55 Healthy & Cheap School Lunch Ideas

by in American Sickcare System, Attention Deficit Disorder, Diet Tips, Kitchen Sink, Pediatrics September 21, 2008

I smelled it in the air the other night.

That first cold crisp taste of autumn after a hot summer day.

That nervous tension quivering around me.

That bustling sensation in the air that can only be caused by millions of children and parents simultaneously scrambling to gather last minute glue sticks, scissors, trapper keepers, and lunch boxes.

What will I wear?

Who will I sit next to on the bus?
What will my schedule be like?
Will I be able to find my classroom?
Will my friends have my same lunch schedule?
Are those big bullies going to be there?
I hope I like my teacher!

Oh my gosh I feel SO STRESSED!

What is that?

Oh, wait. That’s right. I don’t have to go back to school anymore. I guess I can just relax. I can hold off on trapper keeper shopping for now.


Back to school time, can be quite stressful for children as they adjust to a new schedule, new teacher, or new school. Keeping the home schedule consistent is prudent during this time. You can also ease the stress by packing them a healthy lunch from home.

A home-made lunch ensures your child is properly nourished to cope with these new stressors, while also providing a bit of the comforts of home. I still remember hanging up my lunch bag in the coat room, a cozy symbol of comfort, waiting there for me if I needed it.

The key ingredients to a successful school lunch are protein and fiber. They will serve to keep your child’s concentration up, and stress levels down, as explained in my article What to Eat for Better Concentration. Also, parents really need to understand that most lunch meats are processed with sodium nitrites that are implicated in increasing rates of childhood cancers as discussed in my article Hot Dogs: Foe of Kitchen Table.

Be sure to try these new lunch ideas at home first before leaving your kids stranded in the cafeteria with some freaky lunch that other kids may make fun of. For the first few weeks of school, pack all their most familiar and favorite foods before making any major changes.

I have collaborated with my sister, a teacher and mom, and my friend Heidi the author of “Healthnut Mom Wannabe” to develop this simple list of whole foods lunch menu items that most kids will eat.

Here is the list of healthy whole foods lunch ideas to feed your children:

  1. Leftovers from last night’s dinner can be quickly packed in a thermos. Fill the thermos first with hot water to ensure the meal stays warm through lunch time. Here are some favorites to try:
  2. Spaghetti.
  3. Your family’s favorite casserole.
  4. Salmon, veggies, and brown rice.
  5. Chicken, veggies, and brown rice.
  6. Chili and rice or whole grain crackers.
  7. Stir-fry and brown rice.
  8. Soup in a thermos with whole grain crackers. Kids especially love:
  9. Chicken noodle soup.
  10. Vegetable soup.
  11. Minestrone soup.
  12. Tomato soup.
  13. Yogurt, fruit, granola, and nuts.
  14. Cottage cheese and fruit.
  15. Chicken and bean burrito on a whole grain tortilla.
  16. Pita bread stuffed with hummus, sprouts, and tomato.
  17. Guacamole and blue corn chips.
  18. Turkey sandwich on whole grain bread.
  19. Vegetarian BLT sandwich (use veggie bacon).
  20. Almond butter, bananas, and a dash of honey on whole wheat bread.
  21. Veggie burger.
  22. Whole grain bagel and cream cheese.
  23. Vegetables should always be included. Here are a few favorites:
  24. Carrot sticks.
  25. Celery (add almond butter, or cream cheese, and raisins).
  26. Snap peas.
  27. Edamame (soy beans).
  28. Broccoli and ranch to dip it in.
  29. Sprouts can be added to sandwiches.
  30. Smear avocados on sandwiches for essential fats.
  31. Red pepper slices.
  32. Cucumbers.
  33. Whole grain crackers are a great source of protein and fiber. Pair them with:
  34. White cheese or cream cheese (yellow cheese is high in saturated fat).
  35. Hard boiled eggs.
  36. Nitrite free lunch meat.
  37. Hummus.
  38. Nut butters like cashew and almond butter. (Peanuts are highly allergenic, try to rotate your nut butters to prevent allergy).
  39. Nuts are an excellent source of protein, fiber, and fat. Try to do raw nuts if possible:
  40. Cashews.
  41. Almonds.
  42. Pistachios.
  43. Mixed nuts.
  44. Trail Mix.
  45. Fruit is always a school lunch favorite. Here are a few that pack well:
  46. Apples.
  47. Oranges.
  48. Peaches.
  49. Pears.
  50. Cantaloupe.
  51. Honeydew.
  52. Bananas.
  53. Raisins.
  54. Dried blueberries, apricots, pineapple rings, or other favorite dried fruit.
  55. Water, rice milk, soy milk, or 2% cow milk. Kids don’t need juice!

