Finding time for healthy kid lunches
September 27th, 2010
11:30 AM ET
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Editor's note: all week, CNN Newsroom, Rick's List and Eatocracy are teaming up to take a look the effects our dining choices have on our minds, bodies and wallets. Tune into CNN Newsroom daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. ET for on-air coverage and join in the discussion here on Eatocracy. ALL COVERAGE

Michael Milhaven is a producer at American Morning

It seems like yesterday I was on the beach, planning my 4th of July. Now, it’s officially fall and pretty soon I’m going to have to be finding convenient excuses for why I haven’t raked the lawn.

This also means that the kids have been back to school for a few weeks now and the reality is just beginning to sink in: that means at least nine more months of school lunches.

It’s bad enough you have to pry your sleep-deprived cherubs out of bed, feed them a healthy breakfast, get them dressed, help with that last-minute homework assignment they “forgot” and get them out the door to school on time. But crammed in to that chaos you also have to find time to make them a healthy lunch?!


Who has the time? No wonder many parents just give their kids some cash and let them enjoy the same hot dogs and tater tots that we enjoyed when we were in school.

But as much as we hate to admit it, it’s cheaper and better for them to head to school armed with a wholesome home-made lunch. And it doesn’t have to be the standard brown-bag issue PB&J on white bread. It is possible for kids to get fun and interesting lunches - that they’ll actually eat!

School lunch that is good for the wallet AND the kids

It’s also possible to do this for them without breaking the bank or going crazy. Here are some tips based on my own trial and error as well as the advice of other friends with kids:

1. Get the kids involved
Remember, you are making their lunch. So, yes, while it should be healthy, and easy to make, and not too expensive, in the end if they don’t like it, they aren't gonna eat it. Your hard work will be for nothing.

Before you start constructing that beautiful broccoli, feta soufflé you saw in that frou-frou food magazine, ask the young ones they want for lunch. What do they love to eat? And what do they absolutely never want to see again? Their answers may surprise you. And it will also help keep your hard work from ending up on the trading bloc for some other kids Twinkie, or worse, in the cafeteria garbage.

2. Get organized and plan ahead
I’m sorry, but even Julia Child would have been hard-pressed to whip up a decent lunch for a kid to take to school if she had to do it at 6:30 in the morning, on five hours sleep, with nothing more than Ritz crackers and grape jelly.

Once you get a sense of what kinds of food your kids are interested in, you’ve got to plan ahead. This means mapping out what you’re going to make each day and doing the appropriate shopping each week to make sure you have those ingredients. And most importantly, if at all possible make it the night before.

I know, I know, the last thing you want to do after a long day at work, and then making dinner, and then helping with that other last-minute homework assignment they “forgot” and getting them to bed is to then have to make their lunch. But wouldn’t you rather get that out of the way at night and know you can sleep an extra 15 minutes in the morning? I know I would!

Top Chef's Tom Colicchio talks school lunch reform

3. Don’t underestimate leftovers
There’s a reason why cold pizza is so popular. Leftovers are much more appealing than a PB&J. [Editor's note: some would beg to differ.] So, why not make a little extra dinner and use that for lunch the next day? You’d be surprised at the power of the leftover.

Pasta dishes, stews and soups can be repurposed. Buy an insulated container like a Thermos and you’re golden. Some foods even work well cold. How about some left-over ravioli, pierogies, or even pizza? One word of warning: you can only go to the well so many times. Don’t push it and try to serve the same leftover for more than two days straight.

4. Different textures and flavors
Variety is the spice of life - and it’s also the key to a good lunch. Make sure there’s a good balance of flavors and textures - chewy and crunchy, sweet and salty. Pudding or apple sauce play well with carrots or pita chips.

Most kids like to graze. If you give them a couple of different options, chances are they’ll eat something rather than just tossing the whole thing in the aforementioned cafeteria garbage.

No free lunches for school kids, say some

5. Don’t get stuck in a rut; shake things up!
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. You ask your kid what they want for lunch. They say their favorite food in the whole wide world is spaghetti and meatballs. So, like a good parent you diligently prepare spaghetti and meatballs for them every day for lunch.

Well, guess what? It’ll take about two weeks before your kid would rather eat the bag their lunch comes in than eat another strand of spaghetti or force down another meatball. Change it up! Get an idea of at least two or three different things your kid will like to eat, then rotate through them. That way it won’t be as easy for them to get sick of their lunch and not eat it.

6. Be a food detective
When your child comes home from school, ask questions and review the evidence.

– Did they like what they had for lunch?

– Was there something about it they didn’t like?

– Would they rather have something else next time?

Don’t be hurt. Take their responses as constructive criticism and respond accordingly. Also, take a look at the physical evidence. Is that apple you put in their lunch on Monday, still there on Thursday? Chances are they’re not interested in apples. Try something else.

7. It’s okay to go with the ol’ reliable - sometimes
Don’t feel bad if you sometimes have to make a quick PB&J or slap some bologna and mayo on white bread. You’re not a bad parent. In fact, variety is important. If your kid is never sure just what they’re going to get when they open their lunch, it’ll keep things interesting for them. Just don’t rely on the old standbys for too long.

One more thing: stay away from the bananas. Bananas do not transport well to school and they leave a very striking smell, lingering on everything. If you want to give your kid fruit, go for an apple. If they don’t eat it, at least they can leave it for the teacher.

Previously – Read what Chef Tom Colicchio had to say about school lunch reform and the rest of Eatocracy's school lunch coverage.

