Let’s Do Lunch

Nutritious and delicious lunchbox ideas for kids.

Italian dunkers. How could two little words cause havoc in the school cafeteria? Because they taste awesome. And when they’re served, they can cause an entire school to go a little nuts.

While Italian dunkers might be delicious, they’re not the most nutritious lunch choice. So we asked a panel of dieticians for their take on a nutritious lunch kids will actually eat.

Incorporate variety

Janie Cooperman, pediatric clinical dietitian at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, touts the benefits of variety. Stray from basic bread and use whole wheat tortillas, crackers, healthy muffins and pita pockets.

Mary Lombardi, food and nutrition general manager for Edina Public Schools, says students who buy school lunch must take at least one fruit or vegetable. Edina was one of 32 schools nationwide to participate in a study focused on fruit and vegetable consumption. Study results showed that with prominent positioning, staff nudging and sampling, more students took and ate fruits and veggies.

Go lunchbox shopping

It sounds simple, but Janelle Melgeorge Anderson, an outpatient dietitian at Fairview Southdale Hospital, says a cool new lunchbox can promote bringing lunch from home. Pack a thermos for hot and cold food. You can pack pasta, chili, noodles, meatballs … it doesn’t always have to be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Allow for occasional hot lunch

Make some space for Italian dunkers. “To help students understand moderation and that it’s OK to make occasional choices that may not be as healthy as other foods, we identify them as ‘sometimes choices,’ ” Lombardi explains. Melgeorge Anderson suggests letting kids look at the school lunch menu and choosing one or two days a week to eat school lunch.

Pack healthy snacks

“When kids are young, it’s their natural inclination to know when they’re hungry and when they’re full,” Melgeorge Anderson says. “We unlearn that between ages 3 and 5.” She encourages healthy snacks throughout the day, like Greek yogurt, trail mix, pretzels and hummus, or celery and peanut butter.

Eat mindfully

Eat dinner together as a family. Slow down, connect, enjoy what you’re eating. Appreciate the food and the time together. That’s a more balanced way of eating and living.

Eating together also helps picky eaters. If adults model good eating behaviors, like munching on fruits and veggies, younger kids are more likely to do so too.

Expand your tastes

Sampling is one of the best ways to help students make healthier choices. Kids can be leery of foods they haven’t tried before, so by making taste-testing fun and educational, they’re more likely to try unfamiliar foods in the future.

Speaking of trying new things, last spring, Edina High School served as a pilot site for supplier Sodexo’s Mindful Program with menu items like Moroccan couscous bowl, Mexican pollo torta and Indian chicken flatbread. Italian dunkers may have finally met their match.


For lunchbox inspiration, search the web for food blogs like foodformyfamily.com