Back-to-School Lunchbox

Hey Ladies, this is Amber Strocel here…

Back-to-school time is coming up fast. This is a big year for my family, because my oldest child Hannah is heading off to kindergarten. They grow up so fast!

With my own daughter heading off to school, school lunches are on my mind. When I was a kid the food my parents sent could bring joy, sorrow or anger. I frequently felt jealous as I surveyed my classmates’ lunches. And now that I am about to be the one packing the lunches, I feel a little lost. So I turned to, and spoke with registered dietitian Gloria Tsang.

Gloria believes that in order for nutrition to have a positive impact on people, it needs to be fun and practical. She founded as a hobby site in 1997, when a family member was diagnosed with cancer. Since then, the HealthCastle Nutrition community has grown into a robust nutrition resource library. Gloria is also a mom. She sounded like just the person to help me navigate the school lunch minefield.

Amber: What do you think is the most important thing for parents to think about when they’re packing a school lunch?
Gloria: You can find some great healthy lunch ideas and articles on our site. And remember that it has to be fun and appealing. It can look really good on paper in terms of nutrition, but it only counts when the kids actually eat it.

Amber: My own daughter often says that all the other kids at preschool get more treats. How can parents deal with lunchbox peer pressure and encourage their own children to eat healthy foods?
Gloria: Teaching about treats should start young. It is very difficult to change old habits. I’d encourage establishing an agreed frequency with your child – let’s say one treat a day – and stick to it. For me, my daughter and I eat our daily treats together mid afternoon. She knows she doesn’t eat treats at any other time of the day during week days. I also caution you not to label a food “bad”, simply call a treat a “once-a-week” treat, for example.

Amber: What foods do you really think do not belong in a school lunch?
Gloria: For a school lunch program, I would say fries and soda. For a packed lunch, I would say potato chips and soda.

Amber: How do you encourage healthy eating, if children are eating a hot lunch at school?
Gloria: Kids eat whatever the school provides. So it’s important to involve kids when choosing their lunch choices if you have advance selection. If you don’t have advance selection, it’s very important for the parents to be involved in what the school serves and how the lunch is prepared.

I really enjoyed poking around, and speaking with Gloria. And I feel a little bit more ready to tackle school lunch from the parent’s side.

Tell me – do you have any tips for making school lunches healthy and appealing? I need all the input I can get!

Written by 5 Minutes for Mom Contributing Editor, Amber Strocel. Check out her blog,


  1. says

    Great advice! My grandson is a little over a year old and his mom feeds hims lots of fresh fruits and vegetables each day along with dairy and protein. He loves blueberries and gets a treat such as animal crackers once in a while. They are off to a great start. I’ll be sure to forward this to her.

  2. says

    My daughter LOVES frozen grapes… they’re a great treat! Finger foods are also a hit – baby carrots with dip, celery, rolled meat, diced chicken, that sort of thing.
    I have a friend who packs turkey chili in a thermos for her girls. They love eating that at school along with lettuce wraps.
    Good luck as your daughter heads off to school :)

    • says

      Thanks for the good wishes, and the tips!

      I have never tried frozen grapes, but we often eat frozen blueberries. They sound deliciously similar, I will have to try the grapes for sure.

  3. says

    My daughters are 12 and 9 (and my 12 year-old has NEVER wanted to buy hot lunch, so I’ve got MANY years of experience packing lunches!) and I’ve found a couple of things that help with making lunches healthy and appealing.

    1) Involve them in the process. I talk to them about needing protein, fruits/veg, whole grains, and they get a just for fun treat (such as a cookie). We brainstorm options, we negotiate, and I get buy-in and assistance (um, on good days). It’s no fun to come up with a “fun idea” that comes home completely uneaten with a big,”Blech Mom, that was gross!” No surprises = minimal resentment from Mom.

    2) My kids love mini-foods. A sandwich is very fun when it’s cut into at least 4 sections, apparently. They love toothpicks with melon balls. It’s very preschool, and they still love it!

    3) The thermos is our friend. Sandwiches get really old, especially for my 7th grader who as I mentioned, has been exclusively brown bagging it for 7 years now. In go the leftovers from dinner! Or she loves soba noodles with tofu. She loves grains like rice, noodles and couscous, so the thermos is used several times per week.

    4) When I’ve got some good healthy stuff around (berries, for example), I pack more than a kid needs and encourage her to share at school. If you share good stuff, you also get good stuff back, and it helps make lunchtime more fun and filled with variety. Some schools/grades may prohibit sharing, so it’s good to know that policy in advance…

    Great post with super tips!

  4. says

    Mind you, my kids are not little anymore but I do not but chip unless homemade salsa is going to be consumed in our house. I do not buy cookies and rarely make them. My kids don’t miss what they don’t get. What they do get are sandwiches that they want. Turkey with lettuce and bacon or chicken stuffed in a pita. My kids think that if they are satisfied on that sandwich then they don’t need all the other stuff. My son loves carrots and dip or salsa. You can be creative and still send it to school. I never send soda or juice. Juice is just as bad as soda. I only buy water and my kids crave it. After school I make sure to have the snacks ready so homework goes smoothly. Make some popcorn or hummus with veggies.

    • says

      You ARE lucky that your son hasn’t given into treats. Although with the size of my sweet tooth, it should be no surprise that my own children are big fans of anything with sugar in it.

  5. Tanya says

    Hi Amber,
    My daughter is going into grade two, which in Ontario means she has been packing a lunch for three years already. I use a thermos for my daughter at school which contains leftovers and she gets Lunch Lady once a week and pizza lunch once a month. That way I know she is getting a hot meal and those are days I don’t have to make lunches (time saver!). I send milk in her lunch rather than juice boxes and some of our favorite lunch items are homemade granola bars, sandwiches made on whole wheat bread, popcorn, fruit bars made with 100% fruit puree and cheese and crackers.

  6. Carrie says

    Hi there Amber!

    Great insights on healthy eating for our little ones, thank you. My kids love cheese more than anything it seems! No matter the day, they want to see cheese in their lunchboxes! I never know which brand to go for- Kraft, Sargento, Tillamook, or any of the many others! Could you give me your thoughts on these cheeses for my kids’ lunchboxes?


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