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Filed under: Eatocracy Week • Kids • School Lunch

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soundoff (112 Responses)
  1. Pro Bowl Jersey

    Do you know? It's you who light up my life! And I stubbornly believe that such love can only be experienced once in my life.
    Pro Bowl Jersey

    October 16, 2014 at 10:49 pm |
  2. Alex

    When i have a cold lunch i make it myself. I sometimes have leftovers and they're pretty healthy. ( i am only 12 years old)

    October 3, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  3. Mackenzie

    In my defense school luches are for the most part healthy and nutritious,it might be a little unhealthy,but it has fruits and grains like an everyday breakfast should have.In Housten County they have good healthy breakfast because they are more concerned with overweight children nowadays.Now most schools and homes pretty much have the same kind of food.If you make foods too much healthy then kids aren't going to eat it.In my school we dont have all those coke machines and snack machines.Most of the time parents dont have time to make breakfast for there children because they either are getting ready thereselves or they have to go to work or they might not be home or they be asleep.

    October 2, 2010 at 12:12 am |
  4. Alligator!

    In our school we have regular lunches, and then we have some other stuff kids can pick for lunch that is not as healthy as the regular lunch of the day. I believe it still gives us the freedom, and ability to chose what we put into our selves. At the same time I think us, the students should know more about what the school is doing to our food, if we don't know what we put into our body, how will we know the future outcomes of the past??? :/

    September 30, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  5. Amy Dawson

    My husband and I have an entire website devoted to school lunch ideas. Everything on the site has nutrition information and a picture. Foods are searchable by color, brand, nutrition and more. You can even add your own item and let us calculate the nutrition for you. Have fun with lunch and check it out :) ~ Amy

    September 30, 2010 at 8:58 am |
  6. Beth

    My kids go to a peanut free school and this is easy to solve. I have switched all 4 of my kids to almond butter. We went through several brands before we found one that they liked. It is called Barney Butter, it is made in a peanut free facility and they can't even tell that it is not peanut butter. So much healthier for them too!!

    September 29, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  7. Lou

    Well, this is oddly contradicting. My two sons are in high school, I still make them lunches, the good ole' PB&J on white bread, with a banana! The school lunches are gross, and for a la carte its $5.00. Bananas are good for them since they play football and wrestle, this helps with muscle spasms. Its too hot where I live to toss a mayo sandwhich in their bag. This whole ban on peanut butter is stupid. If parents were more open to allowing their babies exposure to foods earlier than 2-3 years old a lot of this could be avoided. Our children need to build immunities to foods and germs, constantly wiping their face or hands only makes them susceptible to get sick and developing these food alergies. How many of you out there ate dirt at least once in your lifetime?????

    September 28, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
    • vicki

      My child was 13 months old when we first put PB on his finger. He immediately had a reaction- without actually ingesting any. You are very ignorant about the realities of peanut allergies- cause, reactions and solutions. You might want to make sure you know what you are talking about before you start making statements about other peoples alleged stupidity.

      October 21, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  8. Curious#4

    As i read your posting im laughing ..... Do you people have nothing better to do than to sit there a debate wether or not to ban peanut butter... There is no need for insults or anything of that nature... I guess that is your maturity level to speak in that manner. If your child has an allergy to a certain food or product you want to teach them that they can not eat that food. It is the parents job to teach your children what they can not eat and what they can. Yes in school they like to trade off foods but if the child is wise then they know they can not eat a certain type of food. If i remember correctly young children are always supervised when they eat. At the age that they no longer need supervision i would hope that they would understand the difference. If we ban PB then why shouldn't we ban all dairy products from schools for the kids that can not have any diary products? There are signs in schools letting students know that certain foods may contain peanuts... its common sense people.

    September 28, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
    • vicki

      If only ingesting the food could kill children then this would work. However, many are allergic to touch and some even to breathing the air where the allergen exists. There have to be plans in place for those with extreme allergies. Is banning peanuts from ALL schools the answer? I don't believe it is. But should people be willing to give up a favorite food to save the life of another person if needed? Absolutely!

      October 21, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  9. mecatfish

    So if a food fight broke out in the cafeteria a blob of PB might land in my allergic kids mouth? So ban it? What about pencils? They could be a ban them. Paper cuts from books? Ban em. Shoelaces, strangle risk...ban em.....Heck ban all schools...they seem to be dangerous.

    September 28, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  10. Ashley

    zman –
    My younger brother is an A/B student, 5'11", a sports star and he grew up eating whatever he wanted. He was a human garbage disposal. While I'm sure eating well is tied to your boys' overall health, I'm not sure that's the only reason. Brains and height are related to genes, too. :)

    September 28, 2010 at 11:54 am |
    • zman

      I said a small coincidence, not the only reason. They can read better than you do as well

      September 29, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  11. Mary

    Without sounding condescending, you can definitely pick out the newer parents among these comments. I think you are putting too much needless effort into these lunches. No need to make it "fun" by cutting things into little shapes. You are just making it harder for yourself as well as your child, they will get used to it and always expect it. I confess, would bow down to popular demand when my kids were little by cutting the crust off the bread, but thats about it. They always had a preference for healthier snacks anyway, I guess I was lucky. I sent them with yogurt, pretzels, chips, baby carrots with a little tupperware container of ranch dressing, a bag of grapes, a couple of cookies, chewy granola bars, etc. They got sick of peanut butter and jelly and refused to eat it after a few years, and they hated deli meats. One of the most famous columns by the late great Erma Bombeck followed her meal prep through the years from having her first child (all homemade baby food, fed with silver spoon, cloth diapers) to her 5th child, disintergrating to the point of shoving a cut up hot dog on a paper plate in front of him. Comedic exaggeration, of course, but the point is there.

