Back to School Nutrition Part 2: Brown Bag Lunch Basics

Ideally, the early formative years of a child’s life include parents providing healthy foods and teaching children about healthy food choices. However, when our kids reach school age and as they progress through the grades, what their friends are eating and what a child’s peers consider socially acceptable foods start to take precedence. This is okay and a part of growing up. It is a stage that we must accept. Another occurrence that takes place is lunch trading or not eating their lunch altogether. The good news is that school lunch is typically the only meal kids are eating away from home. You can still provide healthy fun choices that increase a child’s likelihood of eating their lunch and there is ample opportunity to offer nutritious foods at home.

A successful brown bag lunch will include a variety of a child’s favorite choices of whole grains, proteins, fresh fruits or vegetables and a beverage, ideally milk or water. To increase appeal there should be a variety of colors, textures and flavors. Make foods fun such as creating small kabobs from fruit, meat and cheese. The following are some kid friendly nutritious brown bag lunch ideas:


  • Hummus, tomato, cucumber and feta cheese wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. This may be enough for two days lunch if cut in half.
  • Bean, rice and cheese burrito. To get more bang for your buck, make a batch of beans from a 1 pound bag of dried beans and whole grain brown rice that were prepared on the weekend. Reduced fat cheese is also a great option.
  • Homemade “snack packs”. Include crackers such as Ak-Mak or WASA, slices of reduced fat cheese, a couple slices from a chicken breast baked at home for a healthier alternative to deli meats, a fruit or vegetable option and even a couple chocolate Kisses along with 8 ounces of milk or water. Did you know that pre-made snack packs at the store that contain crackers, cheese and meat carry a whopping 22 grams of fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, and 1,600 milligrams of sodium, more salt than a young child should consume in an entire day.
  • Mini whole wheat bagels spread with whipped reduced fat cream cheese and with any variety of toppings that a child can choose from such as sliced cucumbers, shredded carrots or fresh berries.
  • Sandwiches made with whole wheat bread, a protein such as tuna salad or sliced chicken breast roasted at home and veggies such as grated carrots, sliced apples or lettuce and tomatoes.
  • Small fruit kabobs with melon balls, fruit chunks (dip apples into lemon juice to prevent browning), cheese or meat pieces.
  • All natural peanut butter and jelly sandwiches prepared anyway the kids like. I recommend a reduced sugar variety like Smucker’s Low Sugar jelly or mixed with a little honey and add fresh fruit or dried fruit. Be creative!