Back to School, Back to Packing School Lunch

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | August 28, 2018

Love it or hate it, it’s almost time to start thinking about packing school lunches again. Unfortunately, most American school lunches don't provide the healthiest options. So, in the quest to keep our children healthy, most of us strive to pack healthy and nutritious meals.

It is no secret that a balanced midday meal helps children concentrate better during class and keeps their energy level stable throughout the day. But the hurdle is finding a variety of healthy, balanced lunches that your child likes and will actually eat! I suggest sitting down with your children and coming up with a menu of ideas that you can rotate through during the school year. Here are some ideas and tips to help get you started!

Bagged Lunch Cheat Sheet

  • Every lunch should contain a whole grain, a protein, a vegetable, a fruit, and a good source of healthy fat.
  • Water! Hydration is a crucial element to our health. Parents often substitute water with sugar-laden juice or sports drink. Packing a small bottle of water will help remind them to drink, and it ensures that they stay hydrated during the most active parts of their day.
  • Avoid processed snacks. If you put a bag of chips and a bag of carrots in their lunch box, which one will they choose first? Kids are usually starving when they sit down in the cafeteria, and they’ll go for whatever their taste buds are more drawn to – like salt, sugar, and fat. It’s a typical response to go for the quick burst of energy right away. So in this case, chips would win unless you skip the chips and only pack the carrots.
  • Save the sugar. Don't pack sugary treats every day. They will learn to crave artificial sugar if it's available to them on a daily basis. This sets them up for sugar addiction and bad habits. Save the treats for special days like the last day of the month or on their birthday. Packing a fruit every day will satisfy that sweet tooth while boosting nutrition and hydration! It also fosters a strong life-long love of fruit!

Meal Idea 1

  • Brown rice with diced chicken, diced green bell peppers, and avocado
  • Bottle of water
  • Mango slices

Meal Idea 2

  • Turkey chili
  • Bottle of water
  • Baggie of red grapes

Meal Idea 3

  • Whole grain tortilla with melted cheese, shredded chicken, black beans and salsa
  • Bottled water
  • Blueberries

The healthy eating habits we learned during childhood can carry into adulthood, so it’s important to introduce your kids to all the healthy options available to them, starting with their packed lunches. By simply swapping out the junk for more nutritious whole food options, you can help your kiddos stay focused, energized, and nourished!


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Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/Active.com Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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