Healthy school lunch tips and recipes

A lunchtime break and healthy meal options are key to keeping children healthy during the school year.
January 25th, 2017

The hustle and bustle of getting a child’s lunch ready for school is a controlled chaos that most parents know all too well. Taking a few minutes, though, to think about and prepare healthy options will help kids stay alert through the school day — and keep them healthy until the final bell rings this spring.

a bowl of apples, oranges and grapes

For kids, lunch time means socializing with friends and then letting loose on the playground – both of which are important to the health of children. Here are a few ways to make school lunches healthier:

  • Opt to make your own lunch. Plan ahead lunches for the week and assemble some of these items ahead of time.Not able to pack a lunch every day? Keep an eye on the monthly school menu and pick and choose when it might be better for your child to take a lunch. Talk to your kids about healthy eating and bring up this topic with your provider at your next well child visit.
  • Encourage healthy drinks. Water is the best drink for children. Juices and sports drinks are loaded with sugar and can actually make children feel hungrier faster. Add some flavor and fun to the water by dropping some fresh fruit inside. Low-fat milk is also a great option for children because it provides calcium needed for healthy bone development.
  • Choose whole wheat bread for sandwiches. Whole grain breads have more protein and less sugar, so they keep your child’s energy levels up longer. For peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, use fruit preserves instead of jelly. Preserves are lower in sugar, but taste just as good.
  • Instead of potato chips, opt for whole grain alternatives. Seek out whole grain chips, whole wheat crackers, air-popped popcorn, or rice cakes. Combine sources of lean protein like nuts, peanut butter, yogurt or cheese with snacks to avoid afternoon low energy episodes.
  • Pack in some fruits and vegetables. It goes without saying that fruits and vegetables pack nutrients that can help children grow. To make them kid-friendly, chop them into tiny bite sizes or fun shapes.
  • Instead of pudding, try Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt has more protein than normal yogurt, and you can sneak in some fresh fruit as a topping.

Here are three simple and tasty recipes to make with kids:

Chicken Grape Wrap

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, boiled and cooled, or 2 cans chicken
  • 1 cup red grapes, cut in half
  • 6 ounces plain, low-fat yogurt
  • 4 leaves of green leaf or Romaine lettuce
  • 4 whole wheat tortillas

Shred chicken. Toss chicken, grapes, and yogurt in a large bowl until blended. Put  one lettuce leaf on each tortilla, spoon chicken mixture down the middle, roll like a burrito. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Makes four wraps.

California Tortilla Swirls

  • 1 whole wheat flour tortilla
  • 2 tablespoons softened Neufchatel cheese (reduced-fat cream cheese)
  • 2-3 ounces thinly sliced turkey
  • 2 large romaine lettuce leaves
  • 2 slices tomato
  • 2 slices avocado (dip in lemon juice to avoid turning brown)
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds

On the top of the tortilla, spread a thin layer of Neufchatel cheese over the entire surface. Then place evenly over the surface of the tortilla: thinly sliced turkey, romaine lettuce leaves, sliced tomato, sliced avocado, and sunflower seeds. Roll up burrito fashion, pressing tightly. Secure with toothpick. Chill for approximately 30 minutes. Slice into cross sectional pieces. Place in covered container to avoid drying out.

Muffin Pan Frittatas

  • 6 eggs
  • ½ cup milk, preferably skim or 1%
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese, preferably low-fat or 2% cheese
  • ¾ cup chopped zucchini
  • ¼ cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped red onion

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Beat the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl until blended. Add the cheese, zucchini, pepper and onion. Mix well. Spoon evenly into 12 greased muffin cups which hold about 1/4 cup each. Bake for 20-22 minutes, just until set. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes. Remove from the cups and serve warm.

Nutrition Analysis per serving (6) for frittatas:

Calories: 164, Fat: 11g, Sodium: 296mg, Carbohydrate: 3g, Protein: 12g

Makes 6 servings (2 frittatas per serving).

Tip: This is a great way to use colorful vegetables such as zucchini, onions, and red bell peppers. For a quick breakfast solution, bake the night before and refrigerate. Warm in the microwave in the morning.

About the author

UCHealth is an innovative, nonprofit health system that delivers the highest quality medical care with an excellent patient experience. With 24,000 employees, UCHealth includes 12 acute-care full-service hospitals and hundreds of physicians across Colorado, southern Wyoming and western Nebraska. With University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus as its academic anchor and the only adult academic medical center in the region, UCHealth pushes the boundaries of medicine, providing advanced treatments and clinical trials and improving health through innovation.