    September 28, 2010 at 11:46 am |
    • Bansheeonfire

      You actually are being quite condescending and I do think you meant to be. I am not a newer parent. My oldest child is almost 13 years old. I have been doing these things, including homemade babyfood, since her infancy. Why? Because it makes me happy and I believe it is the right thing to do. Because in my super rushed and crazy life, when I may not be able to do all the things I want to do with my children, they can open their lunch box and see their heart shaped sandwich and their little flower cut cucumbers and know that I got up just a few minutes extra in order to make them smile. They WILL remember this when they get older (see posts above from people who remember the food their parents prepared with love). I know and they know that every bit of this very healthful food I put in their lunch box comes from my heart. Because I have been doing this for almost 13 years it is not part of some current fad...It's simply the way I have always done it. You can never find too many ways to show your child that you care.

      September 28, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
      • Curious

        Just curious... other than the full time job of "Mom" (and all that goes with that!) – do you work outside the home? If you do, where do you find the time and energy to make these kinds of lunches? As a working single mom, I can say that I'm scrambling just to juggle the basics (and I do get my kids' lunches ready the night before!). I think that just a fun, cute lunchbox with the child's favorite character is good too... AND I try to involve my kids in their choices for their lunch – not only do they get to take pride in "making" their own lunches, they tend to eat more of it that way too...

        Anyone have some suggestions for us exhausted, working, single moms/dads????

        September 28, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
      • Bansheeonfire

        @Curious I am a mom to 4 children, a freelance graphic designer and a full time student, studying a double major. To answer your next question, no, I don't sleep ;)

        September 28, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
      • Tj

        It's FOOD. By attempting to show affection with food you are teaching them so many wrong lessons here and asking them to developing eating disorders.

        Not only that, if you're going to that much trouble for their lunches, you're asking them to be laughed at in school. I'm of an older generation but I'm sure things haven't changed that much. The last you want is for their lunch to be different from everyone else's and for them to be perceived as coddled.

        Simply preparing lunch is enough for them to know their are loved. If you must go overboard with food prep. Do it at home.

        September 29, 2010 at 6:25 am |
      • Mary

        I just feel that some parents fall into the trap of trying to out-SuperMom other parents. Agree with Tj: Kids do not like to be singled out as different from their classmates, especially sitting around the lunch table together. My kids are grown now, and if I had sent them to school with heart-shaped sandwiches, they would have hated it and told me not to ever do it again. I stand by my opinion that you are only making things harder on yourself than necessary, but truthfully, are you going through all this effort for them, or for yourself? If you enjoy doing it, then by all means continue to do so, but I can see you getting very hurt feelings in the future when they don't remember that you did all this for them. I am the second youngest of 8, and all I remember is my poor mother trying to put together a decent lunch for us all to get us the heck out of the house and on to school – laying out 8 slices of bread, slapping some baloney on them, topping it with another piece of bread, in a paper bag with an apple (we got fresh milk at school) and out the door. Simple images like that are what they will remember as adults.

        September 29, 2010 at 11:03 am |
      • Bansheeonfire

        TJ, are you a licensed mental health professional? Because my husband is, and if he thought for one minute I was setting the kids up for any kind of eating disorder, he would tell me. Plus, all of the foods I pack are extremely healthful. My 9 year old took a V8 as her drink today, that was her choice. Also, I don't pack the "cute" lunches for my junior high student, all I would get is an "oh mother!", but I will pack her mini quiches, left over from dinner the night before because that is her very that a bad thing?? I don't think it is. When my children's friends come to the house they all say the same thing and that is that the girls (my son is too young for school) take great lunches and they like to "snag" stuff from them. I don't think that is a bad thing either, considering everything is heathy and encourages good choices. Keep in mind the most common lunch I have seen at my children's school is uncooked ramen which the kids lick and dip into the powedered spice mix, disgusting and a nutritional failure. I can and will do better for my kids and if these kids go home and tell their moms how great my kids lunches are and it encourages them to up their game instead of sending dried freakin ramen then I think that is a great thing.
        Mary, I'm sorry your mom making lunches is that is was more of a chore than anything. Maybe that is because for her is was a chore. For me it's not a chore, so my kids will not remember it as a chore for me, but as something I loved doing for them. My mom made me great lunches, it is one of the only nice memories I have of a woman who did not enjoy being a mother. I am not trying to be a super mom, as I think you put it...I am just trying to be the mom I think my kids deserve. I want to let them know with every action that I am truly happy they are here. I know there are different philosophies on parenting and this is mine. I actually think you would be surprised at how strict I am and my other parenting "rules". But I think that with this we will just have to agree to disagree.

        September 29, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  12. zman

    saute' deli meat (combo of turkey/ham) in a sauce pan with a touch of olive oil. . use whole wheat bread (or hot dog buns in a pinch) scoop the meat on the bread, add their favorite cheese (my kids love muenster, and continue to grill till cheese melts, celery sticks/ and maybe a treat (Little Debbie peanut butter sticks) takes 10 minutes. and $20 for the week.

    your soon-to-be healthy kids will love you and never eat that cafeteria garbage again, my 14 and 16 yr old boys are A/B students, 6 feet + and sports stars, If you think there's not a small coincidence , you're kidding yourself.

    September 28, 2010 at 8:24 am |
  13. Nicole

    As the nut allergy argument heats up again (which is just as heated and mud-slinging as the breast-feeding and vaccine arguments!), we need to remember one thing.

