School lunch ideas to keep kids happy and healthy this September

Ease back-to-school stress with this lunch-prep guide.
By aha insurance - Sep 16, 2020

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This school year, cafeterias might be closed, and food service programs may be reduced. It’s essential to make sure your kids come to school with enough healthy food and drink options to keep their brains well-nourished and hydrated throughout the school day.

You’ve reminded your kids to wash their hands before and after digging into their packed lunch, but what should you pack, and how should you pack it? We’ve gathered the best advice for helping kids enjoy a healthy packed lunch, even if they’re used to cafeteria pizza, fries, and chicken nuggets.

Keep lunches self-contained and containers kid-friendly

Every parent can relate to forgetting to pack an essential item for their kid’s lunch like a straw for a juice box or a spoon for a fruit cup. Students can’t borrow each other’s utensils, so make sure your kids arrive at the lunchroom with everything they need to enjoy their meal securely packed in their lunchbox.


  • Reusable plastic cutlery is a classic school lunch option. It could also be time for those extra plastic-wrapped forks, knives and spoons from take-out orders to get a second life as backups in your kid’s school lunch. 
  • Reusable water bottles are good for the environment and essential with water fountains out and water bottle refilling stations in. A water bottle with a covered mouthpiece also helps keep germs out while students stay hydrated. 
  • Sometimes kids struggle with lunch packaging like difficult-to-twist-off thermos caps or tricky Tupperware. Only pack food in containers that your child can open on their own. 
  • Has your kid ever come home from school with the wrong lunchbox, or pencil case, or jacket, or backpack? Help your children keep track of their stuff by upping your label game, so nothing gets swapped, and misplaced items can be easily returned.

Avoid messy foods, but plan for cleanups anyway

Try to avoid packing foods that have the potential to spill and make a mess. What you consider “messy” foods might depend on your child’s age and neatness-level. However, you don’t want your child to get runny/saucy foods all over their fingers, clothes, and desk.

Finger foods are usually a hit with kids, but neater options that can also be eaten with utensils are preferred like cheese and pre-chopped fruits and veggies. 

  • Hummus is a healthy dip that’s less likely to drip onto the floor than ranch dressing. 
  • Fruit cubes and Greek yogurt are a healthy dippable combination that can be enjoyed with a fork. 
  • If you don’t feel like doing all of that chopping, adding frozen fruits to your child’s lunch is a time-saving (but still healthy) shortcut. 

Realistically, though, spills are typically an unavoidable occurrence during school lunchtime. Pack plenty of wet wipes for easy hand and spill cleanup. 

Avoid surprises and stick to nutritious favourites!

It’s no secret that kids can be picky, but even the most adventurous little eaters might be looking forward to eating their favourite foods for comfort in a new school environment. Lunchroom supervisors won’t allow kids to share food, so it’s best to pack a meal and snacks that your child will actually want to eat and not try to give away to their friends.

Avoid surprising kids with new foods at lunchtime. Save the culinary experiments for dinner, and if they appeal to your little one’s taste buds, leftovers are always a quick and easy school lunch option!

Get kids involved with lunch prep

Getting kids involved with lunch prep can be a great way to introduce your kids to nutrition and helping you out in the kitchen. Plus, when kids pick out their healthy favourites, they’re less likely to leave that unwanted broccoli or other undesirable food to rot in the bottom of their lunchbox.

You can help kids of all ages pack their lunches by following this guide to creating a prep-ahead lunch station from EatingWell. Organize pre-portioned lunch components into categories like proteins, whole grains, fruits, veggies, and treats. Then let your kids build the lunch that they want before heading off to school. 

See Top 5 recipes to cook with your kids for more kid-friendly meal-prep ideas. 

Getting to the meat (or alternative protein) of the matter: Foods we recommend for a healthy, clean, and satisfying school lunch

School lunch bento boxes are all the rage because they’re convenient, easily customizable and oh so Pinterestable! You can also buy bento lunch containers that come with matching flatware, so your kids don’t need to eat with their fingers and are even less likely to lose their trendy lunch accessories. 

As for the age-old question of what to pack in your child’s lunch every day – here are our top suggestions:

  • Pasta salads with your child’s favourite veggies and protein mixed in. It’s probably best to avoid spaghetti, as even adult pasta-lovers can find it less manageable than
    penne or farfalle.
  • Swap pasta salad for beans or quinoa to add extra protein or opt for pasta made from quinoa, beans, or brown rice. 
  • Breakfast for lunch – there are so many delicious breakfast foods that fit into every food group: eggs, whole grain muffins and cereals, nut-free spreads, protein-packed smoothies, the lunch-friendly possibilities are virtually endless. 
  • Produce that comes with its own natural packaging like avocado halves, clementines, and sliced unpeeled bananas. Dip the exposed ends of banana slices in lemon juice to keep them fresh. 
  • Finger foods that don’t require kids to touch their food like mini fruit, veggie, cheese, and meat or tofu kebabs. Try mini hotdogs on a stick with dipping sauces, or classic sandwich roll-ups with toothpick toppers.

Undoubtedly 2020 is a year like no other. We hope this guide has left you feeling more prepared to take on another busy school year. Parenting is a challenging but equally rewarding job, and even if your kids don’t appreciate all the work you do to keep them fed and healthy now, they will in the future. Until then, we wish you all the best for the new school year!

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