By Karling Draper, Registered Dietitian, Thunder Bay District Health Unit

For many parents, coming up with tasty and nourishing school lunches for their kids that don’t break the bank or take forever to prepare can be a daily challenge. You might feel pressured by all the fancy and creative lunches on social media. Or maybe you’re struggling to find things your child will actually eat. Stick to the basics: start with whole foods, pack something from each food group, and get the kids involved. 

  • Vegetables and fruit: Cucumbers, carrots, celery, peppers, cauliflower, and broccoli all provide a good crunch and are fun to dip. Fruits like apples, oranges, melon, and grapes are easy to pack and travel well.
  • Whole grain foods: Send whole grain crackers, cereals, and breads for sandwiches, but switch it up with bagels, buns, or wraps too. Be careful not to rely on refined grains like frozen pizzas, granola bars, and dried noodle soups. While these items are quick and easy, they don’t provide the fibre and nutrients kids need, and can be pricey.
  • Protein foods: It’s not just about meat; this is where dairy and plant proteins belong, too. Get creative with alternatives like egg salad, bean dip, roasted chickpeas, and sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Watch out for highly sweetened yogurts in fancy packaging. Regular varieties with a bit of fat and sweetened with fruit are just as flavourful and offer more nutrition.

Getting stuck in a lunch rut is no fun for anyone. Shake it up and offer different foods throughout the week to keep lunches appealing. Be sure to pack some good thirst quenchers too, but skip the sugary drinks like chocolate milk, fruit juice, pop, fruit punches, and sports drinks. Water, white milk, and unsweetened soy beverages are best. Also, in light of the current pandemic, remind children not to share or trade any items from their lunch bags. Send them with a refillable water bottle to drink from throughout the day.

Consider packing a napkin to spread out on their desk as a placemat and cutlery so they don’t have to eat with their hands. Practice proper hand washing at home so it becomes second nature. 

For more lunch ideas, tips, and tricks, check out the Balanced School Day Lunches handout at