August 30, 2023

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Every school lunch can be both nutritious AND delicious.

The school year is back up and running and with it the growing pains of a new year – adapting to new schedules and routines, balancing after school activities and homework and for some, finding the time to prep school lunches.

I used to be that mom who was scrambling and searching my fridge and pantry at 11 p.m. for my daughter’s lunch the following day. The result — one stressed out mom and a thrown-together lunch that was nothing to be proud of. Thankfully a bit of planning and weekend prep time can guarantee you a week’s worth of lunches ahead of time. I can assure you it is well worth it.

While social media has pros and cons, we can thank it for ushering in an emphasis on nutrition and providing well-balanced meals. Gone are the days of capri suns, bagged chips and lunchables. While it may feel like this adds some pressure to the process, remember — school lunch planning does not have to be complicated or over-the-top.

The following three-step process will transform your school lunch prep game, and better yet they can be applied beyond just our kiddos.  Make an extra lunch or two for the week to grab and enjoy during your lunch hour.

1 – Follow a basic formula

Keep things simple. This is the formula I follow to make sure every school lunch is both nutritious AND delicious.

(1) protein + (1) carbohydrate + (1) fruit and/or vegetable + (1) Bonus item = *fun mom/dad alert*

Create a list ahead of time with go-to options for each section of your formula that you know you/your kiddos will enjoy. Pro tip: utilize grocery pick-up to ensure you get everything on your list and to save on time!

To avoid repetitiveness, aim to choose 2-3 options from each part of your formula each week to incorporate into that week’s lunches — simplifying decision making and grocery shopping.

2 – Choose your options wisely:

Some foods do not hold up as well as others in the fridge. As an example, bread and chips spoil faster, and need to be added day-of. Instead opt for healthy and hearty grain options like pasta salad or muffins.

Getting enough protein into school lunches can be a challenge. Pre-packaged options such as yogurt, grilled chicken packs, boiled eggs, and cheese sticks can provide the protein boost you need.

Firm fruits and vegetables are preferred for meal-prep lunches. Opt for carrots, bell peppers, cucumber sticks, oranges slices, and blueberries. They will last longer than softer alternatives guarantee a soggy-free lunch experience.

3 – Get creative with packaging!

Packing school lunches can be fun and sustainable. To save on waste, consider investing in bentgo boxes or similar containers with dividers to separate and store lunches.

In a pinch, muffin wrappers or liners can also help organize and divide lunches to avoid food from touching. Pro tip: It also helps with portion control.

With these three tips, and a little practice, you will be a school lunch-prep pro in no time. As a bonus, check out the list below for some of my go to options from each category of our basic formula.

Protein – Pick One

  • Deli meat slices
  • Cheese sticks
  • Hummus
  • Chicken salad
  • Pre-packages chicken
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Chia seed pudding
  • Yogurt Nuts/trail mix (if allowed at your school)
  • Nut butter (if allowed at your school)

Carbohydrates – Pick One

  • Pasta (Pasta salad, Tortellini)
  • Rice
  • Muffins
  • Pretzels
  • Crackers
  • Goldfish
  • Tortillas

Fruit – Pick One

  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Orange slices
  • Applesauce
  • Melon
  • Grapes

Vegetables – Pick One

  • Bell Peppers
  • Cucumber
  • Celery sticks
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Carrots

Something fun – Pick One

  • Cookies
  • Fruit snacks
  • Chocolate chips
  • Pickles
  • Granola bars
  • Homemade protein balls
  • Popcorn
  • Candy – keep it mini!
  • Chocolate hummus

Weekly Recipe

Beef Stew with Fresh Mango

Jessica Lenahan

Authored By

Jessica Lenahan

Kinetiq Health Program Manager

As a Kinetiq Health Program Manager, Jessica works with her clients to develop unique wellness programs designed to improve the productivity and health of their employee demographic. Within this role, she engages in one-on-one health coaching, creates and implements health and wellness programs, and evaluates client-based needs to provide customized solutions to encourage a healthy workplace culture.

Meet Jessica