4 Simple Swaps for a Healthier Lunchbox

Lunch Swaps

What’s for lunch? If you’ve got kids going back to school, chances are you’re thinking about what you’ll send with them in their lunchboxes. Try these simple changes to make their lunches healthier.

With kids going back to school, it is time to get back into the habit of packing lunch boxes.  Here are some simple swaps that can help you make them more nutritious.

1)   Use water or low-fat milk instead of sugared-beverages. Water is great for keeping little ones hydrated.  You can add fruit or herbs to infuse it with flavor.  Let your kids pick their favorite ones to personalize their water bottles.  Low-fat milk is another great option that packs a nutritious boost with calcium and protein.

2)   Stick with whole grain bread and wraps instead of white.  Fiber in whole grains can help your kids feel fuller for longer.  Whole grain breads and wraps also maintain more vitamins and minerals.  

3)   Add whole fruit instead of fruit snacks.  As one of my favorite professors once said, “Grapes are nature’s candy.”  Fruit can be a sweet treat for your kids that provides much more nutrients and less preservatives and dyes than fruit snacks and other fruit-like candy.

4)   Include some veggies instead of no veggies.  Vegetables can be one of the more challenging food groups to get kids to eat.  Let them pick the vegetables they would like to pack.  Use dinnertime and snack time at home as opportunities to introduce them to a variety of vegetables to help them decide what kinds they like best.

Following these steps can help your lunchboxes follow USDA MyPlate recommendations and give your kids a balanced diet that will help get them through their school day.  As you prepare your lunchbox menus for the week, invite your kids to be involved.  They will be more invested in eating something, if they feel like they have a say in what goes in their lunchbox.    

These tips are great for adult lunches too.  Taking your own lunch to work can help you eat well and save money.


This article was written by LaCee Jimenez – Food $ense (SNAP-Ed) Coordinator

Ask an Expert // Healthy School Lunches on a Budget

Healthy School Lunches Graphic

The carefree days of summer are quickly coming to an end. Soon parents and kids will have to return to the routine of homework, alarm setting and packing lunches. Here are some tips for packing healthy school lunches on a budget.


Use My Plate.

Packing lunches according to My Plate recommendations will ensure your child is getting the nutrition he or she needs to thrive during the school day. Check out choosemyplate.gov for more information on what your child needs from each food group.

Involve the kids.

School lunches are only economical and nourishing if your children actually eat them. Have children help plan or even pack their own lunches. For younger children, set out a few options in bins for each food group and have them choose one thing from each bin to incorporate into their meal.

Plan ahead.

When planning your dinner menu for the week, consider dishes that make good leftovers to pack for your child’s lunch. Contact your child’s school to see if there is a microwave available for reheating food in the cafeteria.

Prep ahead.

While you are cooking dinner, cut up some extra carrot sticks or slice more strawberries. Or while you are putting away leftovers, pack them directly into containers that can be sent for lunch. Packing lunches the night before, rather than during the hectic morning, will increase the likelihood it will actually get done.

Pack your own snacks.

While items like prepackaged trail mix or individually wrapped snack cakes are very convenient, they also often come with a high price tag. Mixing your own trail mix or bagging your own pretzels will not only save you money, but allow you to choose items that are lower in sugar and sodium than many prepackaged items.

Try reusable containers.

Reusable containers are handy for keeping food from getting squished, but they can also save big bucks at the grocery store. When used daily, disposable sandwich bags get costly for both your wallet and the environment. Don’t forget to write your child’s name on the container so it can be returned if misplaced at school or on the bus.

Keep it fun.

It is easy to get into a rut with school lunches. Changing it up with something as simple as cutting sandwiches or cheese into fun shapes can really brighten your child’s day. Finding new, tasty recipes can also keep your children excited for the lunch bell and eager to refuel their bodies and brains. Check out extension.usu.edu/foodsense and eatwellutah.org for some great recipes ideas for this year’s lunch sack.

This article was written by Casey Coombs, RD, CD; Policy, Systems, and Environments Coordinator, Utah State University Food $ense, casey.coombs@usu.edu.


Quick, Kid-Friendly Lunches on a Budget

Kid Lunches

Make lunches your kids will love!

How to Win the Battle

Now that school is in full swing, mornings are filled with getting ready, making lunches and heading out the door in a timely fashion.

When it comes to busy mornings, healthy lunches are one of the first things that get removed from the radar! Have you thought much about the food you toss in your child’s lunch box each morning? Is the meal balanced with a variety of nutrient dense foods your child loves?

Right now you are probably saying “My kids won’t eat healthy foods! And I don’t have time or money to make healthier lunches!” Well, we have some tips to make this mealtime a bit healthier and less stressful without breaking the bank.

Here are a few tips for making healthy lunches for children on a limited food budget!

1. Plan lunches before the week starts to make sure you have all the ingredients you need to make healthy lunches. This prevents unplanned visits to the grocery store, which saves time and money. Also consider what you will be eating for dinner that week so you can use leftovers!

2. Involve your kids by inviting them to help you make a list of grains, proteins, dairy products, and fruits/veggies they would enjoy eating at lunchtime. To save some money, have children look through the grocery ads and circle the items from each food group they would like in their lunches that week. They will enjoy getting to help create their own lunches and it helps make sure your not spending money on food that will go to waste later.

3. Make preparing lunches a family activity. Preparing daily lunches for your kids doesn’t just have to be a task you do by yourself. Spend a few minutes each night together gathering items they picked out from each food group to create a unique lunch for them to have the next day. Try giving your children options. Cheese stick or yogurt. Carrot sticks or cucumber slices. This way, they get a say in what they will eat which increases the likelihood they will actually eat it and less food will be wasted. This allows you to prepare a healthier meal for your child without having to sacrifice time during your busy morning.

4. Make healthy lunches fun for kids by cutting foods like fruit, veggies, cheese, and bread into fun shapes like stars or hearts. Use cookie cutters to save time. Try making an open face sandwich with different veggies as the eyes, nose, and mouth. You can also let your child pick out a lunch box at the beginning of the year so they are excited about bringing lunch each day! Making food look fun is one large step towards helping your children eat healthy foods at lunchtime.

5. Make it tasty! Still having a hard time getting your kids to eat fruits and vegetables? Try adding a special dipping sauce like a salad dressing, hummus, or fruit dip to increase acceptance. Having something to dunk fruits and veggies into makes them fun and tasty!

Here is one idea of a quick and simple lunch to put together for you kiddos.

Sandwich Kabobs

This kid friendly recipe takes simple foods and puts them together in a unique way. All you need is meat, cheese, lettuce, bread and tomato (or any other veggie your child likes). Cut the foods into 1 in sections and slide them onto a skewer for a kid friendly kabob! Add a side of grapes, pretzels, carrots and celery to make a meal. Within minutes you have yourself a fun and healthy meal for your child’s lunch.

To get your children involved in this recipe, have them pick out and wash the produce. They can also help put the food on the skewer in whatever order they want!

This article was written by Mateja Savoie Roskos MPH, RD, CD, CNP and Sheri Winn

Mateja Lady2

Sheri Winn2