    We are all parents. In reality we have NO RIGHT to belittle what other parents are doing. We are all just trying to muddle through life in the way that we feel is best for our families. I think this is why so many people argue and get resentful when we are told what to do with our family, so as to protect others and not ourselves.

    I see the peanut allergy argument from both sides. My dad is allergic to peanuts – virtually unheard of in the baby boomer generation. My mom is severely allergic to shellfish. They have learned to survive and thrive in mainstream society. We are doing kids a grave disservice today by taking this ability away from them. However, peanuts are in far more products now than they ever were perhaps there is a need for hyper-vigilance. There is a balance...but it should be up to the family to determine it and not social policy.

    September 28, 2010 at 8:01 am |
  14. Jeannette

    Bentos. I have bought soooo many bentos from Japan and have been eating from them for four years. The best bento website is I pack leftovers, sandwiches, onigiri, sushi, mini cupcakes, boiled eggs that are molded into car or bunny shapes, fruit, stirfry...the list goes on and on! I bought my daughter a Mr.Bento so she can keep her hot foods hot during the winter and during the spring she has things in just a regular bento. I'm telling you, bentos make everything easier, and cuter!

    September 27, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
  15. momma

    My kids have always opted for home lunch except on Friday which is pizza day at school. We put together their lunch as we're making dinner, pop it in the fridge and there's no issue in the morning. Leftover pot roast, ribs or turkey become pulled sandwiches. We use wraps, pitas and other lower carb options. Pasta goes in a ziplock bag to be reheated (they have a microwave available). Grilled chicken becomes a wrap with spinach and sliced grapes. They know to pick at least one fruit (always berries, grapes, oranges and apples on hand) and veg (half a red bell pepper, carrot sticks, broccoli with dip, cauliflower with cocktail sauce). We don't drink milk so maybe they'll make a smoothie, or refill their water bottles from the filtered pitcher. Soups, stews, rice dishes–they all work for a great hot lunch, from home. Wraps, stuffed lettuce leaves and fun stuff in spring roll wrappers make great sandwich alternatives.

    September 27, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  16. MomToFour

    I HIGHLY recommend a laptop lunchbox ( for helping to pack a good lunch – plus they seem to make the chore more enjoyable. The four little compartments force you to give your kids a variety (hopefully mostly healthy!) and my kids have zero garbage to throw away. Because they don't toss it, I can see each day what did and didn't get eaten. Plus it's great for them to just open one lid and have their whole lunch before them.

    September 27, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
    • Bansheeonfire

      I have four kids also! We use the Goodbyns right now and LOVE THEM! I am trying to decide though on the next ones, because I try to keep and use a variety of boxes and lunchbags to use to make things fun. Laptop lunchebox are on the list and so are Planetbox. I love how all of these containers make lunch fun for them to eat and fun for me to make.

      September 27, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  17. finnjaf

    My 3 year old is in preschool. I struggle to give her a creative and healthy lunch. I give her the fruitcup which is processed in juice, yogurt – also processed, a piece of cheese, wheat bread with turkey & cheese with some mayo. I like what the person said about fresh avocado. I give her water & Milk and raisins. I want to give her better stuff than this though.

    September 27, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
  18. Sonora

    Nut products have been banned at my childrens' school as well. My issue with the ban is not the the allergic children are weaklings or should be culled from the gene pool (those comments are horrendous), but more to do with the old adage of "teach a man to fish." The allergic kids need to learn to function in a world that will not naturally accommodate them. If you're on a bus (public transit) with your child and the person next to you opens a Snicker bar, you have no right to ask them to put it away, Your child MUST learn to live in that society. Where better than at school where teachers and other caregivers can help? Will you child never take a bus or a plane? I think it's unreasonable to fool a child into thinking that everyone else will look out for them, when it won't happen. Many of these kids outgrow their allergies too. My friend's daughter had a severe nut allergy until recently. She's 10 now and can eat nuts and nut products without a problem.

    September 27, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
  19. Kate

    I am so tired of the banning of peanut products in schools. Our district tried that and the parents were up in arms. Guess who led the parents in getting it overturned? A mom with 4 kids, 3 who are able to eat peanuts and 1 who is not. Yep, their last child is severely allergic to peanuts. She said that she refused to ban peanuts from her family and she refused to join the bandwagon of forcing the public to make special exceptions to her son. She wanted him to be aware of his issue and be able to function in a world of peanuts. From the age of 2 he knew to only eat from his snack box at playdates and later on from his lunchbox. She educated him that he had a special tummy and could die if he ate food not brought from home or with mom and dad's permission. She was awesome and we successfully overturned the ban! I encourage all of you with kids who have allergies to follow that logic – it is
    responsibility and the rest of us should be able to enjoy peanuts too. My sister was deathly allergic to strawberries, never had my mom demand that everyone avoid strawberries!

    September 27, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
  20. cafeteria

    My kids school just got an awesome cook that is government subsidized, he makes foods like fresh ratatouille, vegetable soup, and corn on the cob. Everything is always pretty healthy and while the lunches are a little more expensive than they used to be, $3.50, it is well worth it

    September 27, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  21. school lunch

    My dad would always ask us what sandwich we wanted the night before, we got that, an apple, and two cookies for lunch everyday. Nowadays, when I don't bring leftovers I pack just what my dad would.

    September 27, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  22. Leah (TXanimal)

    Both of my parents worked, and yet they still found time to make sure we ate healthy lunches. My mom actually ENJOYED her little morning ritual of packing up our food. When I was in high school, I remember saying: "Mom, I'm old enough to drive, I'm capable of making my own sandwich", but she wouldn't let me! My parents didn't spoil us or act overly affectionate, but that was her way of babying us! To this day when I go home, if I want a snack, she'll boot me out of the kitchen and make it herself (I'm 30!)...just her way of showing the love.

