fat snack and cookie items – see our list below for ideas.
  • Remember food safety. It is best if you keep foods chilled in insulated lunch boxes with either an ice pack or frozen juice box.

Choices for the School Lunch Line

  • Obtain a copy of the school lunch menu and help your child make better decisions at home. Emphasize the importance of the basics:
  • Eating enough fruits and vegetables
  • Choosing items that are low in fat
  • Keeping sugary foods as a treat, not a mainstay
  • Having a variety of grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat protein and low-fat dairy items each day.
  • Practice making better choices everywhere you go so your child is better equipped at the lunch line.

Make your Sandwiches Smarter

  • Choose different breads like 100% whole-wheat tortilla wraps, or 100% whole grain pita pockets
  • Don’t just stick to lettuce and tomato, give shredded carrots or zucchini, or sliced apples or pears with a turkey sandwich
  • Try avocado or hummus as a swap for cheese or mayonnaise
  • Leftover grilled chicken or turkey makes a low sodium switch for luncheon meat

Leftovers are Meant to be Loved

  • Leftovers are a great asset, might be worth your time to cook a little extra for supper so you will have some lunch options the next day, use a thermos so they will stay warm
  • Soups are great
  • Chili’s meat, or veggie
  • Spaghetti, there is nothing better than leftover cold spaghetti
  • Leftover beans and rice

Fun with Dips

  • Dipping is always super popular with kids, fun food is enjoyed food
  • Dip apple and pear slices into yogurt or peanut butter
  • Dip carrots, celery or sweet pepper strips into salsa, humus or a homemade bean dip
  • Whole grain crackers are great dipped into soups and chili’s

Recipe Ideas

Here are some recipe ideas for fun lunches.

Lunch Box Taco Salad


  • ⅓ cup chopped Romaine lettuce
  • 3 ounces cooked lean ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons salsa
  • ½ cup green grapes, sliced lengthwise
  • ¼ cup chopped honeydew melon
  • ½ cup corn kernels or small cobbs
  • 6 tortilla chips
  • 2 tablespoons guacamole or salsa


  1. Layer lettuce, beef and cheese in a medium or large container. Top with salsa.
    Combine grapes, and melon in a small bowl. Pack in a medium container.
  2. Place corn in a small container.
  3. Pack chips in a medium container. Nestle a small dip container of guacamole among the chips.

Serves 1, but you can surely cut up enough for several days.

Turkey and Cheese Pinwheels Lunch Box


For the Creamy Dill Ranch Dressing (make your own or buy your favorite)

  • 1 small shallot, peeled
  • ¾ cup nonfat cottage cheese
  • ¼ cups reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • ¼ cup nonfat milk
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper

For the lunch box

  • 1 tablespoon cream cheese
  • 1 8-inch whole-wheat flour tortilla
  • 2 slices low sodium deli turkey
  • 1 thin slice cheddar cheese
  • 1 Romaine lettuce leaf
  • ¾ cup popcorn
  • 1 tablespoon dark chocolate chips
  • ½ blueberries
  • ½ cup celery sticks
  • 2 tablespoons Creamy dill Ranch Dressing, or your own favorite


  1. To prepare the dressing: With the food processor running, add shallot through the feed tube and process until finely chopped. Add cottage cheese, mayonnaise, buttermilk powder and vinegar. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary, about 3 minutes. Pour in milk while the processor is running. Scrape down the sides, add dill, salt, and pepper and process until combined.
  2. To prepare the lunchbox: Spread cream cheese over tortilla. Top with turkey, cheese and lettuce. Roll tightly, being careful not to tear the tortilla. Slice crosswise into 6 pieces. Pack in the large section of a lunch box or in a large container.
  3. Mix popcorn and chocolate chips together in a medium section of the lunchbox or in a medium container.
  4. Pack blueberries and celery sticks in separate smaller sections of the lunch box or in separate small containers. Nestle a small dip-size container beside the celery and add Creamy Dill Ranch Dressing.
    (Save remaining dressing for another use).

Serves 1.

Peanut Butter and Banana Roll Ups


  • 2 tablespoons smooth, natural peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon local honey
  • 1 8-inch whole-wheat flour tortilla
  • 1 medium banana


  1. Combine peanut butter and honey in a small bowl. Spread the mixture evenly over tortilla. Place banana on the bottom third of the tortilla; being careful not to tear the tortilla, roll tightly. Slice crosswise into 8 pieces.
  2. Add some grapes to the lunch box and you have a meal!

Deli Style Mini Subs


  • 1 16 ounce loaf French bread
  • ½ 8 ounce carton dairy sour cream ranch dip
  • 1 cup shredded lettuce
  • ¾ cup shredded carrot (1 large)
  • 8 ounce thinly sliced cooked roast beef, ham, or turke
  • ½ of a medium cucumber, seeded and shredded
  • 4 ounce thinly sliced mozzarella or provolone cheese


  1. Cut French bread in half horizontally. Spread dip on cut sides of bread. On the bottom half of the bread, layer lettuce, carrot, roast beef, cucumber, and cheese.
  2. Top with top half of bread. Cut sandwich into 8 portions. Secure portions with decorative toothpicks.

Yields 8 servings.