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Healthy Back to School Lunches

by Carlye Waxman RD, CDN 


Healthy lunches don’t need to be pricey and organic! As long as you follow the basics for balance, you’re kids will get the best formula for a satisfying and filling meal.


Protein: Start with the protein. Turkey, roast beef or ham sandwiches are the leanest of the cold cuts. You can also put together egg, turkey or tuna salad the healthy way. Add some chopped celery, carrots and low fat mayo. If your child is more of the vegetarian type, cheese, hummus and peanut butter are a great protein alternative.


Starch: Balance out your meals with adequate starch. Buy whole grain bread (with >2-3g of fiber per slice), english muffins, pitas, tortillas (6-8 inch), or rolls. Wrap up a vegetarian sandwich of avocado, hummus and shredded vegetables or stuff a pita with tuna salad. If time is of the essence, buy pre-shredded vegetables like cole slaw mix to stuff into a pita or wrap. Macaroni salad also travels well as long as there is refrigeration, and a great way to get kids to eat protein, vegetable and starch all in one shot! Cut up ham, throw in peas and light mayo. Buy whole grain when possible but if your child absolutely refuses it, combine the two together (white pasta mixed with wheat pasta tends to trick them a bit).


Vegetable: Kids can hate or love them, the trick is to find the one your kid actually likes and go with it. Mix it up with baby carrots and a side of peanut butter, slice tomatoes into sandwiches, finely chop celery and throw it into your tuna, egg or macaroni salads are just a few ways to add them to lunch. Leftovers also make a great lunch the next day. Cooked green beans or steamed broccoli with some cheese and butter are some ideas. Lastly, macaroni and cheese with peas or broccoli can be a nice staple.


Fruit/Dessert: It’s ok to give them a little something sweet. A couple of squares of chocolate, a small truffle, 2-3 oreo cookies and low fat chocolate pudding aren’t a bad idea. Surprise them by not putting them in every day (so they don’t expect it). Pack easy to pack fruit like apples, oranges, grapes, berries and bananas. As you know, your kid may not want to eat these unless they are cut up nicely for them….the extra step may make the difference.


Here’s some combinations I like and think your kids may like:


  1. Turkey salad with light mayo and tomato stuffed into a Pita pocket with a side of sliced apples, string cheese and a small square of chocolate
  2. Macaroni and cheese with broccoli or peas, a side of hummus and carrots and a low fat pudding
  3. Wrap: add ¼ avocado, shredded vegetables (cabbage and carrots) and turkey, cheese or hummus to the part of the wrap closest to you. Fold over the food and then fold in the sides. Finish by folding to the end. Pair this with 2 peanut butter and banana cracker sandwiches (4 saltines, 1 tbsp peanut butter, ½ banana).


Carlye Waxman RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian at The New York Foundling who lives in NYC. She is the owner of SweetNutritionNYC.com, a website with recipes and nutrition tips for the public. Contact her at Carlye@SweetNutritionNYC.com to hear more about her counseling options and rates.

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