Quick and yummy back-to-school lunch ideas

Back to school is here and packing lunches can be stressful – from deciding on healthy options to packing quick and easy foods our kids will eat. Prioritizing healthy eating is important because it helps kids learn by keeping their energy levels up throughout the school day, improving their attention span, memory and concentration and supporting positive mental health and well-being.

So what should you put inside the lunch box?

Children helping to pack their lunch at home in the kitchen

Canada's food guid PDF cover image

We want to pack lunches that are quick to prepare and help to keep kids energized throughout the day. Public Health Nutritionist Karen Wismer, recommends a balanced healthy lunch that includes foods from Canada’s food guide including:

Karen also recommends considering your child’s favourite foods when packing lunches and getting them involved in the lunch planning and packing process – like helping to cut vegetables, picking their favourite fruits or creating snack-size portions. Interaction with their lunch food is one of the best ways to ensure their lunch gets eaten instead of tossed, traded or brought home.

But what about all the child-focused convenience foods, advertised and packaged to entice them? A great compromise is to create your own fancy and colourful packaging for your healthier food choices inside.

It can be hard to plan and pack lunches when you are in the rush of the busy school season, so here are some quick and yummy ideas:

  • Grab n’ go
    • Wash and cut up fruit and veggies when you get home from the grocery store or market and pack them into individual serving sizes and put them in the fridge. They’re ready to pop into a lunch any time you need something quick!
  • Wrap n’ roll
    • Put separate ingredients for a wrap in your child’s lunch. Let your child put it together at school (a fun reason to play with their food!).
  • Homemade lunchables
    • Use a compartment lunch container for easy portioning and to keep wet and dry food separate. Include a protein, whole grain, fruit, veggie and favourite food.  
  • Fast frozen
    • Make muffins or granola bars and freeze them individually, take it from the freezer and pop it into the lunch bag. It’ll be ready to eat for lunch or snack.
  • Hands-on
    • Pack mini pitas with hummus for them to dip or slice a kiwi in half and include a spoon.
  • Handy leftovers
    • Plan to have leftovers from meals during the week that can be sent for lunch. Consider investing in a thermos to keep foods hot.
  • Smile-friendly foods
    • Crunchy vegetables and fruits like carrots or apples are like nature`s toothbrush. Though we still recommend where possible that kids rinse with water after eating or brush their teeth!

What about drinks?

 schoolboy with water bottle.

It`s best to avoid drinks that are high in sugar like sweetened juices and pop and simply stick with water. Water helps keep kids hydrated and quenches their thirst. Packing milk (or unsweetened milk alternatives) or taking part in school milk programs is also a great idea. We know that kids who drink milk at school are more likely to meet their daily calcium intake than kids who don’t.

How do I make lunch fun?

Child's hands making fun shapes out of their food for school lunch.

This is a great question because making lunch fun can be a big help in encouraging kids to eat foods they may not normally like. Pack smiles into their lunches by using plenty of colourful foods, trying cool-shaped sandwich cutters and using fun fruit/veggie shape cutters. For kids that can read, you might try slipping in a joke or a note for them to read when they open their lunch. A surprise pencil, pen or stickers can also bring some fun and smiles to lunch.

Don’t forget to double check with your child’s school or teacher about foods that should be avoided because of serious food allergies.

For more information about packing lunches or ideas for planning lunches for a balanced school day, check out School Lunch Your Kids Will Munch.

For information on a healthy fundraising option for your child’s school to participate in visit Fresh from the Farm.

Happy lunch-making!