By the time your child graduates from high school, you could have potentially packed more than 2,000 school lunches! What goes into those lunch bags deserves some thought and effort to maximize nutritional impact, and organization is the key. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Plan ahead for success. Stock your fridge and pantry with wholesome foods. Prepare as much as possible the night before, and keep lists of ideas handy to inspire you. Aim to balance what you send by including something from each of the four food groups.

Think beyond PB&J (peanut butter and jam). Use whole grain bread, buns, pita pockets, tortillas, paninis, roti or crackers. Fill with tuna salad, salmon, egg salad, leftover chicken or roast beef, taco meat, hummus or other bean mixture; or send these on the side. Add veggies like lettuce, cucumber, bell peppers, shredded carrots, or thinly sliced zucchini. Use condiments sparingly.

Include at least one vegetable and one fruit. Send along fresh or frozen fruit like berries, pineapple, kiwi, pear, melon, mango or grapes, in addition to the standard apples, oranges and bananas. Add veggies (and dip, if needed) or a salad with dressing on the side. Grilled or roasted veggies also taste great cold.

Quick fixes are good options, too. Leftovers like lasagna, pizza, quesadillas, soup in a thermos, or bean dip and pita triangles are easy to wrap up and send along. For extra snacks try yogurt, pretzels, dry cereal or a homemade cookie, muffin or loaf. Stick with water or milk to drink and be sure to include an ice pack.

Remember to vary foods from day to day and try something unexpected once in a while. A note, picture, comic or colourful napkin can bring a smile to your child’s face, even though it may be quickly hidden from their friends!

School morning breakfast saver

8 cups whole grain bread broken into bite size pieces (ends of the loaf work well)

1 apple, chopped (peel on)

¼ cup raisins

6 eggs

1 ½ cups milk

¼ cup brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

The night before, put bread pieces in a greased 9x13 baking dish. Sprinkle with chopped apple and raisins. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, sugar and cinnamon. Pour liquid mixture over bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, uncover and bake in a 375°F oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, cut into squares and serve immediately.

Kristin Brown, a registered dietitian, practices healthy living with her husband and three children.

© 2009 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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