Healthy lunches for the whole family

Excited for your kids to go back to school but dreading the task of packing their lunch box? Packing a healthy lunch can be quick and easy once you master the elements of a balanced meal. As long as you have the basic groups represented, you can mix and match to quickly put together healthy lunches for your kiddos – and for yourself!

What to include:

  • Lean protein such as skinless poultry, fish/seafood, eggs, low-fat or non-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese), beans, lentils, tofu, nuts or nut butters
  • Whole grains such as whole wheat (bread, tortillas, pasta), brown rice, quinoa, barley, oats or corn tortillas
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Healthy fats such as nuts, nut butters, seeds, olives or olive oil.

Ideas to get you started:

  • Natural peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole-wheat bread
  • Black bean soup with added veggies (such as carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower—puree after cooking and nobody has to know they’re there!) and a dollop of salsa packed in an insulated thermos (this model keeps my daughter’s lunch warm all day), with a few whole-grain crackers (such as Triscuits or Kashi)
  • Hummus pinwheels: spread hummus or bean dip (I like WildWood’s 3-Bean Dip) onto a corn or whole-wheat tortilla, top with julienned carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers and halved grape tomatoes, then roll up and slice
  • Fruit and yogurt parfait: In a jar, layer plain non-fat Greek yogurt with berries and low-fat granola or whole-grain cereal and chopped walnuts. Do your kids balk at plain yogurt? Try mixing a little flavored yogurt with the plain to reduce the amount of added sugar they’re consuming.
  • Fruit “sushi:” Spread almond or peanut butter on a whole-wheat tortilla, followed by julienned bananas, apples, strawberries or any other fruit your kids enjoy. Roll up and slice into sushi-style “rolls.”
  • Set up a lunch station in the evening and let the kids create their own “lunchables”-type meal for the next day:
    • Choose one lean protein: low-sodium deli turkey or chicken slices, low-fat string cheese, hard-boiled egg, edamame, non-fat Greek yogurt or non-fat cottage cheese
    • Choose one healthy fat or higher-fat protein choice: hummus, peanut butter, almond butter, pitted olives, 1/4-cup nuts/seeds (if age appropriate)
    • Choose one whole grain: whole-grain crackers, whole-wheat or corn tortilla, slice of whole-wheat bread (quartered)
    • Choose one or more vegetable: carrot sticks, bell pepper strips, sugar snap peas, cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, etc.
    • Choose one fruit: apple slices, berries, banana, orange segments, kiwi, etc.


Severson-Tracy_13_blogTracy Severson, R.D., L.D., is the dietitian for the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the Knight Cardiovascular Institute. She specializes in nutrition counseling for cardiovascular health and weight management.


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