Please do add your favorite healthy lunch ideas to the comments section, for all to enjoy!

Remember, if you don’t want your child to become yet another American diabetes and obesity statistic, it is imperative that you gradually switch your family to a “Whole Foods Diet”. Develop healthy habits in your children NOW to prevent disease.

Don’t let the media pressure you in to buying unhealthy junk “designed for children”. Put an end to those crummy cheese and cracker processed “Junkables” that are so tempting to send your kids off with. The reality though is that most processed meals intended for children are exactly what are causing the childhood obesity epidemic in America.

Thanks for stopping by my kitchen table, please share these simple lunch ideas with any other parents that will benefit!

~Dr. Nicole Sundene

  1. very nice article, so interesting
    thanks for sharing

  2. Thanks for this Doc! I just was told the other day that I shouldn’t feed my kids lunchables and wasn’t sure what else would be easy to pack. I guess hot dogs are out too.

  3. What a great list! I printed this out and taped it to the inside of my pantry for those busy rainy days that I know I will be scrambling to put some lunch ideas together.

  4. …and you thought my eating habits were bad, just wait until I tell you about my jojo’s…omg what am I doing to him? I am going to have to work on this list!


  5. Hi SA- What a great idea! And a flattering one…glad it will help you make last minute decisions.

  6. Hi Missmatchmaker! Progress not perfection. It can also be tough to suddenly change your kid’s diet. Make gradual changes so it doesn’t turn in to an energy battle. Older kids can read this list and pick out the things that they like. Starting with their favorites is the best bet and a fabulous way to make them feel involved.

  7. Thank you Dr. Nicole!

  8. […] Be sure to try these new lunch ideas at home first before leaving your kids stranded in the cafeteria with some “freaky lunch” that other kids may make fun of as discussed in my article “55 Healthy School Lunch Ideas”. […]

  9. Wow, now I’m starving. Somebody pass the guacamole and blue corn chips pronto!

  10. Apples with peanut butter, celery with peanut butter.

  11. Great additions Shirley! Thanks 😀

  12. Heidi, the healthnut lead me to your website, I haven’t any kids, but I feel like one sometimes. I particularly will try Edamame for a lunch treat – great post- i’ll be back

    Jesse Sherer
    Living Infinitely

  13. Always innovative, always informative and always helpful with the best suggestions to motivate and please. Thanks, Doc Nicole!

  14. Thank you so much for the above ideas. My little one started kindergarten two weeks ago, and if I fix her another sandwich for lunch we’ll both turn into turkeys! Don’t know if it’s okay to ask a question, so if not just ignore…my little one is picky, and I’ve tried slipping in some of your above ideas into her lunchbox only to receive them back at the end of the day. I’m concerned about sending items safely to school at room temperature until lunch. Any ideas? Thank you again.

  15. I want to save money. I’m going to high school. The food there is so expensive it makes me angry. im going to not buy any food at the cafeteria because its to expensive. thanks for the ideas. it takes alot to fill me up. im going to experimate with saving money and trying to live cheap.

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