    September 27, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
    • nikanika

      My parents are like this too. They were very hard disciplinarians, but they loved us tons. Our needs-always taken care of.

      When I do visit my folks my mom always makes mashed potatoes as a side, as they are my favourite. My father is frankly sick of mashed potatoes. But my Mother is undaunted. She tells him that if he wants something else, there's a perfectly stocked kitchen awaiting his culinary creation. Knowing full well he can't cook a lick!

      She takes pretty good care of him as well. She makes him a sandwich every day for lunch. Toasts the bread, just as he likes. When her washing machine broke right as she had just left town he called me and said I had to come over to help him fix it. I thought it would be like whenever we had to work on the car when I was a teenager. I stand and hold the flashlight. When I got to their house he needed my help because he didn't know how to turn the washing machine on! And he'd lived in that house with the same machine for 25 years or better!

      September 28, 2010 at 1:32 am |
  23. charls

    The whole purpose of students going to school is become educated. Better lunches at school lead to a better education. It is nice if parents prepare better lunches for their children, but all children need better lunches. Since what we eat will to a large degree determine our future health, getting our children to eat healthy should be a priority. Schools should set a priority on giving good food to all children at lunch. Children who eat healthier foods do better in school, so better food means better students. Here is one school that improved nutrition and improved education:

    September 27, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  24. Dad

    I wish we could give them PB+J. Too many peanut allergies at school so the've been banned.

    September 27, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
    • Mackenzie

      Doesn't mean you can't let him eat at home

      October 2, 2010 at 12:15 am |
  25. joe

    we dont need to turn kids into health food nuts its bad enough people impose their views on others..we dont need them imposed on children.

    September 27, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
    • Starving for nutrition

      ...and why are we the fattest developed country in the world?

      September 27, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
    • mp531

      healthy habits begin at home. teaching your children about healthy food options can improve their life, both now and for the future.

      September 27, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  26. darlene

    I agree, it does take planning, and the insulated thermos just opens up the possibilities: left over pasta, tomato soup and all kind of other soups. I was surprised how long the food can stay warm.

    It's interesting to see what people consider healthy. For us, healthy goes beyond just fat and calories. It's about all the other junk in processed foods too. The lunches at our school stink. They're just frozen stuff that has been reheated. I wouldn't feed my son Stouffer's every night, so why would I let him have something similar for lunch every day?

    September 27, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
  27. Bansheeonfire

    My children take their lunches because our school lunches are mass produced "fast food" that is prepared in a district kitchen and then shipped to the various schools. It is unhealthy and disgusting what they serve our children. To keep my children interested and to make lunches fun I have invested in a variety of fun lunch boxes, bags and accessories. I try to pack "bento" styled lunches with minimal waste involved. I cut sandwiches, meats, cheeses and veggies into fun shapes and I have invested in cute small bottles for sauces and dressings for dipping. For today's lunch I used mini waffles to make small pb&j wafflewiches (natural pb and low sugar jelly). They also had cheddar chickaddees (like goldfish crackers), an organic applesause crushable pack, and a baby banana this was packed with watermelon juice to drink. Other days they will have ham and cheese cut into shapes with mustard along with a selction of fruit, like grapes and pears. My 5 year old favorite lunch is a big salad with cucumbers along with some fruit and crackers. It just takes a little thought and a few extra minutes to pack a child a nutritious and fun lunch. If anyone would like more ideas, I would be happy to share.

    September 27, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
    • Stephanie G.

      I want some more ideas for my own lunch!!! :-)

      Check out as well...some great ideas for healthy high fiber, high protein meals!

      September 27, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
  28. jenstate

    Find better suggestions than bologna for healthy school lunches here:

    September 27, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  29. Mary

    My kids literally lived on grapes, chips and the snack cakes I threw in with their very healthy PB&J on whole wheat. I would find the sandwiches smashed at the bottom of their backpacks, happily still in the ziplock baggy. But the chips and Little Debbys would always be eaten. I think if they were still little, they would love the pre-slices green apples that I've seen being sold now. Sure beats growing up in the 60s and 70s – I was in grade school at the height of the "fiscal crisis" (remember how they used to describe the country being broke back then???) at a nyc public school, we were served chicken chow mein from a can or a bowl of tomato soup with a cheese sandwich to dip it in. Anyone else remember that?

    September 27, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • Mary

      Oh, and if you wanted more, you would literally line up with your soup bowl (bakelite, no less) and do the whole "please sir, may I have some more?" scene from Oliver...only it was some grouchy, sweaty woman with a hairnet serving you. Anyway, from experience, don't stress about feeding them. They all trade it away for someone else's lunch – the grass is always greener on the other side, I guess. Yogurt, grapes, baloney, those nasty'll figure it out what gets eaten and what gets tossed evenually.

      September 27, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  30. Joe

    My son has never eaten a school lunch and he's in 4th grade. I always pack 1 fruit (varies weekly), 1 snack bar (varies weekly), 1 snack like chips or crackers or carrots, and then a sandwich of some sort (just peanut butter is his absolute favorite, but I do mix it up with organic turkey, etc.).

    We do movie & a pizza night on Sunday nights, so he can take two slices of leftover pizza instead of the sandwich on Mondays.

    By the way, re: peanut butter allergies in the schools... this might sound harsh, but other people's weaklings aren't our problem. Until the last 50 years, this would've been part of natural selection. Now we want to coddle everyone. If your kid can't handle peanut butter, keep them locked up in the house for all I care... but don't expect everyone else to have to "accomodate".

