What is a healthy school lunch?

Cafeteria lunches in most schools aren’t the healthiest meals. They’re often ultra-processed and loaded with hidden sugars according to The Hill, not to mention just plain gross in the worst-case scenario. Packing your child’s lunch is the best way to ensure their health, happiness and ability to focus and succeed in class.

But what does a healthy school lunch look like? It’s easy to pack your child’s lunch bag with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some chips and a juice box, but that has all the same issues as cafeteria food. Don’t stress. It’s surprisingly straightforward to pack a healthy lunch.

The six sections of a healthy lunch

According to the Cleveland Clinic, a healthy school lunch is made up of six sections.

Proteins

Protein can come from many foods, though it chiefly comes from meats and nuts. Don’t overload the meal with protein; include just enough to be satisfying, but not enough that your child can only eat the protein and skip the rest. Some examples of healthy proteins are:

  • Grilled chicken
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Unsalted mixed seeds and nuts

Grains

Grains are typically included as something to eat the other sections of the meal with. Think crackers that go with cheese and pita bread for hummus. As with proteins, grains should be limited; you want them to run out of crackers and pita before they run out of cheese and hummus.

Fruits

Think of the fruit section as the dessert of the meal; just like dessert (and grains and proteins) don’t go too crazy here. That said, it doesn’t hurt to put in some extra now and then as a treat. Don’t forget about dried fruits either. They go especially well with nuts.

Vegetables

The vegetable section is the only section where it doesn’t hurt if you include a little extra. But don’t be that parent that only includes raw vegetables. Lightly roasting veggies, such as bell peppers and broccoli, makes them taste much better and doesn’t strip them of any nutrients.

Snacks

Kids can be ravenous creatures, especially when they’re taxing their minds to the limit. They’re going to get hungry before and after lunch, so it’s always wise to include a healthy snack. Some examples of healthy snacks are:

  • Popcorn — it can be lightly buttered and salted, but don’t go crazy.
  • Trail mix without candy
  • Granola without sugar

Drinks

The best drink is always water. But water is boring, for adults and especially for kids, so packing the odd low-fat milk bottle or small juice box once or twice a week is acceptable.

What are the best lunch bags and boxes to buy?

Best Lifewit Large Lunch Bag

Lifewit Large Lunch Bag

This is the best lunch bag thanks to its insulated lining and huge 15-liter capacity that can hold up to 24 12-ounce soda cans. Two ways of carrying it, two mesh side pockets and a zippered front pocket for utensils don’t hurt either. Sold by Amazon

Best Easyfun Lunch Bag

Easyfun Lunch Bag

This is the best budget lunch bag thanks to its roomy and insulated interior that can hold up to 16 12-ounce soda cans. It also has large, comfortable handles, a zippered front pocket for utensils and comes in five colors. Sold by Amazon

Best Yeti Daytrip Lunch Box

Yeti Daytrip Lunch Box

This is the best lunch box due to its special closed-cell foam insulation and Thermosnap magnetic closure that keeps food secure and safe. It also weighs only 1.1 pounds and comes in 12 colors. Sold by Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods

Best Bentgo Kids Bento-Style Lunch Box

Bentgo Kids Bento-Style Lunch Box

This is not only the best budget lunch box, but also the best way to carefully portion out the foods you pack. It’s also leakproof, dishwasher-safe and has a two-year warranty. It also comes in six bright colors. Sold by Amazon, Kohl’s and Macy’s

What are the best thermoses to buy?

Best Stanley Classic Wide-Mouth Bottle

Stanley Classic Wide-Mouth Bottle

This is the thermos you need if it’s a cold day and you want to make sure your child has the hottest of hot chocolates. It keeps liquids hot or cold for 24 hours and the lid doubles as a serving cup. Sold by Amazon

Best Thermos Funtainer 12-Ounce

Thermos Funtainer 12-Ounce

The brand that created the term “thermos” is also among the most affordable. It has a built-in straw that’s protected by the flipping lid and it can keep foods at temperature for up to 12 hours. Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Best DaCool Lunch Container

DaCool Lunch Container

Solid foods and chunky soups need special thermoses with wide mouths to make eating easier and this is among the best. It can keep food hot or cold for up to 12 hours and comes with a foldable spoon that’s stored in the lid. Sold by Amazon

Best Mira Lunch Food Jar

Mira Lunch Food Jar

This small 9-ounce thermos is perfect for the youngest kids thanks to its leak-proof design and the sweat-free and matte exterior to keep it from slipping from their hands. If it does slip, the stainless steel body will take little to no damage.  Sold by Amazon

What are the best sandwich bags to buy?

Best Stasher Silicone Pocket

Stasher Silicone Pocket

This two-pack of 4-ounce reusable bags is perfect for saving money and lessening your impact on the environment while ensuring your child has a healthy, nutritious and safely stored sandwich ready to go. Sold by Amazon, Buy Buy Baby and Kohl’s

Best Qinline Reusable Food Storage Bags

Qinline Reusable Food Storage Bags

If you have several children or just like to keep foods individually packaged then grab this 10-pack of bags. You can grab five sandwich bags and five snack bags or four sandwich bags, four snack bags and two gallon-size bags. Sold by Amazon

Best Ziploc Easy-Open Sandwich Bags

Ziploc Easy-Open Sandwich Bags

Ziploc is among the most trusted brands in disposable storage bags for several reasons including the tight and stable seal, plus the extra-tough plastic that’s hard to tear. This contains 580 bags at 4 cents a pop. Sold by Amazon

Best Ri Pac Fold-Top Sandwich and Snack Bags

Ri Pac Fold-Top Sandwich and Snack Bags

This package contains 1,000 bags that are even cheaper than the Ziplocs at only 1.8 cents per piece. Plus, the fold-top takes less effort to both seal and open, which is perfect for those with less dexterity. Sold by Amazon

What are the best food storage containers to buy?

Best Rubbermaid 60-Piece Food Storage Containers

Rubbermaid 60-Piece Food Storage Containers

Never worry about what to pack your children’s food in again with this massive set that includes six half-cup, six 1.25-cup, six 2-cup, five 3-cup, four 5-cup, two 7-cup and one 9-cup containers with matching vented lids. Sold by Amazon

Best Promoze 50-Pack Meal Prep Food Containers

Promoze 50-Pack Meal Prep Food Containers

This set of 28-ounce containers is an excellent budget purchase as they can hold just about any type of food, have leakproof lids and are reusable and dishwasher-safe. They’re also recyclable if you prefer not to wash them. Sold by Amazon

Best Popit Food Storage Container Set

Popit! Food Storage Container Set

If you’re worried about your child’s food storage containers opening in transit, then grab these snap-sealing containers. There are eight included and each is a different size, plus they’re dishwasher-safe. Sold by Amazon

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Jordan C. Woika writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money. 

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