How to Make Healthier School Lunches and Snacks

Try these smart and simple swaps to make your child's mid-day meal even more nutritious.
By Marge Perry

Ages

4-13

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You’re probably already packing a balance of whole grains, protein, a fruit or veggie, and a healthy snack. Now take lunch to the next level by adding in body- and mind-boosting superfoods, nixing processed items, and varying selections to include a range of nutrients. Bust out of the basics with these tips:

Smart choice #1: Sandwich with turkey and mayonnaise on whole-wheat bread

The combination of protein and carbs gives kids energy, but be sure to use high-quality ingredients.

To make it even better:

  • Packaged turkey meat has added preservatives and sodium. Instead, use fresh sliced turkey breast that you pick up at the deli counter.
  • Swap the mayo for some creamy avocado, which is loaded with healthy fats and fiber.
  • Make sure your bread is labeled “100% whole wheat,” not just “whole wheat” or “made with whole grain.”

Smart choice #2: An apple or an orange

Pack these healthy no-brainers weekly — but also work in other colorful fruits and veggies to provide a better balance of vitamins and minerals.

To make it even better:

  • Red grapes are packed with antioxidants, which help protect your child’s immune system. Freeze in a zip-top bag; they’ll keep lunch cold but will thaw by lunchtime.
  • Berries (the darker the better) offer up antioxidants and other good-for-them phytochemicals.
  • For as much vitamin C as she’ll get from an orange, your child can munch on half a red bell pepper.

Smart choice #3: 100% fruit juice box

As long as it’s pure juice, your child is getting some (but not all) the nutrients of the whole fruit.

To make it even better:

  • Fruit puree drinks with no added sweeteners, like Nature’s Child Mega Mango Squeezers, include more actual fruit (and its vitamins and fiber) than juice.
  • Switch up the beverage selection with low-fat milk, which supplies calcium and vitamin D — plus protein.

Smart choice #4: Granola bar

Some bars are better than others, so read labels closely! Sugar content can be surprisingly high.

To make it even better:

  • Homemade trail mix handily trumps your everyday granola bar. Combine nuts, dried fruit, air-popped popcorn, seeds, and a few dark chocolate chips for plenty of nutrition and protein — without added sugars.
  • For a potassium punch, spread banana chunks with unsweetened peanut butter and roll ’em in granola.
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