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School Lunch Ideas for Busy Families:


With the holidays in full swing on top of our already hectic schedules, eating right and living a healthy lifestyle often seem like overwhelming tasks.

Here are some school lunch ideas for parents to help brave the winter months with gusto:

  • Cut sandwiches into fun shapes with cookie cutters.  
  • Use healthy ingredients:
    • Avoid meat with nitrates by buying lunch meat from health food stores, which often carry healthier choices.
    • Add tasty fillers: sprouts, avocado, lettuce, cucumbers, tomato, cranberry sauce, hummus, pesto, or low-fat cream cheese spread with some herbs.Dr. Christine Wood
  • Other sandwich ideas:
    • Organic peanut butter, almond butter, soy butter, or cashew butter with mashed bananas or pureed fruit.
    • For shredded chicken or egg salad sandwiches, add the following to the sandwich mix:
      • canola mayonnaise
      • grated carrots or zucchini
      • diced celery or apples
      • dried cranberries
      • pine nuts
      • flax-seed oil
      • herbs; or
      • parsley.
  • Watch the tuna because there is some concern about levels of mercury it may contain.
  • Make sandwich pockets: Use tortillas or pita bread and load it up with a combination of beans, rice, cheese, hummus, or grated vegetables.
  • Make a pasta, rice, or couscous salad with olive oil and a hint of flaxseed oil. Add any combination of:
    • grilled vegetables
    • tomatoes
    • herbs
    • parsley
    • shredded chicken
    • sprouts
    • sunflower or sesame seeds
    • flaxseed
    • pesto sauce
    • cheese
    • diced apples
    • celery, or
    • grapes.
  • For school snacks, try:
    • any fruit, dried fruit, or 100 percent fruit leathers (warning: eating lots of dried fruits can promote tooth decay, but it helps if they eat crunchy fresh carrots or an apple after the dried fruit)
    • nuts (warning: nuts can cause choking in children under 3 or 4 years of age, so use with caution)
    • edamame (soybeans)Pretzel
    • celery with peanut butter
    • carrot sticks with ranch dressing or hummus
    • pretzels (without the trans fats), or
    • whole-grain crackers or bars.
  • Water or juice:
    • Pack water or 100 percent fruit juice for a drink.
    • Freeze the water or fruit juice so it stays cold and keeps the rest of the lunch cold, too.
    • Avoid sugary juice drinks with high fructose corn syrup.
  • Use leftovers. Plan to use leftovers from a healthy dinner for lunch the next day. Use a thermos to keep soups or chili warm for lunch.
  • Make healthy muffins with ingredients like wheat germ, oatmeal, grated carrots, grated zucchini, or bran to pack for lunch.

Dr. Christine Wood is a member of the Scientific Advisory Council for USANA Health Sciences, an international health and nutrition company, a practicing pediatrician in the San Diego area, and author of How to Get Kids to Eat Great & Love It. She is an expert in nutritional medicine for children and speaks on healthy lifestyles to parents worldwide, has been featured in several magazines, television, and radio programs; and works to address childhood obesity with schools, parents, and other health professionals.