    September 27, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
    • JT

      The problem with your horrible comment is that your kid's wayward peanut butter at lunchtime could kill a child with a peanut allergy. I have a son with a peanut allergy, & I assure you, he is no weakling. Allergy to peanut products has been on the rise & can be mild to deadly–no need for you, who has been blessed with such a healthy child, to be so vicious about it. With such a winner for a Dad, I'm sure your child will have 1000 other ways in which to make some "weakling" kid's life miserable. Geesh! There really should be some sort of test before people are allowed to have kids...

      September 27, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
      • Joe

        If the test were genetic, clearly you would've been excluded from the priviledge.

        September 27, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
      • Joe

        * privilege

        September 27, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
      • Charles

        "Natural Selection" Joe, you sir are a moron.

        September 29, 2010 at 6:08 am |
    • Starving for nutrition

      Actually allergies to all nuts are on the rise-not to mention latex (gloves often used in preparation of food)....So Joe...Imagine this for a moment....Your son is at school tomorrow and 30% of his 'strong' peers are munching on rat poison for lunch. Would you then consider him a weakling? Nut products and latex are just as deadly to my son as rat poison is to yours...

      September 27, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
      • Joe

        Allergies are on the rise because natural selection has come to a complete stop. A kid with a peanut allergy in an area of peanut availability probably wouldn't have been able to live to breeding age in the past several thousand years of our history. Now, they do and then they pass the same faulty (dominant) genes on to their brood. The guy above is correct: There should be some kind of test before you can have kids... genetic tests, financial independence tests, emotional stability tests, and intelligence tests.

        September 27, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
    • Starving for nutrition

      Well Joe, I did my part to enrich the gene pool by marrying outside of my race....Oh well...I am hopeful that you son does not develop any type of allergy.

      September 27, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
      • JT

        @Joe: Actually, I'm not a guy. I'm a mother of 4 healthy, happy kids; I'm also a teacher, a writer, and married to a pediatrician. Thanks.

        September 27, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
    • BP

      Wow Joe, you are a hero with your peanut butter comment, your son must be so proud of you!!!

      September 27, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
    • mom of an allergic kid

      WOW, Joe! I hope your kid never develops an allergy! How insensitive! What kind of lesson are you teaching your kid? To be selfish like his daddy?

      September 28, 2010 at 11:45 am |
    • Disgusted

      @ Joe – that is so ignorant to post. Your point is well taken, but could have been better served without the nasty aggression that is such a part of the problem with society today. I have an asthmatic child, and I liken your comments to someone telling him tough sh*t if he can't breathe. It's *ignorant*. And by the way, we do accommodate for him, and don't ask anyone to do anything they aren't entitled to – except blow smoke in his face.

      Try to remember your elitist attitude when your child is denied something, or is in great need, and someone who feels they are more important then you says tough sh*t it's natural selection at work.

      September 28, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • simba8217

      I was baffled by the peanut ban in our school when I first heard of it. The school gave us a list of peanut-free snacks that the kids could bring, so it is easy to accommodate. a peanut allergy is a serious concern, and I would hate to think that some random kid died because I was too lazy to pack something other than peanut butter.

      September 28, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
      • vicki

        Thank you to those that realize protecting a child's life is more important than others getting to eat whatever they choose. @Joe – you are just a selfish fool.

        October 21, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • hf

      My son also has peanut allergies and he is no weakling either. He is actually a very smart kid in accelerated program in his local public school. I agree with you that kids who do not have allergies should not be deprived of their favorite food. I have raised my son so he is very careful about what he eats. However, my main issue is that you are such an insensitive sob! I hope you do not raise your kid to be an individual like yourself.

      September 28, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
    • hf

      @ Joe, Again,
      And what the hell do you know about natural selection you worthless shit!

      September 28, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
    • Charles

      Joe is stupid.

      September 29, 2010 at 6:11 am |
    • Tj

      Joe, I'm going to guess by your comment that you're not aware of how peanut butter is actually made or you wouldn't be so hot to feed it to your kids – none of the parents in these comments would, actually. Take a microbiology course and get back to me. You'll probably not want to go near the stuff once you're done.

      Second re: natural selection. Again, see microbiology. Allergy to peanut butter is the immune system gone haywire (suggest you google: IgE, degranulation and histamine). In order for natural selection to take care of it, it would need to be hereditary as in, they'd need to have proven there's a genetic link. Guess what, they haven't found a link yet. Suggesting natural selection breed it out is like suggesting natural selection breed out the flu. Not going to happen.

      Sadly, natural selection has not bred out idiocy.

      Thank you

      September 29, 2010 at 6:59 am |
  31. M

    Very long article, but not a lot of helpful content. Thank you to all who posted practical suggestions.

    September 27, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  32. Allergic to Nuts

    Try Sunflower seed butter instead of PB or nut butters. Tastes great and won't trigger allergies for most people, so can send to school instead of peanut butter. Available at organic stores and e.g. Trader Joes.

    September 27, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
    • Nicole

      And Sunflower Seed Butter is horribly expensive, just to buy a jar and have your child turn their nose up at it after one small taste. Rural areas also don't have access to that type of product.

      I guess our lunches are cheap still: $1.50. Not always the healthiest, but cheap. (Menu this week is popcorn chicken, pasta with sauce, grilled cheese and tomato soup, pizza, and pierogies or chicken caesar salad. Heck, I'm impressed they are giving the kids pierogies! Yum!)

