Healthy Back-to-School Lunch Ideas

Back-to-school gets us back-to-basics…including wholesome meals in and out of school. With everyone busy and needing quick meals on-the-go, brown-bagging lunch is an easy way to ensure healthy, calorie-appropriate, portion-appropriate meals. Take this opportunity to add to your best health.  Try homemade.  As you plan your lunches, select foods from each category – wholegrains, dairy, fruit, vegetables, lean protein. Smart options are abundant.

Here are some easy, kid-approved lunch ideas to start the school year off right.


  • First, choose your “wrap”: 100% wholewheat bread , bagel, tortilla, pita pocket, hamburger bun, English muffin or corn tortilla                                                                                   
  • 100% wholewheat lighter versions – 100 calories for 2 slices of:
    • Lower-calorie bread (i.e. Sara Lee, Nature’s Own)         
    • Sandwich thins or bagel thins (i.e. Pepperidge Farms, Sara Lee)
    • English muffins or hamburger buns (i.e. Nature’s Own, Thomas)
    • NEW 50-calorie, higher-fiber tortillas
    • 100%  wholewheat crackers – i.e. Triscuits 
    •  2 thin pizza slices with crust facing outward – fill with chopped lettuce or ham slices
    •  Large lettuce leaves (may need a toothpick to keep filling inside)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               ealthy,

Tasty fillings – add lean protein and vegetables:

  • Leftover chicken breast, turkey, ham, roast, steak, burger, meatloaf, meatballs, etc.
  • Lean deli meats (turkey, chicken, ham, roast beef)
  • 2% milk cheese slice
  • Peanut butter or almond butter with apple or banana slices (sprinkle with orange or lemon juice to prevent darkening)
  • Tuna-fish salad made with lower-fat mayonnaise, chopped onions, apple, celery, relish
  • Smoked salmon or boiled shrimp
  • Hummus (any flavor) – eat with roasted or fresh red bell pepper slices or baby carrots
  • Ground turkey patty or soy-burger;  soy pepperoni rounds or Canadian bacon slices
  • Tomato slices – remember tomato sandwiches? Update with feta spread and olive tapenade 
  • Grilled eggplant slices sprinkled with grated Parmesan; add grilled onions and roasted red bell pepper
  • Grilled Portobello mushroom slices and sun-dried tomatoes
  • Any combination of roasted vegetables – may add hummus or cheese
  • Tossed salad with cheese slice or hummus in a wrap or pita

Add Vegetables – for flavor and nutrients (inside sandwich or on the side):

  • Tomato and lettuce slices
  • Sliced cucumbers, radishes, mushrooms, onion, or bell peppers
  • Coleslaw or broccoli slaw or grated carrots (in pita pockets or wraps)
  • Pico de gallo, avocado slices, or leftover cooked broccoli slices
  • Baby spinach, watercress, sprouts
  • Cooked veggies such as roasted peppers or Portobello mushrooms

FruitDon’t forget Nature’s sweetest, nutrient-rich desserts:

  • Apple, pear, banana, berries, melon, cherries, peach, orange, raisins – choose fresh seasonal fruit first
  • Water or juice-packed individual fruit servings

Other cool foods your kids will enjoy:

  • Sliced apples and pears with almond butter or ricotta cheese
  • Individually-wrapped cheese portions – Laughing Cow rounds or wedges, Cabot cheese slices, string cheese – enjoy with fruit, cherry tomatoes, wholewheat crackers or bagel
  • Fresh veggies with Ranch dressing, hummus or bean dip – baby carrots, cucumber, broccoli, celery, yellow squash, grape tomatoes, red bell pepper, sugar-snap beans
  • Fresh fruit salad or store-bought sliced fruit-in-juice individual packs; serve with yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Pineapple  slices with ham,  smoked turkey or cottage cheese
  • Cold pasta salad; coleslaw; cherry tomatoes; cold bean salad (black bean/corn combo or lentil salad or 3-bean salad)
  • Tossed salad with hard-boiled egg and grated cheese or turkey slices; dressing in side container
  • Mix of Chex cereals and nuts

Try these ideas, and you’ll find yourself budgeting calories, time, and money. In addition, a “fix-your-own” lunch habit could help your kids shed 2-3 pounds a month!

For more resources and tips, visit Follow me on Twitter @georgiakostas or like my professional Facebook page, Georgia Kostas Nutrition.  Check out my book, The Cooper Clinic Solution to the Diet Revolution: Step Up to the Plate, where you’ll find balanced no-fuss meals, quick recipes, snack ideas and more.

Image: photostock /

2 responses to “Healthy Back-to-School Lunch Ideas

  1. Georgia,
    thanks for all the tips!! the girls are getting ready for school and i am always looking for tips on what to put into their lunches!

    You’re the best!!


  2. Great tips Georgia! So much good info here.

    And on behalf of the farm family owners of Cabot, many thanks for including us.


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