How to Pack a Better Lunchbox

So you’ve had a break in packing that same old lunchbox, but now it’s time to send the kids off to school—and reinvent their lunch.

Lucky for you, nutrition expert, Melissa Riley, RD, clinical nutrition manager at Meritus Medical Center, tells you how to make the grade for a better lunchbox.

Melissa’s 10 tips for better eating

  1. Involve your kids in the lunch-making process for improved buy-in. Explain the importance of healthy nutrition and involve them in the meal planning process. This partnership teaches your children the value of meal planning and allows them to take responsibility for their own health and nutrition. By playing an integral role in the planning and packing of their lunches, they are more likely to eat the healthy lunch rather than trade it in for an unhealthy alternative.
  2. Try to use whole grains in place of refined carbohydrates by using whole wheat bread versus white bread.
  3. Always include a source of protein such as meat, fish, poultry, nuts, cheese and beans. Protein-rich foods tend to keep you full longer.
  4. Don’t forget to include fruits and vegetables which are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Get creative and serve cubed fruit with yogurt. Sneak in some veggies by garnishing sandwiches with spinach and grated carrots.
  5. If your child isn’t a milk drinker, find other ways to slip in calcium, like packing yogurt or cheese cubes.
  6. Steer clear of pre-packaged snacks as they are often heavily processed and contain preservatives and artificial ingredients. For busy parents, you can purchase pre-packaged carrots, sugar snap peas, celery sticks, grapes and apple slices found in your grocery store’s produce section.
  7. Design your own pre-packaged lunch by purchasing segmented containers. Buy larger containers for sandwiches, soups and salads and smaller containers for salad dressings, dips and nuts.
  8. Make the most of leftovers. Plan dinners that can be easily reused for lunches the following day as an entrée or embellishment to other foods such as tossed salad with leftover chopped chicken breast.
  9. Use easy-open containers for younger kids. There’s nothing worse than a hungry kindergartener waiting for help to open her applesauce.
  10. Be sure to keep food safety in mind. Invest in a high-quality lunch container that has plenty of room and is capable of maintaining food at proper temperatures. Use a thermos for hot foods and a reusable ice pack for cold foods. In place of a reusable ice pack, freeze a bottle of water to double as an ice pack and a cold beverage.

Lunches to love

  • Fresh tomatoes, cheese cubes and salami (pack the night before to mix the flavors)
  • Ham, turkey, and cheese rolled up together, sliced and skewered with pretzel sticks
  • Whole wheat wrap, spread with humus and crumbled bacon, chopped tomatoes and romaine lettuce
  • Peanut butter on whole wheat wrap sprinkled with bacon and sliced bananas
  • Pita pocket lined with cream cheese and filled with turkey, spinach leaves and cucumber slices
  • Rotisserie chicken with thinly sliced carrots and barbeque sauce heated and served on a whole grain bun
  • Pita pocket with thinly sliced roast beef, Swiss cheese and store-bought cole slaw
  • Strawberry and cream cheese sandwich on whole grain bread
  • Bow tie pasta tossed with fresh-cut veggies and sprinkled with parmesan cheese