Header "Building a balanced school lunch" over a packed lunch image

Tips for Building a Balanced and Affordable School Lunch

It’s the time parents everywhere have been waiting for. School is back in session! Looking for healthy and affordable lunch ideas? Whether you choose to pack lunch for your children or have them eat at the school cafeteria, it is important for them to have a balanced meal. Fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains, and dairy are all important for a balanced diet. Packing a lunch or taking advantage of your school’s healthy lunch program is an easy way to put your mind at ease that their lunches give them all they need to keep growing. Chapa-De’s Registered Dietitian, Cheyenne Mulder offers these tips for ensuring your child gets nutritious meals that they will eat.  


Tips on What to Pack in a Lunch

We all know the tried and true sandwiches of traditional lunches. Foods like this can be easier to pack for lunch because they do not need to be refrigerated, or they do not squish as easily in a lunch pail. However, fresh fruits and veggies are great options to freshen up those lunch boxes and add some nutritious color. Here are some great options to start: 

  • Grapes 
  • Cherry tomatoes 
  • Apples 
  • Carrot sticks  


Make It Fun

Eating the same type of lunch every day can quickly lose its appeal. Presenting food in a fun way can help inspire children to not only eat it, but all of it! Try these fun and balanced lunch ideas: 

  • Homemade “Lunchables”: crackers, sliced deli meat and cheese, apple slices and carrot sticks 
  • Turkey Roll-Ups: place sliced turkey and cheese on a tortilla. Roll it up and slice. Serve with cherry tomatoes and a mandarin orange 
  • Snack Platters: pretzels and hummus or bean dip with olives and grapes 


Time & Money Saving Tip!

Did you know repackaged fruits and veggies can have just as much nutrition as fresh produce? They will also last longer. Buying prepackaged makes it easy to toss in something nutritious while also saving you money on plastic baggies or tupperware that the kids may never bring back. When buying foods like fruit cups and applesauce pouches, be sure to look for the ones that say 100% juice and with no added sugar to keep these tasty snacks as healthy as they can be. 


Introducing New Foods

We’ve all had those days where we spend time on a healthy and tasty meal to only have the kids refuse to even try it. While this may be frustrating, it is important for children to have a positive relationship with the food they eat. Forcing or pressuring kids to eat certain dishes or to try new things can have a lasting impact on their relationship with food and their health. Instead, make trying new foods fun and do not expect them to finish it all. Remember that it is okay to not like new foods at first! It can take children and adults up to 10 times trying a new food before deciding if they like it.  


Still having problems? Here are some tips to help encourage kids to eat:

  1. Present foods in a fun way 
  2. Offer new foods often and multiple times 
  3. Introduce new foods alongside ones they love – for example, try mixing in some blueberries if your child loves grapes 


Free School Lunches

All public and charter schools in California are required to provide free breakfast and lunch to any students who request it. Students in grade TK through 12th can get these meals free of charge each school day. This is a great resource in helping ensure our community is fed and healthy. To learn more about the program at your child’s school, we encourage you to contact the school or district directly.  

Some children may not want to try a school lunch if they have heard bad things about them from older family members. However, there have been many programs to improve the quality and taste of school meals over the years. The meals are designed to have tasty, nutritious, and balanced food options for all children. Not to mention the added benefit of a diverse menu! 

Other students feel embarrassed about eating school lunch. Whether from the stigma of eating a free lunch or fear of being judged, some students choose to go hungry rather than eat what is available. If this is the case, talk with your child and let them know the importance of these meals and help put them at ease. Encouraging kids to sit with close friends or family at lunch time can help them feel more comfortable.  

If your kid is still not eating their whole meal, don’t worry. There are a variety of reasons students may not eat their lunch. Some get too busy talking with friends or they do not like what is served. It is okay for children to not eat full big meals if they are snacking on a variety of good foods throughout the day. This is where those tasty and fun snacks come in! 


Got questions?

Our team of dietitians, doctors, and lifestyle coaches are available to help guide your family to your top health. Select your location below to schedule an appointment.  

For more information about Chapa-De, call our Auburn location at (530) 887-2800, our Grass Valley location at (530) 477-8545 or visit us online at chapa-de.org. 


Sources: https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/nu/univmealsfaq.asp   

Infographic detailing tips on how to build a healthy school lunch


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