How to Pack a School Lunch Your Kid Will Actually Eat

It’s back to school time, which means back to school lunches. You want it to be healthy. Your kids want it to be a lunch box filled with gummy worms. Here's how to pack a school lunch your kid will eat (versus trade).

By: Amanda Cargill / 08/07/2019

Kid eating lunch


When it comes to picky eaters, choice and variety are key, and nothing says choice and variety like multiple compartments filled with foods of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Shop for a Bento Box with your child, and let them choose the style they like. If they’ve participated in the lunch making, they’re more likely to participate in the lunch eating.


A spoonful of sugar may have helped the medicine go down, but when it comes to packing a healthy school lunch, shapes are what count. Cut cheese into triangles; slice carrots into thin strips and bundle with twist ties; pack an “all round” lunch (a hard-boiled egg, grape tomatoes, mandarins, a healthy sandwich on wheat toast cut into a circle). The more visually interesting it is, the more your little learner is likely to eat it.


There’s a reason kids love Lunchables. (Hint: It’s not because of the processed cheese.) It’s because kids like to a) build things, and b) feel like they⁠—versus you⁠—are deciding what they eat. Pack an assortment of whole grain crackers, sliced cheeses and leftover steak or chicken. Add grape tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and thinly sliced carrots with a dip like ranch or hummus, and finish with fruits they can pick at and share. (Think strawberries, grapes, and orange segments.) You’re guaranteed to get an empty lunchbox back.


You say kebabs, your kids say, “Yes, please!” Where the above DIY tip for packing a healthy school lunch centers on your child building their own meal, this tip is about un-building. (And as every parent knows, kids love to un-build. Translation: tear, break, drop, and otherwise destroy stuff.) Whether a fruit, veggie, or protein skewer, your kid will appreciate the tactile component.


Pinwheels are small and colorful, two things kids love. Instead of making a boring sandwich, spread a bit of cream cheese on a tortilla then layer leftovers—chicken, meat, tofu, veggies, anything works—by color and roll it all up. Slice your wrap in quarters and hold together with toothpicks that have “flags” (i.e. Post-its) with funny phrases written on them: “You’re my roll model!” and “Don’t call me a wrap. I’m a pinwheel!” are fun.


While choice and variety work for some kids, too much choice and variety freaks most kids out. (Adults too, in fact.) Instead, match your child’s sack lunch to your child’s eating habits at home, and keep in mind that kids—young kids, especially—generally don’t eat big meals in a single sitting.


Yes, you read that right. Let them eat cake. Or a donut. Or a piece of chocolate. Not a 14-layer, grownup-sized piece of cake, and not every day, of course. But making space for enjoying tasty things that aren’t 100% healthy is, ironically, the definition of health. How’s that, you ask? Because it helps kids understand moderation and discourages deprivation and viewing food as a punishment. Just make sure the cake—or cookie or cupcake or whatever you choose—is the exception, not the rule.

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