Packing a Tasty Lunch for Kids

I know a lot of kids would be happy with eating chicken fingers or mac and cheese every day, but there are other healthy and yummy options out there. Check out our favorite recipes to try.
Kid-Friendly Lunch

How many times can a kid eat chicken nuggets or fish sticks for lunch? I know a lot of kids would be happy with them day after day, but there are other healthy and yummy options out there. Would you believe that my 7-year old son now eats cucumber-avocado rolls and chicken wraps for lunch? Proof: the photo above!

Here are some tips for packing a lunch that will tease your kids' taste buds.

What Goes Into a Well-Balanced Lunch?

Nothing too difficult or tasteless, I promise! Teaching kids to eat 3 balanced meals with 2 or 3 small, healthy snacks every day is important to start at a young age. Ideally, your kid's daily meals should contain a whole-grain carbohydrate, a lean protein and veggies. Whole grains (e.g. whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice) offer fiber to help regulate a healthy digestive system. Protein (e.g. skinless chicken, beef, pork, fish and eggs) helps build up body tissues and muscles; protein also contains iron, an important mineral for your blood. Add in some cheese or a glass of milk and you cover the calcium needed for growing bones.

Every bite your kid takes should be packed with nutrients -- that's where the veggies come in. Are you convinced your kid hates ALL veggies? Many of my younger clients (I'm a child obesity counselor, too) wrinkle their noses when I even mention vegetables, but I always find at least one or two that they "sort of" like. Make sure those veggies your kid likes are on their plate every day and keep offering a variety of new options, too. You’ll be surprised when one day they give the new stuff a try. I've also discovered that many kids get their "yuck veggies!" attitude from parents, who may also unknowingly wrinkle their nose at certain produce, too. Remember, parents and caregivers are role models!

Plan the Meals Together

Don't tell your kid what he has to eat. Talk to him about what he likes (yes, communication!). Your kid may want a pear instead of an apple or celery instead of carrots. And don't just serve the foods plain. Offer options -- they may be more likely to eat those fruits and veggies if they have some nut butter or ranch dressing to dip it in (ask!). Kids are more likely to want a healthy, packed lunch -- and actually eat it -- if they’re part of the planning and packing process.

Lunches to Go

Sandwiches and wraps are quick lunches that are easy to pack -- they're easy to pack with good flavor, too. Use a tablespoon of condiments like mustard, light mayo, ketchup or just leave the sandwich plain. Of course, make sure you pack anything perishable safely. Check out these lunch-packing tips for that.

For drinks, water is always the winner -- for extra flavor, just throw a slice of lemon or lime in the bottle. For a sweeter choice, add in a 4 or 6-ounce 100% fruit juice. If the meal doesn't already include dairy foods like cheese or yogurt, low-fat milk is another option. For a once-or-twice-a-week treat, my son gets a reduced-fat chocolate milk. Big no's: sodas, juice-flavored drinks, packaged iced teas, lemonades or other highly-sweetened, bottled beverages.

    Here are some more simple ideas that my younger clients love:
  • PB & J on whole-wheat bread, a fresh fruit, 1 cup of low-fat milk
  • Ham or turkey and 1 slice of low-fat cheese on whole wheat bread, topped with lettuce and tomato (optional: 1 tablespoon of the kids' favorite condiment)
  • Cheese sandwich with 2 slices of cheese and tomato slices
  • Grilled chicken wrap with lettuce, tomato and 1 tablespoon of ranch dressing
  • Hummus on pita with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes on the side
  • Vegetable sushi rolls

As for my son's beloved chicken wrap, it's a simple mix that we throw together, cut in half and split:

1 8-inch tortilla
4 ounces grilled chicken (even leftovers from the night before work)
1/2 cup shredded lettuce
1 tablespoon ranch dressing
Lunch at Home

When eating at home, there's more of a chance for versatility. Whip up a lightened-up batch of faves like mac and cheese and chicken fingers (please, not the boxed or packaged frozen stuff!). If you’re time-starved on weeknights, set aside time on the weekend to cook up 2 or 3 easy lunches and freeze them in single portions. Label each lunch and let your child choose their own “frozen lunch” every day.

    Here are some more lunch ideas to try:
TELL US: What's your kid's favorite yummy (but still healthy) lunch choice?

Next Up

The One Ingredient You Need to Make the Best Boxed Mac and Cheese

Sorry, butter and milk — you’ve officially been replaced.

Mini Mac and 'Shrooms — Meatless Monday

Upgrade your macaroni-and-cheese game by adding hearty, earthy mushrooms with the help of Food Network Magazine's easy recipe.

Spinach and Artichoke Macaroni and Cheese — Meatless Monday

Cozy up to winter comfort food without the calories using Food Network Kitchen's surprisingly healthy recipe for macaroni and cheese.

How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last In the Fridge?

Plus, genius ways to use up cooked chicken.

How to Shred Chicken

Here, two ways to make it - including a fast hack.

6 Ways to Enjoy Buffalo Chicken

From salads and subs to pizza and dip, learn all-new ways to celebrate the classic flavors of Buffalo chicken just in time for game day.

4 Easy Ways to Meal Prep Chicken

All you need is four recipes to make 16 different chicken dishes.

Best 5 Grilled Chicken Recipes for Summer

Check out these grilled chicken dishes for summertime cooking from Guy, Bobby and Alton more Food Network chefs.

How to Tell If Chicken Is Bad

And how long does it last in the fridge?

These Baked Chicken Dinners Are Perfect for Picky Eaters

Save that boxed mac and cheese for a rainy day.