      September 27, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
      • Allergic to Nuts

        Sorry to hear that your kids turned up their nose, but it is easily available to anyone. People in rural areas can mail order it from for $3-4 per 16 ounce jar (packs of 6 jars), and they'll ship it for free.

        September 27, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  33. zagool6

    I have been packing healthy lunch for my daughter since 2nd grade, she is in 5th grade now. My secret, stock your refrigerator with vegetable: broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, zucchini... Of course fruit bananas, oranges, apples, grapes, pear...I make three main dish such as meatloaf (I use turkey meat), rice and beans w/chicken, cleaned chicken breast. Tuesday and Thursday I make turkey, pastrami or ham sandwich and fresh carrots or cucumber with vegetable dip, Mon, Wed and Fri I finish up the main courses that I prepared on weekends. I use the first 30 min after I get out of bed to pack the lunch. Make a menu for the week, do grocery and finish the prep on the weekend. Please don't tell me you don't have time; I am a single parent with full time job. By the way we indulge ourselves with a slice of chocolate cake or Ice cream or pop corn on weekends :)

    September 27, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  34. Amanda P.

    Growing up, I was responsible for making my own lunch. I started making it in the first grade. My mother would check to make sure I didn't only pack cookies, but if your kid wants something simple like sandwiches (and I would have had a fit if I was forced to eat something other than my PB sandwiches) there's no reason they can't make it themselves, which will also save you time.

    September 27, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  35. Kelly B.

    I am as busy as they come – working mom with two kids that are involved in everything (as am I!). I pack my kids' lunches every day, and I keep it healthy and cheap. I blog about a lot of my ideas at

    September 27, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  36. longday

    Seriously, this article is about healthy lunches and you're suggesting cold pizza? Really?

    September 27, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
    • katie

      Cold pizza is great IF you make it like any other food – don't used overprocessed products. whole wheat pizza dough (buy packaged or Boboli) plus pizza/tomato sauce is topped with broccoli one half & red pepper the other (my kids differ in veggie favorites. maybe a little ham or minced chicken breast, then put mozz skim cheese on top. You get a complex carb with veggies in the lunch – not a bad option!

      September 27, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
    • ur Mothers Lunch

      MAke Eggo waffles you fat fuckers you should all get smacked with pizza for breakfast.

      October 2, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  37. Nicole

    You mention PB&J consistently in this article. Apparently your kids have never told you, or your schools have never told you, but peanut butter is banned in many areas now. To the frustration of many a working on-a-budget parents!

    September 27, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
    • Bansheeonfire

      Thankfully, our district has not banned peanut butter yet. However, I have taught my children about food allergies and the importance of not sharing because of it. If they are absolutely sure a friend does not have an allergy they can share but they need to make sure. I know there are some people out there that are so allergic that even being in close proximity can cause an attack, but seriously, is that my responsibility? I know that sounds harsh.

      September 27, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
      • vicki

        Any action you take that can kill another person is your responsibility.

        October 21, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Kristine

      Peanut butter is banned in my children's classroom also. And I also happen to be allergic to nuts. I have found soy butter though, which is a terrific substitute as it really looks and tastes like peanut butter. Try it!

      September 27, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  38. Stewart in OR

    A little less fluff and more concrete ideas. First, peanut butter and nuts are out at most schools because of allergic kids. Second, fruits are a great start. cheese and hummus for proteins, Yogurt/gogurt are always a favorite. Mac and Cheese if your kid wants large portions. Quesedillas travel well. Burritos can be fun. There are multitudes of fruit/powerbars that are big hits. We do it vegetarian – companies like Morningstar offer veggie chicken, burgers, sausage, bacon – our kids love it. And, whenever we can – buy organic.

    Look at kids today – the majority of them have soft/pudgy waistlines. Something that was uncommon when I was in school 40 years ago – too much junk food these days.

    September 27, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
    • Kristine

      Crikey Stewart, isn't that the truth. I've had two children later in life, and now have the body of a 14 year old with a jelly belly.

      September 27, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  39. smatt

    how about the weird thumbnail picture on the homepage... is the kid missing fingers??

    September 27, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  40. RabiaDiluvio

    This time of years two words: pumpkin bread. My kids love the stuff. I bake it fresh every Sunday and it holds in the fridge all week. It is very filling and they want it almost every day with yogurt and fruit. Much better than tatertots from the zero-attention-span cafe.

    September 27, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • Kristine

      Gee that sounds great!

      September 27, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
  41. Stephanie

    I ask my son every day if he wants something else for lunch, and his answer is always a resounding NO. So he gets a half sandwich of hummus on whole wheat bread, a small can of low-sodium V8, and yep, a banana. Fridays he gets to eat school lunch as a special treat. Grosses me out, but to each his own. As for the advice in this article, guess it all depends on the kid, as with everything else. The school district we were in last year had amazing lunches, very healthy and such a huge variety that the kids didn't even care that chocolate milk wasn't an option. New school district now, and these lunches are much more like what I ate as a kid. So there, depends on the school district.

    September 27, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  42. ASMA NJ

    I wish the schools start providing ORGANIC lunch.

    September 27, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
    • Stephanie G.

      This would be nice, but it wouldn't be cost effective, and the lunch attendants would have to make another lunch set up for kids who may or may not choose it. In the long run, the school loses money, the rates go up, and parents can't afford it (not that all of them can.) Not that I have children, but I don't think it would be conducive financially.

      September 27, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
    • Janice

      Lunch doesn't have to be ORGANIC...but healthier definitely. Little things like change up the white breads for whole grains. Trade in white Iceburg lettuce for Romaine. Maybe a little common sense...our elementary school ($2.70 for lunch) has mozzarella sticks for lunch! Really now – THAT'S nutritious?

