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8 Components of a Healthy Packed School Lunch

Did your child bring a packed lunch to school today?

Over here in France my four kids have just left for school. Three kids will eat their lunch in the school cafeteria and my oldest daughter will eat at home with me. There is a long two-hour lunch break in French schools, and while this makes the day longer (maybe too long) for the kids, on the other side, the children have a good break in the middle of the day to eat their lunch slowly and digest afterwards in the recess area (French law states that children must sit at the table for a minimum of 30 minutes).

My three kids who will eat in the school cafeteria will have their hot lunch (the same lunch as everyone else that eats in school today) because brown bagged (packed) lunches are not allowed in the cafeteria. That is the way it is.

I like the American system where kids are permitted to bring a lunch from home. But I can picture myself wondering (struggling) on what to packed in the kid’s lunchboxes? It must get tiring and repetitive (or maybe I am wrong?), but looking at the positive side, at least there is this option for kids to bring lunch from home.  And if you are like me, you want to give your kids foods that they like to eat and you know they will eat, but also provide foods in their lunch that are nutritious and keep their bodies fueled for learning. That it why I want to share with you my 8 key guidelines on what constitutes a healthy packed school lunch. I think having some borders helps to keep this task simpler and still a priority: a healthy packed lunch that tastes good.

Lunch is one of the main meals of the day and a healthy packed (and eaten) school lunch is a key towards good learning and growing well. 


I may not have the daily experience to pack my kids their school lunches in a brown bag (oh the French don’t allow it), but I have packed many a brown bag for their school outings and other picnic adventures, oh la la! I know it is a challenge to balance healthy foods and taste and offer a meal that your kids will finish and not give (or throw) away. 

Here are my 8 standard tips that I incorporate in a brown bag lunch (and in my brown bagged lunches too).

1.  Variety and Color-  Different foods provide different vitamins and minerals and different colors.  Serving your children different foods everyday ensures that they have a better chance to meet their vitamin and mineral requirements.  Adding color to the lunches make it appealing to eat. Planning out lunches with a weekly menu may help make this job easier. (A thanks to Rose-Leah for the tip on the importance of color!)

2.  Whole grains –Substituting whole grain breads, brown rice and whole wheat pasta for simple grains is a great way to increase the amount of fiber in your child’s diet.

3.  Fresh fruit and vegetables –Providing fresh fruit and/or vegetables in each packed lunch is an easy way to meet the “5 a Day” fruit and vegetable goals.

4.  Food Safety-A good insulated lunchbox is important to keep food at the right temperature.  If your child’s packed lunch will stay outside the refrigerator for extended periods of time, the foods inside the lunchbox should be a good temperature, with cold foods staying cold and hot foods staying hot.  This may mean putting a blue ice in the lunchbox or hot foods in a special insulated container.

5.  Taste- (My favorite one!) Providing healthy foods in that packed lunchbox that your kids will eat and enjoy the taste is just as important as selecting healthy choices.  Involve your children in their packed lunch meal selection, ask them what foods they like to eat, find compromises on adding healthy foods (like fresh fruits and vegetables) and encouraging them to select the fruits and vegetables they enjoy eating to add to their lunchbox.  When you put new foods in the lunchbox ask your kids after school if they ate them. I have seen kids just throw away their packed lunches right in the garbage, food waste is such a shame when so many (and too many kids) go hungry.

6.  Water to drink– Water is the best drink for kids but if your child dislikes drinking plain water, other options are to mix water with lemon juice (yes-kids love this!) or mix water with a small amount of 100% juice. I am a real advocate for children drinking water with meals; however, other ideas are to offer 100% fruit juice or low-fat milk.

7.  Fun desserts and snacks balanced with healthy options-A friend of mine called the Friday packed lunches for her kids, “Fun Fridays.” Every Friday there was a fun dessert or snack, an option that her kids liked to eat, but wasn’t on the top healthy dessert list, it was a fun food. Having a packed lunch day during the week (doesn’t have to be Fridays) that you add a less healthy dessert or food is a good balance for the other days where the lunches are on the healthier side.

8.  Less processed foods, the better  The food industry likes to make you think that their processed pre-packed food ideas are just perfect for your kid’s brown bagged lunches. These pre-made foods are convenient and are geared especially for busy parents who struggle with time to make these packed lunches. But the reality is, despite what the food industry markets their foods to be, most processed foods such as Lunchables are not as healthy an option as fresh foods, made from scratch. Non-processed food doesn’t have to be complicated. Think an apple instead of applesauce. Or leftover plain rice from dinner the night before mixed with tuna, olive oil, a dash of lemon and a few cut up cherry tomatoes.

The healthy packed school lunch is just a waste if it isn’t eaten

All our efforts go to waste if our kids sit down at the table in the school lunch room and don’t eat their lunch. It takes compromise with our kids (to give them foods that are healthy foods they like), efforts on our part and theirs, time to make these lunches, and creativity.

I believe one of the key ways to have our kids enjoy the foods in the packed lunches is by getting them involved in the meal selection and preparation. By giving them choices and responsibility in what goes in their packed lunches adds to the successful outcome: they eat their healthy packed lunch.

What do you think? Do you have any suggestions or tips that have worked for you? Please share with us in the comment section.

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If you need more inspiration on creative lunch ideas here is a great resource/website : .

Wishing you and your children good health and a tasty brown bagged lunch!

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3 Responses to 8 Components of a Healthy Packed School Lunch

  1. Lety March 10, 2016 at 17:04 #

    Great suggestions Mary!

    So far, my daughter has her lunch at home, whereas my son has his lunch at maternal school, cooked in a canteen. But when they’ll have their lunch at school, I’ll follow these precious advices.

    Thank you!



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