Skip to main content
Find a DoctorGet Care Now
Skip to main content
Search icon magnifying glass








How To Pack a Healthy and Easy School Lunch in Minutes

healthy lunches

Packing up lunch for school or daycare doesn’t have to be a hassle. Relying on a few tricks can make lunchtime easy on parents and healthy for kids.

“Coming up with a plan and having your set items or categories that you’re going to use to build the lunch is really helpful,” said Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital pediatric dietitian Kristen Smaldone, MS, RD, CSP, CD-N. She says picking foods from three main groups can create the building blocks of a healthy lunch. These groups are:

  • Energy rich foods such as whole grain bread, tortillas, or crackers
  • Foods with protein and fat such as turkey, avocado, or cheese
  • Colorful foods, which include fruits and vegetables

It does not necessarily matter how much of each food children are getting. If each group is represented, they will still be getting important nutrients such as protein and fiber. An occasional treat is fine too.

Getting kids excited about lunchtime

It’s no secret that most kids would prefer chocolate chip cookies to broccoli. Smaldone says parents can get their kids excited about healthy lunches by modeling good eating behaviors. Have a variety of healthy foods on hand, get kids involved in the grocery shopping and prep. Even kids in kindergarten can help put carrots into snack bags or pick between an apple or banana. Giving kids some choices while remaining in control of mealtimes can help develop healthy eating habits.

“Research shows pressuring and forcing kids to eat can lead to increased pickiness, increased meal stress and disrupt the family dynamic,” Smaldone said.

When picky kids won’t eat

If kids are coming home with a full lunchbox, parents should ask why their child did not eat. There could be a variety of reasons. Perhaps kids don’t like the foods in their lunch. Other reasons can include not feeling comfortable eating in the cafeteria, or only having 20 minutes for lunchtime. Even making sure children know how to open their food containers is important.

Dealing with food allergies

Nearly six million children nationwide have food allergies, and it’s common for schools to ban certain foods like peanuts. Traditionally, parents of kids with allergies were advised to start treatment around the age of 5. However, pediatric allergist Stephanie Leeds, MD, of the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital Pediatric Food Allergy Prevention Program, says introducing foods to kids in the first year of life has been shown to reduce food allergies. Parents who suspect their child has allergies should seek help from an expert, who can safely guide the introduction of certain foods.

“Food allergies can impact everyday activities like going to the playground or even what daycare options are available,” said Dr. Leeds. “That’s why it’s best to see a specialist if a family has concerns.”

Tips for parents

Juggling allergies, school schedules and picky eaters can be hard on parents. But Smaldone says a little bit of meal prep on the weekend can make a big difference. That includes coming up with a plan for at least two different lunches for the week, getting ingredients ahead of time and making at least two lunches at once, so the next day is ready to go. Snacks can be easy too. Just double check packaging for allergy concerns. Also a good rule of thumb for packaged food is choosing an item that has <6 grams of added sugar and 2 gm of protein and fiber per serving. 

Sample grocery list

Energy food

Protein food

Fruit/Vegetable (Color)

  • Thin triscuits
  • Flour tortilla
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Pretzels
  • Bar cheese
  • Deli meat
  • Sunflower seed butter
  • Yogurt tube
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Eggs
  • String cheese
  • Hummus
  • Watermelon
  • Cucumber
  • Avocado
  • Strawberry
  • Lettuce
  • Green pepper
  • Peach
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Blackberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Celery
  • Pears
Other: Italian salad dressing, raisins


Sample lunch ideas

  1. Ham, avocado, lettuce tortilla roll up with strawberries
  2. Pasta salad (Barillo plus rotini, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, zucchini, Bragg’s italian dressing) with blackberries and cantaloupe 
  3. Sunflower seed butter & raspberry chia seed jam sandwich with peaches, green peppers and frozen Stonyfield yogurt tube
  4. Cheese, crackers with watermelon, cucumbers and hummus 
  5. Hard boiled egg, cheese stick, ants on a log (celery, sunflower seed butter, raisins) with pears and pretzels