Healthy School Lunch Ideas for Kindergarten: First-Time Parent’s Guide
Coming up with healthy school lunch ideas for kindergarten is just one of the many worries you may have as you send your little one to school for the first time. Not only do you want to make it healthy and sustaining, but for parents of picky eaters, packing lunch may be especially challenging. You can barely be sure that they’ll eat a meal at home, much less at school, distracted by friends and the busyness of the lunch room.
If you’re new to this whole school-lunch thing, here are a few lunch ideas so you can send your new student to school with peace of mind.
First and foremost, don’t put pressure on yourself to pack “enough” based on photos that you see of other kids’ lunchboxes, suggests Sally Kuzemchak, RD and founder of Real Mom Nutrition. She says, “How much food SHOULD you pack in your child’s lunch box? That’s obviously going to be different for everyone, since each child is unique–and appetites can vary widely from day to day and year to year. I post lunch box photos to provide ideas, not prescribe portion sizes.”
Her best tip: keep it small. Kuzemchak has found, “The less I pack, the more they eat.” Her hunch as to why this is a good method is simple: a larger volume of food may seem overwhelming, and therefore unappetizing. On the other hand, if she packs a lot of one food that her little ones love, they’ll skip over something else, like carrots.
The outcome when she doesn’t over-do is that, “almost everything is eaten,” which is of course the goal.
Another important tip from Kuzemchak is checking in with your kiddo about whether his or her lunchbox feels too full or has too little. If her children come home with a lot of food left, she’ll ask why and come up with a plan to pack a better lunch the next day.
Kuzemchak stresses, however, that this is a strategy that works for her. There isn’t one blueprint for what works and what doesn’t for every child. Use her suggestion as a guide if you’re new to packing lunch and then troubleshoot along the way. Have conversations with your child and pay attention to what’s left at the end of the day.
Choose a Bento-Style Lunch for Kindergarten
A lunchbox with sections allows you to pack a variety of food, while keeping portion sizes manageable. Jess Thomson, Mom and The Kitchn contributor, did the testing for you: “After spending my son’s kindergarten year testing more boxes than one parent should reasonably buy in a school year, we found one straight out of lunchbox heaven: the bento box.” Thomson found that bento-style lunch boxes are easier to pack and better for the environment (less packaging needed).
Focus on “Hand-Held Foods” for Ease
This suggestion comes from Kuzemchak in an article for Parents.com. She says, “Finger foods are quicker and easier to eat and more likely to go from lunch box to belly.” Luckily, there are plenty of healthy options that are also hand-held. Cut sandwiches into four pieces, slice fruit, cut muffins in half, buy baby carrots, etc. Try these apple cinnamon muffins or lunch muffins!
Make it Fun so Kids Will Eat
Your little one doesn’t care about eating, especially with the distraction of friends on either side of the table. To keep your kindergartener interested, keep lunch fun. Alisha Grogan, a mom and pediatric occupational therapists, shares a few tips for doing this without feeling overwhelmed by trying to do too much.
- Focus on dips: Pack a side of hummus, yogurt or peanut butter for dipping. They key: telling your child the dip is in the lunch and doing a trial run at home. “If your child doesn’t usually use dips then give some practice runs at home—the pickier they are about eating, the more time they will need!”
- Use fun, simple shapes: Cut foods like sandwiches and fruit into fun shapes, like these heart-shaped oat cookies. Grogan says this is a hit with her kiddos.
- Put food on a stick: Think small fruit or meat skewers on toothpicks. She recommends using plastic toothpicks to keep it safe.
Get Your Kindergartener Involved
You may be moving fast on a busy morning, but involving your kiddo in the lunch packing process teaches them how to eat healthy and eases the burden on you—the more you do it, the more they can eventually do themselves, suggest Brandy McDevitt and Melanie Roet, RDs. Start by letting your kindergartener portion small items, like trail mix. As your child gets older, he or she may be able to take on wraps and sandwiches as well.
Chat with your little one and make a list of the healthy foods he or she loves most as well. Use this as a point of reference when packing lunch and update it regularly so you can always be sure there’s something your kiddo will eat.
Use these tips and ideas to make your kindergartener’s lunch healthy, while reducing stress about whether he or she is getting enough. Remember that it’s a process of figuring out what works best for your child. Test different ideas, keep the flow of communication open, and be flexible when your kiddo comes home with food leftover. It will never be perfect, but these tips will let you send your child to school with peace of mind. And remember, you can always serve a Healthy Height shake as an after school snack to help round out your child's nutrition for the day!
Find recipes and other school tips in our back-to-school guide.
Our Shake Mix is So Versatile!
Healthy Height is great for rounding out your kiddos’ diet. Fuel their growing bodies with the key nutrients they need with our kid-friendly recipes. It can be made into a simple shake, added to a smoothie, or transformed into a healthy lunchbox-friendly snack!