8 Tips From New York City Nutritionist to Make Quick, Healthy, Economical School Lunches

School Lunches


Many things have changed over the years, from generation-to-generation. But the what-to-pack-for-lunch dilemma hasn’t. If you’re like most parents or caretakers, I bet the lunchbox is one thing you’re not looking forward to during the school year.

Busy parents are taxed with figuring out what to pack for lunch that will be quick, economical, healthy and kid-approved! And I’d like to add eco-friendly. With all the pre-packaged goodies, it’s tempting to pick them up and toss them in a lunchbox. (I’ve done it!) Considering it takes anywhere from 450 – 1000 years for a plastic bottle to decompose, adding ecological to the lunchbox requirement list is pretty important.

That’s a pretty hefty list: quick, economical, healthy, kid-approved, and eco-friendly. Trust me! It can be done. Here are my 8 quick-and-easy tips for variety and taste that kids love in school lunches without making parents go mad (or broke)!

  • school lunchesPlan Ahead:  Don’t get caught on a Sunday night, tired, in the grocery store, grabbing school lunch items. If you plan, weekly, for school lunches, you not only save time but money. Take an inventory of school lunch items from your fridge and cupboards every week before grocery shopping, and write a list.  Use what you’ve got and complement that with new items. This way, less food goes to waste.
  • Get Kids Involved: When kids are part of the lunch-making process, they may just enjoy them a little more. Have kids be part of the selection and preparation of their lunch boxes.
  • In-Season Crunchy Veggies are less expensive and eco-friendly. Take a few minutes every Sunday to cut up carrots, celery, jicama and cucumbers to store in containers in the fridge. These are your go-to snacks for the school lunchbox. Add a little Tupperware of peanut butter, yogurt sauce or hummus and voila!
  • In-Season Fruits, like veggies, are less expensive and eco-friendly. Berries and peaches are great for the beginning of the school year. Not sure what’s in season? Check out fruits and veggies at More Matters to get a full list of what’s in season. Ask around at your farmer’s market, as they will only have in-season goods.
  • Roast a Chicken Sunday Evening: To cut down on sandwich meats which can be costly, full of sodium among other ingredients, roast a chicken on Sunday. Cool and put in the fridge. This can be your go-to protein for everything from sandwiches to pasta salads. Tuna, roast beef, and roast turkey are other great options for healthy proteins.
  • Mary Jane DetroyerPitas and tortillas and bagels, Oh my! Change it up! Roll a tortilla with peanut butter and apples. Bagels and cream cheese don’t have to be just for breakfast anymore. Pita bread with roast chicken, cheese, and greens is a yummy sandwich. Make pumpkin or winter squash pancakes and pack them with a little bit of cheese or jelly. Swapping bread for other carb options is a fun, inexpensive way to keep lunches interesting and healthy.
  • School lunch finger foodsFinger Foods are Easy and Fun: Kids love small bites and dips. So why not put together a Mexican lunchbox with avocado chunks, black beans, and whole grain tortilla chips. Or go French with little cheese bites, cherry tomatoes, grapes and cubes of roasted chicken to dip in a creamy sauce.  These are balanced, tasty, and inexpensive lunches.
  • Something refreshing: Water, water, water is the key to keeping kids hydrated and healthy. Get your kids used to drinking water. Juices, though tasty, are full of sugars  that kids don’t need.  Invest in a good, reusable water bottle. For hot days, freeze it at night so the water stays cool throughout the day.

Don’t despair. With the exception of that funky school lunchbox smell, things have changed! There are easy, economical, healthy, delicious and eco-friendly options for your kids’ school lunches this year. With just a little planning and imagination, you may just stay sane when your kid says, “What’s in my lunchbox, Mom?”

Here is a great site I found for creative school lunch ideas:

What Lisa Cooks: Lisa posts photos of her kids’ school lunches, daily!