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Healthy Back to School Lunch Ideas

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Jul 9, 2023

Blog-School-LunchesStarting a new school year is the perfect time to start healthy eating habits. Focusing on promoting healthy lunches and snacks are a great way to instill good eating habits in your children.

The Basics

Packing healthy lunches is easy when you have a basic formula to follow. Following a formula makes packing a lunch easy because you just fill in the blanks.

 Of course, this is just a baseline that can be adjusted for your child's dietary needs. You might also want to find out if their our special requirements from your child's school. Many schools have guidelines, such as "no peanut butter" or "no candy," in regards to packing lunches.

fruit + vegetable + protein + drink = healthy lunch

*try to use whole grains*

So much of your packing can be done ahead of time. You could do it each night before you go to bed, or you could even cut up some fresh fruits and vegetables on Sunday and use them throughout the week. Try to aim for a variety of foods each week, so your child doesn't get bored with the lunches. They might even like helping you pick what goes into the box! You might be surprised to find out what healthy foods they like eating.  A friends daughter came home from school and told her mother that she loved celery and raw broccoli after a taste test they had done at school that day. My friend was surprised that she would eat these vegetables raw, but now she had even more ideas for her daughter's lunch box.

The Supplies

All the planning doesn't do any good unless you have the supplies needed to transport them to school. You want to make sure the cold foods stay cold enough and the warm foods stay warm enough to eat safely. Hop online and read reviews of products claiming to keep foods warm or leakproof, and try to get the best you can afford. Not all products are created equal. 

  • insulated lunch box
  • ice packs
  • insulated food container to keep foods warm
  • lunch container
  • napkins and silverware or plasticware if the school doesn't provide
The Food

Now that you have the needed supplies, it's time to fill them. Keep in mind what your child likes and doesn't like and be creative.  Here are some ideas to get you started. This list is, of course, not all inclusive. 


  • apples
  • applesauce
  • avocado
  • bananas
  • berries
  • cherries
  • dried fruit (raisins, dried cranberries, banana chips)
  • freeze-dried fruit
  • grapefruit
  • grapes
  • kiwi
  • mango
  • melon
  • olives
  • oranges
  • peaches
  • pear
  • pineapple


  • bell peppers
  • broccoli
  • carrots
  • cauliflower
  • celery
  • cherry tomato
  • corn
  • cucumber
  • edamame
  • green beans (cooked)
  • peas
  • potato, (mashed; cooked)
  • salad
  • sugar snap peas


  • beans
  • chicken
  • cottage cheese
  • deli meats
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • hummus
  • nuts
  • peanut butter
  • sunflower seeds
  • turkey pepperoni
  • yogurt
Creative Ideas

If you want to branch out a little bit, you can be creative with your lunch ideas. Use whole grain wraps or pita bread instead of regular bread to change up sandwich ideas. Put your leftover dinner in your child's warming container. I love this gallery of healthy school lunch ideas. Here are some other ideas I found by searching the internet:

Warm Ideas

  • leftover whole grain spaghetti 
  • leftover grilled chicken
  • whole-grain macaroni and cheese
  • beans and rice
  • chili and corn muffin
  • soup
  • oatmeal

Dip Ideas

  • carrots, celery, or bell peppers in ranch dressing or hummus, salsa, or bean dip
  • apples, pears, or celery with peanut butter or peanut butter yogurt dip

Cold Ideas

  • apple sandwich
  • ham (deli meat) and cheese roll up
  • bagel with cream cheese
  • peanut butter and honey sandwich
  • peanut butter and apple wraps
  • trail mix with nuts and dried fruits
  • pita pizza: pita bread with sauce, turkey pepperoni, and cheese
  • homemade lunchable: whole grain crackers, cheese, deli meat
  • yogurt with granola