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Healthy School Lunch Tips from a Teacher

18 Comments 27 August 2011

Healthy School Lunch Tips from a Teacher

We’re back to school after a very short summer.  Excitement is in the air, crayons still have tips, kids are squeaking down the halls in their new shoes on the freshly waxed floors, and colorful lunch boxes line the cubbies.

What’s in those lunch boxes?  You don’t even want to know.  As a teacher, I see it all from nutritionless sandwiches to prepackaged Lunchables.  Just yesterday, I watched a five-year-old inhale a white bread sandwich stuffed with peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, and chocolate-covered pretzels.  And then I had to teach him for the rest of the afternoon.

 Then there are the lunchboxes filled with nothing but processed snacks.  When a box contains Doritos, goldfish, a fruit rollup, and a pack of Oreo cookies, what am I supposed to encourage the kids to eat?

I am not an expert on packing kids’ lunches, as I do not have children of my own, but after teaching elementary school for almost 20 years, I have learned a thing or two about getting kids to do what I want.  The Husband calls it manipulation.   I call it finding a way to give everyone what they want (especially the teacher).  Here are three tips that help me everyday as a school teacher, and they can help you in preparing healthy lunches for your kids.

Give kids options.

Be sneaky.

Let kids be kids.

1.  Give your kids options by packing many small, healthy snacks.

If your child opens a lunch box to find one large salad or leftover casserole from last night’s dinner, chances are it will return home barely touched, and your child will graze from the lunches of his tablemates.  But if the lunchbox is filled with 5-6 healthy options, you’ll probably be happy if he actually ate 3 or 4 of them.  Give kids options within your parameters.

2.  Be sneaky.  Disguise healthy foods. 

Your child does not want to be known as the class health food nut; he wants to look normal. So pack food that looks normal.  Normal-looking does not have to mean devoid of nutrients.  If your child has a food allergy, then he already struggles with not feeling normal in the school cafeteria.  Come and eat lunch with your child, and see what the other kids are eating.  Then get creative and find a way to replicate those hot items, but sneak in healthier ingredients.  Here are some substitution ideas:

Prepackaged Chips

While children are opening packages of Doritos and potato chips, your child can be dipping homemade corn chips into dairy-free nacho cheese created by Lexie of Lexie’s Kitchen.  And how much more fun would it be to eat these chips if your child helped to make them?  Try my simple recipe, and simply season them with salt, or come up with your own spicy seasoning that will taste even better than Doritos laden with Red 40.

Pudding Cups

Instead of nutritionless pudding cups, try Soyummi’s gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar-free pudding cups.  They’re convenient, healthy, and who doesn’t love pudding in a cup? See my review here.


Muffins are a great way to disguise nutrients.  Sneak in some applesauce, zucchini, shredded carrots, or fruit into a favorite muffin.  Here are some great muffin recipes by some of my favorite bloggers:

Snack Bars

If you’re going to put a snack bar in your child’s lunch, make sure you read the ingredients.  Look for wholesome, organic ingredients.

Or you can make your own snack bars!  Try these:

3.  Let Kids Be Kids

Kids like to play with their food.  Look for different shapes, colors, and textures. Incorporate your kid’s favorite flavors in fun ways. One of my favorite kid foods is a simple Almond Butter and Banana Sandwich on Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bread.


This Oscar Mayer line just won’t go away, because it’s convenient for parents and fun for kids to assemble their own meals.  So make your child his own healthy lunchable.
  • Pizza Lunchable?  Cut an Udi’s Gluten Free Pizza Crust into quarters and zip one up in a baggy.  Include a small container of organic pizza sauce, another of shredded cheese or Daiya (dairy-free), and another with a few toppings.  Your child can assemble his own gluten-free pizza with ingredients selected by you.
  • Cracker Stacker Lunchable?  Pack mini-containers of gluten-free crackers, spreadable nut cheese, and cucumber slices.
  • Create your own!  How about a corn tortilla, black bean spread, Daiya cheese, and shredded sweet red peppers?


Make sure you pack cookies, yes, cookies!  Make them part of a healthy meal.  If a child feels deprived of treats he is going to find those treats somewhere.  Wouldn’t you rather know that your child’s treats are made with wholesome ingredients that you choose?  While other kids are munching on Chips Ahoy and Oreos, your child could be eating these:

And here are some great containers to help you package your child’s lunch:

(Yay, Mom!)

Please share your healthy school lunch tips in the comment section below.  I’d love to hear them!

