healthy lunchbox

Back to school with a balanced, budget friendly lunch box

It’s back to school time! Let’s talk about packing healthy lunches with your kids – planning ahead can save time and money. A nutritious lunch provides a boost of energy to get children through the day. Lunchtime is a time to relax and recharge with a well-balanced, satisfying meal. Research shows the benefits of a healthy, balanced lunch for children are increased attention and productivity in the classroom, better cognitive functioning and enhanced mood and stamina.

Balance lunch boxes with protein + fruit/vegetable + whole grains + healthy fats. A well-balanced, high-energy lunch includes a good dose of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Try these nourishing lunch ideas:

  • Brown rice bowl with sliced chicken breast, pork or beef tenderloin, avocado, tomato, shredded Romaine lettuce and apple slices
  • Whole grain wrap with tuna fish mixed with minced cucumber, tomato, dill and a dollop of plain Greek yogurt, Dijon mustard and two mandarin oranges
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread with a handful of snap peas and cherry tomatoes
  • Hummus on a whole grain wrap with lettuce, tomato and cucumbers and a medium apple
  • Grilled cheese on whole grain bread with a handful of grapes and baby carrots
  • Turkey or roast beef, lettuce and tomato on whole grain bread with a cheese round and strawberries

Here are some tips to make budget-friendly, healthy lunches:

Make it portable and planet-friendly: Use reusable, eco-friendly containers with compartments for sandwiches, wraps, salads, veggies, fruits and cheese. This way kids can reuse the containers.

Batch cook for days ahead. On the weekend, make soup and chili and pack in thermos containers. Bake extra chicken breasts, pork or beef tenderloin to refrigerate and dice into Caesar salads or slice into sandwiches and wraps.

Buy fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk or on sale. Check out grocery story flyers for sales, coupons or deals on produce. To save money, buy frozen produce. Most frozen produce has just as many nutrients as fresh produce, and it lasts longer.

Do not overfill lunch boxes. Avoid food and money being tossed in the garbage by portion controlling your child’s lunch with age-appropriate size sandwiches, pieces of fruit, yogurt and/or chips. For kindergarteners pack a half sandwich, apple slices and four-ounce yogurt or a small cheese round. For a middle-school child, a whole sandwich, a medium size apple and a single-serve bag of baked chips. Encourage your child to bring uneaten food home.

Vicki Shanta Retelny RDN LDN

Vicki Retelny, RDN, LDN

About Victoria

Vicki Shanta Retelny is a lifestyle nutrition expert, author of Total Body Diet for Dummies and culinary consultant who lives in Chicago with her husband, two children and a pet pug. She blogs at

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