Back to School Lunches

September 8, 2022
| Created by Joy Phillips RDN, CD

Kids are back in school, and lunchtime can be filled with many decisions. Eat lunch or rush outside for recess? Try a new food or choose something familiar? Nutrition is crucial for growing minds and bodies but no matter how healthy the food is, kids do not get the benefits unless they eat it. Here are some ideas to make lunch kid-friendly, easy, and healthy!  

Build the basics

The main food groups are grains, protein, dairy, fruit, and veggies. An ideal lunch should have at least three food groups and of course, one of those should be a fruit or veggie. The different food groups provide a variety of essential vitamins and minerals, such as fiber for a healthy digestive system and calcium for building strong bones. 

Include your kids

Be sure to include your kids when grocery shopping or putting together their lunches. Including children in the process increases the chances that lunches will end up in their bellies. 

Choose tasty extras

Pairing foods that kids don’t love with foods they enjoy can be a helpful strategy. Maybe your child has no interest in veggies but will eat carrots with ranch or celery with peanut butter. In moderation, tasty extras are a great option for encouraging healthy eating.  

Focus on the familiar

Kids’ taste preferences are different from adults and sometimes simplifying is the best strategy. Children like familiarity and prefer eating foods they recognize. Small children often need to see the same food prepared the same way multiple times before they are ready to try it. There is no harm in selecting foods kids are familiar with such as a good ole’ peanut butter and jelly. In fact, pairing familiar foods with new foods may encourage kids to try a new food.  

Pull it all together

Now that we have reviewed some good starting points, let’s look at different lunch ideas and highlight tips to ensure they are healthy.  

  • PB&J, apple and carrots.  

Choose bread that is 100% whole grain and try to find a jam with little to no added sugar. Prepare the apple into slices to make it easier for kids to eat. Add a small container of ranch dressing to make the carrots more kid-friendly.  


  • Yogurt with granola, banana, and cucumber slices 

Yogurt with little to no added sugar is a great option for getting calcium and protein. Add in whole grain granola for texture and crunch. Bananas are a fantastic addition for a “breakfast at lunch” feel. Cucumber slices pair well with ranch, hummus, or a squeeze of lime juice.  


  • Ham and cheese roll up, orange slices and celery 

Be sure to choose a whole grain tortilla. Slice oranges or choose an easy-to-peel option like clementine so the fruit is easy for kids to eat. Celery pairs well with a little peanut butter and of course, adding raisins for “ants on a log” can be a fun snack for kids.  


  • Hardboiled egg with a small bagel, cut up melon and grape tomatoes 

Whole grain bagels are a fun choice for kids since they are small and cute. Offer them plain or with a small amount of butter or peanut butter. Chop up the melons into bite-sized pieces to help small hands and mouths enjoy. Grape tomatoes also have the appeal of being small, cute, and easy to eat.  


  • Tuna pouch with crackers, strawberries, and sliced bell peppers 

Tuna pouches are an easy no mess option. When paired with whole grain crackers you have a great meal. Strawberries or any seasonal berries your child enjoys are a fun change of pace. Sliced bell peppers are easy to eat and pair well with ranch or hummus.  

We hope you try incorporating some of the suggestions above to begin building nutritious back-to-school lunches. Looking for more help? The Harmons dietitian team is a great resource for ideas and one of us can even take you and your child on a store tour with a focus on back-to-school lunches. Contact a dietitian via email at to set up a tour!