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Preparing School Lunches

September 6, 2012

Before I decided to stay at home with my children, I was employed by the state we live in to ensure that school lunches met national nutrition guidelines.

Say what you will about cafeteria food–most meals are healthier than what children bring from home! They must contain 2 servings of fruits and vegetables, contain no more than 30% fat, and provide 1/3 of the daily recommendation for vitamins and minerals including calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and iron. In addition, they meet requirements for 1/3 of a child’s fiber requirements–something that is often lacking in a home packed lunch.

That said, I don’t take my job of making home made lunches lightly! Here are some recommendations to keep your home packed meals (at least) as healthy as the ones served in your school cafeteria.

  • Use whole grains. Breads, cereals, and pastas made from whole grains boost nutrition content. Most are fortified with iron, B vitamins, and some even contain calcium as an added bonus. Look for items with 2-3 g of fiber per serving–ie 1 slice of bread. Beware of items loaded with artificial fiber when preparing meals for children. Too much can decrease appetite and lead to problems with constipation.
  • Choose 2 servings fruits and vegetables. For a preschool/kinder aged child that means 1/4 c per serving. Older children and adults need 1/2 c per serving.
  • Include a protein source– lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, beans, eggs (no more than 1 yolk), lean beef, soy items
  • Include a calcium source– dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese. We use full fat since my son is under weight. However, low fat items are appropriate after the age of 2.
  • Take your children’s tastes into account. Twice a week, Morgan gets to choose his lunch entree. I give him choices of fruits/veg, and choice of beverage. To guide him, he gets to pick from approved choices.

Grilled chicken, carrots with ranch dip, crackers made of flax and chia seed, grapes,

carrot cake muffin (loaded with shredded carrot and raisins) topped with 1 T frosting and whole grain cereal pieces. He had milk to drink.

Chili Mac prepared with lean beef, tomatoes, black beans, and pasta and topped with shredded cheddar.  Chocolate chip cookie, 1/2 c fresh fruit.

Organic grape juice.

Morgan’s Choice

Peanut butter and Jelly on whole grain bread, carrots and ranch dip, strawberries, and low fat chex mix

He had milk to drink.

Things that I keep on hand:

  • fresh fruit–berries, oranges, apples, bananas, grapes. I try to vary the choices when we go to the store so that we have a variety each week. Frozen fruits like mangos, and berry mixes can also be used to keep a lunch cold and should thaw by meal time.
  • fresh veggies– baby carrots, broccoli, snap peas, cherry tomatoes
  • frozen veggies–green peas, veggie mixes with corn,carrots, and peas are fast and easy additions to packed lunches.
  • drinks- milk, 100% fruit juice, water.
  • whole grain crackers, snack mixes, or make your own with cereal and dried fruit
  • proteins–peanut butter, deli meat, leftover dinner items, canned beans, hummus
  • calcium: cheese, yogurt, milk, fortified cereals/juice


One Comment leave one →
  1. Liz permalink
    September 7, 2012 6:06 pm

    Yum! I’d eat any of those lunches! 🙂

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