      September 27, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  43. Jan Sliper

    I am a school food service director and I did not find one bit of advice in your column that would help a parent put together a lunch for their children that is actually healthier than what school lunch has to offer. Also, we charge $1.65 for an elementary school lunch – that includes milk. I'd say that might be hard to beat especially if you try to include the variety that school lunch offers.

    September 27, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • RenSanger

      That price is hard to beat for a full lunch. Our local elementary school charges $2.25 for meals and $.50 for just milk.

      September 27, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • Daisy

      Homemade meals are MUCH cheaper than that and MUCH healthier than school lunches. I'm amazed at how little parents love their children anymore that they aren't willing to feed them good meals made with real ingredients made by nature. Just cook extra the night before and give them leftovers! This is much healthier than mass-produced boxed and canned cr*p the schools make!

      September 27, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
      • Marti

        Sorry Daisy, but I find your insinuation (that by not sending your kids to school with a fresh, organic homemade lunch every single day means that you don't love them) a little insulting to us working parents who don't have the time, energy and yes, the money to do so. I would love to send them on their merry way with whole wheat wraps of free range chicken and veggie chips, but that is not reality to most people and you know what, the kids don't appreciate it – you have no idea what goes on at those lunch tables until you have to do lunchroom duty as I do. The kids trade and share everything. The kids with the carrot sticks will barter their whole lunch for a few oreos.

        September 28, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
    • Starving for nutrition

      Hmmm milk...loaded w/ antibiotics/growth hormones......Is your meat inadequate for fast food purveyors, or is that only in the other school systems?

      September 27, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
    • Heather

      The menu at in our district is like a state fair! The food is all frozen, packaged and incredibly unhealthy! When corn dogs, chicken nuggets and chocolate pudding cups become health food, then I'll have my kid eat at school.

      September 27, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
    • Kat

      School lunches are only nutritious on paper. The reality is they are loaded with fat, starches and salt. Any remaining nutritional value is reduced by overprocessing and overcooking. I would love to see a lab compare the actual nutritional value of a school lunch to the "official" claim for that same meal.

      September 27, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
    • p jane

      Ours is $1.85 including milk, and it's still a great deal for a HOT lunch. I may be able to put together a healthy lunch for less, but I can't offer daily variety like our cafeterias can. We are very thankful for our school district's committment to improving both nutrition and student-appeal, proof that school lunches don't have to be bad.

      September 27, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
      • chris

        I run a lunch program at school and we make everything from scratch. Our vegetables and milk are all sourced locally from family farms and we work hard to provide a healthy and nutritious lunch everyday. Instead of spending time making healthy lunches get involved at the school and help work on a better lunch program that every kid can benefit from.

        September 27, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
      • Heather

        I commend districts that are working outside the box to provide healthier meals. I wish our district would. It's pathetic. I can't see one thing they offer as healthy. More districts need to get on the ball and care about their kids more.

        September 28, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
  44. Liz in Seattle

    I thought there would be some ideas here. This is just a pep talk.

    September 27, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • not much of an idea but

      ham, cheese on whole wheat, instead of mayo or mustard my daughter is crazy about very ripe avocados

      I spread half on each slice of bread and she loves it... she can make two sandwiches herself now: pb and j and the ham and cheese and that is also exciting to her

      September 27, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  45. Diana

    Ew mayo and (especially) bologna should never be a standby.... Do you even know what's in bologna?!!?

    September 27, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
    • 6onzales

      I heard a "myth" about bologna once and decided to try it out. I placed a piece of bologna on a blue razor scooter (myth says car but I surely wasnt gonna test it that way) and left it in the sun on a hottt Texas August day. Pulled the bologna off and holy heck! It took the paint right off! I dont want that in my stomach or that of my kiddos!

      September 27, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
      • Carl

        Wow, leaving wet foods on your car will damage the paint . . . that OBVIOUSLY MUST mean that bologna is TOXIC!!! . . . and unsafe to eat! Give me a break. Do a bit of research before you spread fear and hype. Bologna will not damage paint with a good clear coat. Your scooter that the kids have been riding around on (do your kids rub their feet on your car all day?) probably does NOT have a good clear coat. I am willing to bet a wet towel would do as much damage. Do a real experiment and some real research before dismissing bologna as dangerous to your stomach.

        September 28, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
    • kitchen geek

      Ummm, maybe try buying bologna from somewhere other than mega-mart's lunchables section. A good Italian deli or a market that's curing their own meats. There are people all over this country who have loved bologna for a long time because they've had it made right.

      September 27, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
      • 6onzales

        LOL, yeah... the one I used was definitely from a megamart. So don't eat that kind! ;)

        September 27, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
    • JamieinMN

      Lips and a$$holes...YUM!

      September 27, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  46. squiddlydoo

    This is very similar to a post I made on my blog a few weeks ago, which I followed up with a list of specific examples that folks found very helpful. More examples here would likely be well-received, too.

    September 27, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
    • Robbie

      Here's an example.. i love to re-make our leftovers for the kid's lunches.. that way I know that it is up to my standards.. I make some great stuff that is healthy. for example.. we make this chicken marsala and these ribs that we then pull and put into a sandwich.. the kids love it the next day.. and i know it's good for them.. I actually got the recipes on line.. google "love you long time pork ribs" for the ribs.. but be warned, they are on this food website that is a bit politically incorrect, so if you can't take a good joke or if you get offended easily.. I'd skip this one...

      September 27, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
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