Tips and Trick

Nutrition Expert Shares Tips and Tricks to Beat Back-to-School “Lunch Box Anxiety”


For parents, getting back into the routine of packing their child’s lunch is one of the biggest stressors of the back-to-school season. In fact, a survey found that nearly three in five parents get stressed out just thinking about it.

Now, nutrition expert Mindy Haar, Ph.D., RDN, assistant dean at New York Institute of Technology’s School of Health Professions, shares simple tips and tricks for packing a healthy lunch. 

Why is a healthy lunch important?

As different foods contain different nutrients – even within the same food group – eating a variety of foods maximizes our chances of consuming a balanced, adequate diet. Every meal and snack is an opportunity for us to get what we need and thus, lunch, our midday meal, deserves attention and planning. 

What common mistakes do parents make in preparing their children’s school lunches? 

Not planning for the week in advance may leave parents to give lunches just based on what’s on hand. Drawing up a menu for the week with your child’s input can increase variety and nutritional value. 

What are some strategies parents can leverage to make preparing school lunches easier? 

Letting children help with shopping and food prep will assure that they don’t bring home lunch containers filled with uneaten food. Preparing for two days in a row saves even more time, and, whenever possible, save prep time by using dinner leftovers. 

What constitutes a well-balanced lunch?

Following the pattern suggested by My Plate, the lunch meal should include a generous amount of vegetables and fruit as they are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. A portion of whole grains (about half a cup or one slice of bread) can provide fiber as well and checking the label for at least three grams of fiber/serving should be done. A portion of protein rounds out the meal with recommended animal-based protein such as fish, white meat poultry, egg whites, low-fat cottage cheese, or yogurt. 

However, moving to a more plant-based diet by including beans, tofu, edamame, hummus, nuts, or seeds as protein sources introduces even more nutrients and is eco-friendlier.

What are some basic nutritional elements that should be included? 

Ideally, a snack should contribute something positive to a child’s nutrition needs for the day. For example, adding a cup of fat-free or low-fat milk – or comparable non-dairy milk – to any snack significantly contributes to a child’s calcium needs. 

How are the nutritional needs of children different from adults? 

The need for nutrients is based on a person’s size and therefore calorie and protein needs, along with most other nutrients, are significantly lower than those for an adult. 

What are some healthy snack ideas parents can have on hand for their children? 

  • Cut-up fruits and vegetables 
  • Fruit kabobs: cut-up fruit on a toothpick or skewer 
  • Whole grain crackers and/or cut-up vegetables and hummus
  • Frozen grapes or canned pineapple rings 

Besides water, are there other healthy beverages parents can offer their children?

One idea: dilute fresh orange juice with water.  

Finally, what are some healthy lunch ideas for the workplace or adults on the go? 

Instead of rigid recipes, making healthful combinations from foods requiring little prep time will maximize the chances of brown-bagging a super-healthful lunch vs. buying something available.

Just choose one option from each column and pack it into a reusable container. Add a piece of fresh fruit and you’re all set! 




Cut-up fresh vegetables 

Whole grain bread, pita, or crackers 


Defrosted frozen vegetables (like broccoli, spinach, or cauliflower) 

Whole grain wheat products: Bulgur, couscous, farro, fekka, kasha, wheat berries, whole wheat pasta 


Canned tomato-ideally low sodium 



Beans/Edamame (soybean – fresh or defrosted frozen) 

Chickpeas (fresh or canned) 

Canned hearts of palm 

Brown rice 

Seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin 






Cottage cheese, plain yogurt 


Corn (fresh or canned low-sodium) 

Fresh or canned fish 



White meat poultry 

*To prepare tofu: 

A. Drain the cube of water and slice it into pieces on a baking dish. Cover with a towel and squeeze out excess water. Sprinkle with seasoning (try Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel or Chile Lime). Bake for 20-30 minutes.

B. Drain the water and stir-fry tofu chunks with cut-up fresh or frozen vegetables. 


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