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A Week of Healthy, Easy School Lunches

In the US, two-thirds of children’s calories come from ultra-processed foods. Too many cookies, crackers, snack cakes, pizzas, and ice cream are just a few items on the list of ultra-processed foods that can increase the risk for childhood obesity and health problems down the road. Starting healthy habits early in the year such as packing a healthy lunch and establishing bedtime routines helps set up for a year of success.

Many parents worry whether their child is getting the nutrients they need. USDA’s MyPlate is a good place to start. For lunch, it’s important to aim for at least 3 out of the five food groups of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy to ensure balance. At snack time, include at least two of the food groups. Making half of their grains whole grains helps boost fullness and long-lasting energy.

Afterschool snacks can help cater to sports and pre-teen and teen growth spurts. Here are some healthy, minimally processed snacks to include:

  • Apple slices and nut butter
  • Unsalted trail mix
  • Smoothies are a great way to incorporate calcium, fruits and veggies
  • Fruit and yogurt
  • Whole wheat toast with nut butter and bananas
  • Hummus and veggies
  • Veggie and hummus pinwheels

Need inspiration for balanced school lunches? These easy options cater to all of the nutrients kids needs and some can be prepared in under 5 minutes.

  • Healthier Lunchable – English muffin pizzas with marinara, veggies, cheese and a side fruit + milk
  • Taco Tuesday – two-ingredient slow cooker salsa chicken with veggies, cheese and street tacos and a side fruit +milk
  • Mediterranean Wrap – whole wheat pita with grilled chicken and veggies and a side fruit + milk
  • Stuffed Cucumber Bites – cucumbers filled with tuna salad or flavored tuna packs with pasta salad and fruit skewers + milk
  • Mexican Pinwheels – a vegetarian wrap filled with veggies and black beans with a side salsa for dip. Served with mixed fruit + milk

Healthier Lunchable

  • Toasted whole wheat English muffin
  • Marinara sauce
  • Low-sodium turkey pepperoni
  • Cheese
  • Side fruit
  • Side milk

Taco Tuesday

  • 2-ingredient slow cooker salsa chicken (chicken breast, can of salsa cooked on low for 4 hours)
  • Veggies
  • Cheese
  • Street tacos
  • Side fruit
  • Side milk

Mediterranean Wrap

  • Whole wheat pita bread
  • Grilled chicken
  • Veggies
  • Hummus
  • Side fruit
  • Side of milk

Mexican Pinwheels

  • Tortilla wrap with corn, diced tomatoes, avocado, lettuce, cheese, black beans
  • Salsa for dipping
  • Mixed fruit
  • Side milk

Stuffed Cucumbers

  • Cucumbers with tuna salad or flavored tuna packet
  • Pasta salad
  • Fruit Kabobs
  • Side milk

Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan based in Detroit. A native of Enköping, Sweden, she moved to Knoxville, Tennessee where she later earned a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition with a minor in Business Administration and holds a Master of Science in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Tennessee. Passionate about the science of nutrition and behavior, Shanthi has experience working in clinical nutrition, public health and teaching in the university setting. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, working on art and spending time with family.

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