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August 4, 2021

Healthy Back to School Lunches

It’s that time of year again – back to school! Part of going back to school is lunches and when it comes to packing lunches for kids, we can get in a rut. Sandwiches are an easy go-to and have their place, but the same mayo and mustard topped with deli meat can leave kids and parents feeling a little bored after a while. Here is our go-to “recipe” for a well-balanced lunch that is sure to satisfy:

Lean protein (meat, eggs, or meat alternative) + fruit and vegetable + whole grain or high fiber starch + milk product or calcium-fortified milk substitute

Consider adding in a sweet treat a few times a week—when we allow access to sweets and don’t make a big deal about them, kids are more likely to learn moderation around these foods.

Here are five non-sandwich lunch ideas to try this school year with your kids.

  1. Turkey roll ups: roll up your child’s favorite deli meat with cheese, leafy greens, cucumbers, and red peppers (or any other vegetables). Add a fruit, whole grain chip or cracker (tortilla chips, Sunchips, Triscuits) with salsa and some yogurt if desired. Try to limit deli meat to two times per week and opt for lean options like turkey, chicken breast, or roast beef lunch meat from the deli counter, instead of pre-packaged. These often have less sodium and preservatives.
  2. Brunch box: mini-egg muffins (throw in some chopped vegetables and cheese) or hard boiled eggs, whole grain waffles or try a pancake sandwich (I know we said no sandwiches here, but a nut butter pancake sandwich is fun for anyone), sliced apple with some nut butter and milk on the side to drink.
  3. BBQ chicken quesadilla: use leftover chicken (or rotisserie) to make a tasty twist on a classic meal. For some extra fiber, serve with some black bean and corn salsa (a healthy starch), and add some heart-healthy fat with a guacamole cup. You can add vegetables into the quesadilla or serve some crunchy vegetables on the side. Plus, the cheese adds some calcium. Classic quesadillas with grilled chicken or black beans and salsa work too.
  4. Copycat “Starbucks” Protein Box: hard-boiled egg (you can pre-season with a little salt and pepper, if desired), whole grain crackers (such as Triscuits), cucumber slices (or cut up your kid’s favorite crunchy vegetable), grapes and a nut butter. For some calcium, consider a Laughing Cow spreadable cheese or cottage cheese cup.
  5. Hummus and pita plate: hummus, pita triangles, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, grapes and a protein option—such as shredded rotisserie chicken or a deli meat. Add some low-fat milk or calcium-fortified milk substitute for drinking.

Take some of the meal-prep pressure off yourself by allowing older children to help pack their own lunches. By age 10-11, kids naturally start developing better food management skills. They may need some guidance or input at first but encouraging independent lunch packing is one of the best ways to help teach about balanced and nourishing meals.

Here’s to a great school year filled with fun and nutritious lunch options to help your kid grow and develop.

For more tips for packing school lunches or family meal planning, schedule a consult with our nutrition team by calling 919-237-1337 option 4 or schedule online at


Christina Dauer is a Registered Dietitian with the Commission on Dietetic Registration and a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist with the Certification Board for Diabetes Care and Education. She completed her Master of Public Health in Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduation, she took a job as a Registered Dietitian at the Structure House Weight Management Program in Durham, NC.

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