Written by Sarah Milano

The average school lunch consists of a white bread sandwich topped with deli meat and a slice of cheese, along with a sugary, packaged treat and a juice box. Easy to pack? Yes, but not a balanced meal. Set your children up for good eating habits by packing them a balanced lunch that is satisfying and healthy. Ideally, a balanced meal should include the following:

Vegetables & Fruits

It is advised that at least half of your plate is filled with vegetables and fruits for every meal. Since fruits are sweet, kids are usually open to eating them with their lunch. Good fruit options for school lunch include:

  • Apple
  • Orange
  • Banana
  • Pear
  • Peach
  • Grapes
  • Berries (strawberries, cherries, blueberries and raspberries)

Vegetables seem to have a stigma when it comes to kids. Now is not the time to force your child into eating a vegetable that has a strong taste such as asparagus, spinach or turnips. Instead, choose more mainstream vegetables that you can spice up a bit. Good options for school lunch include:

  • Baby carrots with a side of hummus
  • Celery spears
  • A side salad with lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes with a light dressing on the side


Protein is known to be the filling portion of a meal but it should not be the biggest focus. After fruits and vegetables, protein should fill a quarter of your plate. Since most school cafeterias cannot warm up your child’s lunch, focus on proteins that can be eaten cold or at room temperature.

It may take some thinking out of the box and choosing non-meat proteins but it can be done. Here are good protein options to pack in a lunch box:

  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Tuna fish
  • Nuts

Whole Grains

The final quarter of your child’s plate should be filled with grains. When possible, choose whole grains because they are more filling and keep blood sugar stable. Skip on the typical white bread sandwiches and fill them up with these ideas:


It is recommended that a serving of dairy be eaten along with each meal. This is a great source of calcium and vitamin D that kids need. Choose low fat and fat free options when possible. Great dairy lunch box options include:

  • A single serving carton of milk
  • A mozzarella cheese stick
  • Yogurt

This may seem like a lot of food but if you think of creative ways to put them together, you can feed your child a balanced meal that will actually be appealing to them. For example, you can make a salad full of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, grilled chicken and sliced almonds, along with an apple and a serving of milk. Another example is a whole grain tortilla filled with tuna fish, lettuce and chopped celery. Add a yogurt topped with sliced berries along with a bottle of water and your child will have a tasty, healthy lunch!

Packing a Balanced Meal Packing a Balanced Meal

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