How to Plan For A Healthy School Lunch

Packing a healthy lunch for kids can be tricky. Especially when there are time restraints, food preferences, food intolerances or sensitivities involved. Here is a step by step approach that may help you navigate the art of packing your kids lunch.

Keep in mind this is a gluten free, dairy free, peanut free approach, and also taking into consideration a tight budget and busy schedules of parents. I hope that you find these suggestions helpful.

Anatomy of a lunch box (basic components):

Main dish: Protein + Starch


Dessert + Snack (usually fruit)


Before you Shop:

We all know that poor planning leads to poor results; the same applies to lunches.  What should you consider before visiting the grocery store?

  • What are your child’s preferences and food intolerances?
  • What is your budget?
  • Are there any major events happening this week?  A big test, a big game, a field trip, extra time restrictions?
  • Will your child eat leftovers?
  • What is your menu for the week?  Make a list!

At the Store – Never shop hungry, and go with a list!

  • Shop the periphery of the store
  • Bring your child along and give choices (“do you want broccoli or cauliflower in your lunch?”)
  • Buy seasonal produce
  • Shop the bulk section ( a great place for trail mix, nuts)
  • Buy vegetables that will do double-duty for lunches and other meals (buy a bag of carrots instead of baby carrots) – TIP: when you get home, soak all veggies and fruits in tepid tap water with vinegar, this should wash off any chemicals and pesticides off them
  • Buy sturdy fruits and veggies that will hold up the whole week (bananas don’t last long)
  • If you eat meat, buy lunch meat in bulk

Tips on packing the lunch:

  • Pack the lunch the night before
  • If you want to pack fragile fruits (pears, peaches, grapes, kiwis, bananas, etc.), pack them for the beginning of the week. Apples are great because they are hardy and survive the entire week.
  • If you don’t like the idea of plastic wrap, prep a tub of cut-up veggies for the week and grab a handful each day to put in reusable containers.
  • Veggies go down better with a dip.  Some of my favorites are almond butter, hummus or bean dip.  Ranch and other cream-based dressings/dips aren’t so healthy and get kind of nasty without refrigeration; use as little as possible

My Kid Doesn’t Like…

First, don’t assume they don’t like it.  Kids are malleable. Repeated exposures, encouragement, and your attitude towards food make a huge difference in what kids will and won’t eat.

  • Talk with them to try to understand what about it they don’t like: taste, texture, how they feel after eating it, etc.  Sometimes reluctance to eat a food can be a sign of an unidentified intolerance.
  • Experiment with alternatives.  Ask what they would like instead.  Give them options (“in addition to carrots and celery, do you want sweet peppers or cherry tomatoes?”).
  • Take kids shopping with you so they can pick out what produce they would be willing to eat.
  • Try combining vegetables with a dip.
  • Don’t be afraid to use small, appropriate consequences (punishments and rewards) for your child’s lunch:
    • Eat your sandwich and produce or you won’t get a dessert tomorrow.
    • Eat your produce at lunch or you’ll eat it at dinner.
    • No after-school snacks if you didn’t finish your lunch.

What about Drinks?

  • Water only.
  • Juice is full of sugar.  If you want your child to have apple juice, give them an apple and then they get the fiber too.
  • Did your child compete in a triathlon today? No? He/she does not need the sugar and electrolytes found in Gatorade, Powerade, or similar.

Children can be very picky eaters. Stick to your guns about what is healthy, and after a lot of trial and error and communication, you will find an affordable, efficient, healthy compromise to healthy school lunches.

Dr. Diana Semjonov ND

Diana Semjonov is a board certified Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. If you would like to schedule an appointment or set up a free 15 minute consultation, please book online at

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