Have a wonderful, healthy school year!

This post is part of a wonderful Healthy Lunchbox series hosted by Sunny of And Love It Too!  For even more healthy lunch ideas, check out Sunny’s beautiful blog.

Your Comments

18 Comments so far

  1. Maggie says:

    Such great tips! My oldest is starting school in just over a week (ack)! So your post is so relevant for me – I love the idea of lots of little snacks. Sounds good to me. Thanks so much for linking up two of my recipes! Appreciate the love.

  2. Sarah says:

    I can’t wait for my daughter to start school and try these great ideas! My daughter and I are casein free and the dairy free nacho sauce is a great idea! She will be so happy to get somthing along with the veggies that she can eat instead of plain veggies!

  3. Debbie says:

    I love this post, Heather. I want to make healthier lunches for the boys this year, so this will be very helpful. Trust that you are doing well.

  4. Diane says:

    Thank you SO much for this blog entry! I try to send healthy lunches for my (low functioning autistic) daughter. Her class has a kitchen in it, and they “cook” milkshakes, cookies, cake and high fat foods. I will share this entry with the teacher in hopes that she will better understand how to offer healthier foods for the students to eat for snacks.

    • Heather says:

      Diane, we have a Kindergarten kitchen too. And last year, as part of a Girl Scouts project, a girl took our weekly cooking recipes and made them healthier and peanut-free. That was a great step!

  5. Tracy says:

    I still don’t agree with packing cookies or brownies in my childrens lunch. No matter what good ingredients are put into them they are still junk food. I do, however, let my kids help choose what they take for lunch and snack each day. They are allowed one “junk” food snack each day and it is up to them when they choose to have it.

    • Heather says:

      I love that you put quotations around “junk”. Most people probably wouldn’t call MY junk food junk at all. :) Thanks for sharing your opinion too!

      • Tracy says:

        Please forgive me, I didn’t mean that your food was junk. My kids will not eat any of the snack foods that are made with fruits and veggies. I have tried but they think they taste gross. Plus some of the recipes have chocolate in them and I don’t want them eating chocolate on a regular basis. I just feel that kids eat too many snack foods and it’s important to teach them that fruits, veggies, and nuts can be a great snack. I love your recipes and did not mean to insult you. Sorry!

        • Heather says:

          Oh gosh, I wasn’t offended at all. I just think it’s funny that I might call an almond flour zucchini cupcake with coconut frosting “junk food”, while my friends who eat white flour cupcakes with powdered sugar frosting call my cupcake “health food”. We all have different perspectives. I love that your children are growing up learning the deliciousness of fruits and veggies!! Thanks, Tracy!

  6. This list is full of so many good ideas and tips. We are all about lots of healthy snacks here. And now I am totally going to go make Kelly’s Strawberry almond muffins. Not sure how I ever missed those, but they look wonderful. And thank you so much for sharing my cherry chocolate chip muffins. 😉

  7. Jaime Stahl says:

    Yay! Love these ideas! My daughter Emelia (8) has always been a “snacker.” The sandwich and piece of fruit idea never went over well with her, so we mix it up with lots of little choices as you suggested. Favorites are: sliced apples with almond butter for dipping, “mini” salads (grape tomoatoes and cucumbers with a bit olive oil, lemon, and dash salt/peper), brown rice cake with nut butter for spreading, and yogurt with sides of sliced almonds and blueberries for mixing in. Anything that can be spread, dipped, mixed or peeled (like pistachios or clementines) usually works. Wraps are fun too. We add sprinkles of cinnamon and drizzles of honey to items for a sweet feel.

    • Heather says:

      You are such a wonderful mom, Jaime! So glad to have a mom confirm my hunches. Thanks for sharing your healthy lunch ideas with my readers too! Miss you guys!

  8. sarahb says:

    Are almond flour muffins ok to take in to a nut free school?

  9. Julian says:

    what a great healthy school lunch ideas that you have. thanks so much for sharing this superb tips.

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A Curious Girl in the Gluten-Free World

I'm a curious girl, wife, teacher, fitness fanatic, gluten-free foodie, high-raw vegan, and Mama Cat living in NYC. I've made the transition from baking and cooking gluten-free to creating raw vegan recipes that are naturally gluten free. My gluten intolerance opened up my diet to a whole new world of nutritious plant-based foods. While I'm not 100% vegan, it's my favorite way to eat, and making and sharing raw foods makes me giddy. Living in the City has its joys and challenges, and I enjoy sharing my experiences with you.

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