Healthy School Lunches Your Kids Will Actually Eat

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By Diane Henderiks:

Packing your kids a healthy school lunch is one way to help them get some of the daily nutrients they need to keep their energy up and stay alert. Kids should be eating meals that include whole grains, various vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, good fats and calcium-rich foods each day.

Easier said than done for most of us parents. Of course, you want to send something that is good for them, but in my case, it also has to be cool and something special that I know my sixth- and ninth-grade boys are not going to trade or leave in the lunch box.

What we do in the Henderiks home before each school year begins is have a quick sit-down. I make a list of foods they each like by category: fruits, veggies, breads, grains, soup, chili, protein, dairy. I then create a list of lunch options to use during the school year, which makes preparing healthy lunches a snap. Don't get me wrong. There are crazy mornings when I throw them a few bucks and ask them to use their common health sense to buy lunch. But that doesn't happen too often.

When planning and preparing school lunches, remember to put food safety first. Use lunch boxes that have an insulated lining and a pocket for a thin freezer pack to help keep cold lunches cold until they are consumed. You can also freeze a water bottle to use as a cold pack, and when it defrosts they can drink it. Using an insulated thermos that has been heated first with boiling water keeps soup or chili hot until lunch time.

Using my boys as taste testers, I've developed some healthy yet creative school lunches that they love, and your kids will too.


Carrot, potato and cucumber coins, green beans, whole grain chips with Greek yogurt-based dip, hummus, fresh fruit and veggies

BENTO BOX: A lunch box filled with a variety of separate containers of things to munch on (we call it "mish-mosh day")

Hard boiled egg, cheese squares, trail mix, applesauce, whole grain crackers, grape tomatoes


Chilled shrimp with cocktail sauce or creamy dip, low-fat cheese cubes, whole grain crackers, dried fruit


Turkey, spinach and low-fat cheese wrap, broccoli with ranch dip, blueberries


Mini meatballs, cheese tortellini, marinara sauce for dipping, black olives and fresh fruit


Whole grain waffle sandwiches with sunflower or almond butter, and banana or cream cheese and jelly pancake sandwiches, fresh fruit and yogurt


Veggie or turkey chili, whole-grain tortilla chips, salsa, low-fat shredded cheddar cheese, cucumber slices


Big romaine lettuce salad loaded with crunchy veggies such as celery, peppers, carrots, cucumbers and radishes topped with cubed chicken or turkey, shredded cheese and a small container of vinaigrette on the side, whole-wheat croutons and grapes


Chilled veggie or shrimp dumplings with low sodium soy sauce, shredded cabbage with Asian dressing, pineapple chunks, fortune cookie (makes it fun)


Container of tuna salad, whole grain crackers, sliced lettuce and tomato on the side, kids favorite soup, fruit cup

Talk to your kids and get them involved so you send lunches that include foods they enjoy.

Diane Henderiks is a registered dietitian, the founder of and a "Good Morning America" health contributor.

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