Healthy Homemade Lunches: A Quick Guide for Busy Parents

by Carie Sherman

In 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture revised its standards for the lunches kids receive at school. The aim was to increase fruits and veggies, whole grain foods, and low fat dairy while decreasing calories, fat, and sodium.

school lunchYet 41 percent of kids bring their own lunch to school. And a recent report from Tufts University took a hard look at those sack lunches. Of the 600+ they analyzed, ZERO met the criteria schools now abide by. The researchers said kids who bring their lunch eat more calories and less fruits and veggies.

My 4-year-old is a pretty good eater. But she and I both have our days where sugar and salt take the place of the major food groups. So I’m not too surprised. Parents are busy. Our kids can be picky. I’m totally the mom who says “at least chocolate milk has calcium,” which this article points out as a problem.

How does your lunch stack up?

Here is what your child’s lunch should look like plated:

my plate

Are you close to hitting the mark?

Ideally, I’d like to give myself at least a B+ on my efforts. But realistically…I’d probably get a C. But I’m up for improving. Who’s with me?

5 Tips for Packing School Lunches

I’m busy lazy. But I’m also concerned about my daughter’s nutrition. Pinterest knows what’s up when it comes to packing good lunches. There are hundreds of cheat sheets, printables, recipes ideas, freezer plans…seriously, every tool you can imagine. Parent bloggers, you’re my heroes.

1.     Master the Basics

Blogger Kristin from Rage Against the Mini Van (HA!) created this visual aid. It serves two purposes: 1) To help her children take responsibility for packing their lunches, and 2) To help her visualize a balanced lunch as well. I’m not sure how to pack seaweed, but everything else looks legit and seems to coincide with the My Plate above.

2.     Make It Fun

PB & JKids like convenience foods, and we know they’ll eat them (see the “at least” comments above). This blogger says that, with this tip that takes less than 30 seconds, we can make a healthy lunch more fun, and kids are more likely to eat what we’ve packed.  And this blogger really knows how to kick a plain ‘ol PB & J up a notch!

3.     Use Your Freezer

fruit cupsBlogger Lisa gives some great tips on sack lunch prep, including cooking when you can and freezing ‘em. I want to be the person who cooks once, then freezes. I’m not. But maybe you are. So here are a few lunch ideas:

  • Lunch box smoothies
  • Homemade “uncrustable” sandwiches
  • Fruit cups
  • Healthy homemade “hot pockets”

4.     Dedicate space

Make it easier by clearing space in your fridge and pantry to store easy, healthy “grab and go” items like string cheese, yogurts, and snacks. You can even be an overachiever and set up a School Lunch Station.

5.     Make use of free printables.

Here’s a printable for lunchbox ideas. It includes 10+ ideas for each food group. Keep it handy when you make your grocery list.

And another printable for cute notes to include in your child’s lunchbox, ranging from “you are my sunshine” to “I’m bananas for you!” I never even got a boring old handwritten note in my lunch. So I’m pretty sure this will make you parent of the year.

There are literally hundreds of blogs dedicated to creating healthy, fun school lunches. Your child’s lunchbox is one Google search away from being the-bomb-dot-com.  


carie-shermanCarie Sherman chose freelancing for two reasons: more time at home with her daughter and a passion for stretchy pants. As a copywriter for the health care and education industries, Carie writes content for businesses, agencies, and nonprofits in Colorado and beyond. She blogs for Lupus Colorado and is a contributor to Colorado Parent magazine. She’s also on the copyediting team for the New York Common Core implementation. Carie is currently writing her first fiction novel. In her free time, she enjoys reading, yoga, collecting recipes, and implementing organizational systems that she’ll never follow.