Three steps to packing a nutritious lunch

By Danielle Pothier, MS, RD, CHWC
Wellness Specialist, Northwestern Lifestyle Medicine

Consider these steps when packing a lunch that will keep your child happy while also providing essential nutrients needed for your child to learn, grow and play.

1.) Think food groups

Aim to include three out of the following four food groups:

Fruits and Veggies

Vary your fruits and veggies

  • Choose from a variety of fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruits and vegetables in all colors of the rainbow (for example; red peppers, apples, carrots, peaches, corn, bananas, broccoli, cucumbers, blueberries, plums, cauliflower).


Focus on Whole grains

  • Cold or hot cereal (aim for less than 6g sugar per serving)
  • Whole grain breads
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Whole grain pitas or tortillas


Choose low-fat or non-fat dairy products.

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese (block cheese, string cheese, cottage cheese)
  • Milk alternatives, such as calcium fortified soy beverages


Select from a variety of lean protein sources

  • Lean beef, pork or ham
  • Chicken or turkey
  • Seafood
  • Egg
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans and peas

2.) Get your kid(s) involved:

From planning to packing, get your kiddos involved when making lunches and snacks. First make a list of healthy foods that they like. Then allow them to choose from the list and encourage them to help in the packing process. By having your child invested in the process, they will be more likely to eat their lunch.

3.) Save time (and stress) by getting organized:

  • Create a lunch menu each week and use this menu to make a shopping list.
  • Keep a stock pile of healthy items on hand for easy grab and go, such as: chopped fruits and veggies, whole wheat crackers, whole grain cereal, salmon, tuna and individual packed items like applesauce, hummus, peanut butter, yogurt, nuts and cheese.
  • Take inventory of your child’s lunch equipment. Does your child have a dedicated lunch box, icepack, thermos and reusable containers? Having the right equipment on hand can allow you to prep and pack items for the week.