by ERIK HOGEN, M.D.; Scripps Clinic, Rancho Bernardo

Healthy Back-to-School Lunches Kids Will Love

Six Tips for Packing Nutritious Meals

adv_scrippshealth_hogenA nutritious midday meal gives children the staying power to sustain them through the day. Start their school year off right with healthy lunches that they will enjoy.

Packed Lunches Made Easy
Creating fresh, nutritious, and cost-effective lunches doesn’t have to be complicated. A little bit of preparation can go a long way.

Set your child up for success with these six tips:

1. Make healthy eating a habit at home
When children are used to eating foods from the five food groups, they are more willing to eat those same foods for lunch anywhere, including school. The five groups, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), are: grains, which includes any food made from wheat, rice, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain; vegetables, including dark green, starchy, red and orange, and beans and peas; fruits; protein foods, which includes meats, poultry, seafood, beans, eggs, and nuts; and dairy, including all fluid milk products and foods made from milk that retain their calcium content.

Choose foods with a high nutrient content (protein, minerals, and vitamins) compared with the percentage of calories, fat, and sodium. Small amounts of oils, fats that are liquid at room temperature, are also recommended by the USDA. Although they are not a food group, they provide essential nutrients.

In addition to the food groups, other components to consider for healthy eating are added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. While there is room for some added sugars or saturated fats occasionally, limit the amount your kids eat. Sweet treats such as cakes, cookies, candy, and sugary drinks have a lot of calories, but few nutrients. If you include them in their lunch, serve bite-size portions.

2. Involve children in meal preparation, including their lunches
This not only empowers children and promotes a feeling of responsibility, but also makes your child more likely to eat the lunch. Keep the pantry stocked with healthy staples and post a list of ideas on the refrigerator from which kids can choose. You can designate part of your kitchen as the lunch-packing station where the entire family can get the meal ready for the next day.

3. Give kids a choice
When preparing lunch, ask your child which healthy option they would prefer — such as a banana or strawberries. By giving them a choice, they learn how to compromise and hone their decision-making skills.

4. Mix and match
Using the five food groups as a guide, toss in whole grain crackers with peanut butter, cut-up veggies with hummus, Greek yogurt with berries, or a slice of cheese on top of whole grain bread, pita bread or tortillas. The goal is to have variety and color, and to include three to five of the food groups at each meal.

5. Make good nutrition fun
Get creative and have fun with healthy foods. Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes out of sandwiches, cheese, or deli meats. Using a bento box can help you create an appealing, colorful lunch and keep the food items separated, which is often important to kids. Consider having a theme lunch, such as a pirate meal.

6. Nix juice and soda
As much as kids love drinking soda and juice, water is the best drink for them. Fat-free or one-percent milk is also a good option because it’s packed with calcium and vitamin D. Let your child pick out their favorite water bottle and throw in a few pieces of frozen fruit if they complain water is too boring.

Using these tips, you and your family are off to a healthy and fun start to the school year. Using these tips, you and your family are off to healthy and fun start to the school year.


Erik Hogen, M.D., is chairman of the Scripps Clinic Department of Pediatrics and provides care for newborns, children, and teens. Dr. Hogen enjoys relating to his young patients and is skilled at making them feel comfortable. When he is not caring for patients, Dr. Hogen enjoys running, gardening, and astronomy.


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Looking for a new doctor? To find a Scripps physician near you call 760-405-8187 or visit scripps.org/92131lunches.