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The Lunch Box Dilemma

Written by Melissa Moses, MS, RD, LDN

With busy family schedules, it’s hard to be consistent when packing your children’s lunch or even your own.  Many families struggle with making packed lunches happen even though we know that it may be better for us and likely saves money.  Check out these tips from the experts at Brenner FIT to solve lunch box packing dilemmas.   

  • “I just can’t get to the grocery store.” 
    It is challenging to set aside time to make a trip to the grocery store.  In order to make getting to the store a priority, designate one day out of the week that you know you will almost always be able to make it there.  Even setting a specific time during the day that you will go can help you follow through.
  • “There is no time during the morning to pack lunches.” 
    Make it a routine to pack lunches the night before.  Get children involved. You might even be surprised that your child can pack his lunch on his own from food you provide.  Giving this type of responsibility to your children will empower them to participate more in daily family tasks.  
  • “We don’t know what to pack.” 
    Leftovers can be your friend, and they are so easy to pack.  If you are looking for the typical lunch foods, planning ahead can make it go a lot easier.  We encourage families to plan 5 to 6 lunch options they enjoy.  With these ideas, families can rotate 2 to 3 of those lunch ideas throughout the week.  Get the kids involved in planning; they are more likely to eat what’s in their lunch box if they have a part in planning lunch ideas.
  • “We want to make it healthy but are not sure how.”

A simple way to make your lunches healthier is to model them after the balanced plate. This would mean a quarter of your plate would be lean protein, a quarter whole grains/starchy vegetables, and half of your plate as fruits and/or non-starchy vegetables. A mixture of 3 to 4 food groups in your lunchbox helps to fill you up and last until the next meal.

Use suggestions below to help plan out lunch options that the whole family will enjoy.

Lean Deli Meat 
Canned meat (chicken, salmon, tuna) 
Pre-grilled chicken pieces 
Meat Substitutes 
Nuts or but butters 
Beans and legumes (pinto, black beans, chickpeas)  
Sliced or cubed cheese 
String cheese 

Starches/Grains Vegetables 
Crackers Celery 
Sliced bread Sugar snap peas 
Pita bread Sliced bell peppers 
Totillas or wraps Baby carrots 
English muffins Broccoli 
Dry cereal Cauliflower 
Pretzels Grape tomatoes 
Baked chips Spinach 
Granola bars Lettuce 

Try some of these balanced plate lunch box examples 

  • Cheese and spinach quesadilla, sliced mango , 1% milk
  • Tuna salad with crackers, sliced celery, grapes
  • Pasta salad with pre-grilled chicken strips, broccoli & carrots, unsweetened applesauce
  • Pita bread pizza with marinara and mozzarella cheese, bell peppers w/honey mustard, pineapple
  • Peanut butter and apple sandwich on whole wheat bread, carrots w/light ranch

This article was written by staff who are apart of Brenner FIT (Families in Training). Brenner FIT is a pediatric weight management program at Brenner Children’s Hospital that helps families create healthier lifestyles together. Brenner FIT offers free cooking, nutrition and parenting classes. Visit for our current class listing.