Coordinated Health

How to Pack Nutritious and Fun School Lunches

How to Pack Nutritious and Fun School Lunches

By: Nathan Johnson, MD   August 22, 2017

Kids feel better and learn better when they fuel up with a nutritious meal. Unfortunately the Standard American Diet (SAD) is filled with foods that are calorie rich and nutrition poor. These fake foods come in bright artificial colors. They are shaped like kids favorite cartoon characters. They are marketed with TV commercial that bombard kids senses with powerful imagery, music and stories. They often come with toy surprises. They are filled with supernormal levels of sugar. How can broccoli compete with that?

The marketing machine has moved into kids schools. Federally subsidized lunches must have a certain number of vegetables to be served. In 2011, Congress passed a bill that barred the USDA from changing its nutritional guidelines for school lunches. The proposed changes would have limited the amount of potatoes allowed in lunches, required more green vegetables, and declared a half-cup of tomato paste to count as a serving of vegetables, rather than the current standard of 2 tablespoons. The blocking of these proposed higher standards meant that processed like pizza and French fries could continue to be counted as a vegetable in school lunches.

I’m excited to be working in area schools with a fellow Coordinated Health physician, Dr. Meagan Grega, cofounder of the Kellyn Foundation. Kellyn engages each student for three consecutive years; expanding their awareness and enjoyment of fresh “real” food in third grade, understanding the nutritional labeling on packaged goods in fourth grade and finally, in fifth grade, how to survive eating out. If a school chooses to participate in our “Garden as a Classroom” program, the students experience the excitement and accomplishment of raising their own fresh vegetables. What is “real” food? It’s food your great grandmother would recognize. It’s not that it’s impossible to make healthy processed food, but the economic incentive for food manufacturers is to use cheap, low quality and low nutrient ingredients and to load them up with salt and sugar so they’ll be eaten. Instead turn to the local farmers market which is filled with real, local food.

Making sure your child consumes healthy lunches can be challenging, but there is a great resource at These lunches are colorful, tasty and healthy, but that alone doesn’t mean they will be eaten. School garbage cans are filled with healthy foods, spurned for a better packaged and marketed alternative. That’s why programs like Kellyn that work on changing school culture are so important.

Expecting one child to eat healthy while the others eat their artificially sweet and colored foods is going to be an uphill battle.To take on this battle, start at home with family meals. So much research shows, the most important meal of the day is the one done with family. Before sending off kids with healthy lunches, start in the arena where you have more control.   Our tastebuds are not as fixed as many people think. Challenge your child to try a food 3 times because when the food is real and not too sweet, that’s often how long it takes to learn to appreciate it. It important to make sure kids will eat a food at home before you put it in there lunch.

This midday meal should help your kids get their daily dose of protein, fiber, fruits, and vegetables. Look for foods that are high in nutrients, while also being low in sugar and other ingredients that add only calories. Include at least one fruit (not juice), one vegetable (maybe with a dip) and water. Stick with real foods with simple ingredients. Also learn from marketing tricks. If what you’re serving is relatively flat, you can cut it with a cookie cutter into a fun shape. This works with sandwiches, tortillas and quesadillas, melon wedges, and more. Make it a mini. Small versions of everyday foods (tiny sandwiches, baby corn) have a cute factor that counts with kids. Finish up with a small treat, love note, or joke so they can start the afternoon with a smile.



Our call center is here to help
1 (484) 273-4222
Request an appointment

Related Locations