Healthy lunch options for your school-age children

Would you like to pack a healthier lunch but you don’t know where to start? Let’s take a look at the National School Lunch Program guidelines, created by the USDA and use these as a base for packing a healthy lunch.

In 2007, the Institute of Medicine re- leased a report addressing growing con- cerns for our children’s health. Children are facing rising obesity rates and are at risk for preventable diseases. In response, the USDA set standards for school lunches. Following these guidelines, a lunch will provide between 550- 750 calories* and offer a variety of healthy options from each food group.

  • 1⁄2 to 1 cup fruit (fresh, frozen or canned)
  • 3⁄4 to 1 cup vegetable (fresh, frozen or canned)
  • Two ounces grains
  • Two ounces meat or a meat alternative
  • One cup low-fat or skim milk
  • Saturated fat must be less than 10 percent of the total calories
  • Sodium must be less than 740 mg
  • Zero grams of trans fat

*Note: the portion sizes and calories vary depending on the age range of the children.

Half of your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are packed full of nutrients and fiber, which helps you feel full longer. Try to eat a variety of vegetables throughout the week including dark green, red/orange, beans/peas/legumes, and starchy vegetables.

It is important to include a lean protein, which will also help you feel full longer such as turkey or chicken. A few meat alternatives such as hard-boiled eggs, tofu, peanut butter, fish, beans, and hummus are also good options. When choosing grains, make sure at least half of your grains are whole. Whole grains contain fiber, which will aid in digestion. Create a sandwich or wrap with whole wheat bread or whole wheat tortillas.

For healthy bones, include a low fat dairy product such as yogurt, string cheese, cottage cheese, or milk. Don’t overlook your beverage. Skim or fat free milk is a great option if you can keep it cold in a thermos. Water is also a great option; you can add fresh fruit or cucumbers to your water for a little flavor.

Limit saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars. Deli meats and processed foods can be high sources of sodium and added sugar. Your diet should contain healthy fats and oils such as olive or canola, low-fat salad dressings or avocados, walnuts, cashews, almonds, and pecans.

Help keep your lunch safe and be sure to refrigerate your lunch. If refrigeration is not available, use an insulated bag with ice packs. You can also use healthy, shelf stable items such as trail mixes, granola bars, fruit cups, fresh vegetables, whole fruit, oatmeal packets, and tuna pouches.

For menu ideas, recipes, or more information visit: or

Let’s pack a healthy lunch!


—Submitted by Stacey Richter, a recent graduate from Mount Mary University with a Bachelor of Science in dietetics and is member of the Healthy Sheboygan County 2020 Activity and Nutrition Coalition.