It’s the start of a new school year, and that means new teachers, new friends, and new lunchtime struggles. While it’s easy to fill your kids’ lunchboxes with pre-packaged snacks, that doesn’t do much in the way of keeping their growing bodies healthy. Sending kids to school with healthy lunches each day doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.

“School lunches may not seem significant in a child’s life, but when you add up that they are eating them five days per week, it’s quite a lot of their calorie consumption,” said Dr. Nimali Fernando, a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based pediatrician and founder of The Doctor Yum Project. “Teaching them healthy lunch habits from a young age will give them the tools to build lifelong healthy habits.”

Many pediatricians are concerned that children simply do not get the amount of healthy foods they need to begin with. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that only 12 percent of adults get enough fruit and only non percent get enough vegetables. They went on to say that most children in the U.S. do not meet either standard for daily recommended fruits or vegetables. Add that 14 percent of preschool-aged children are considered obese, and the urgency for a healthy diet becomes clearer.

Packing lunches is a great time to start teaching kids the importance of healthy eating habits.

“Get your kids involved in helping to make healthy lunches this year, which will teach them healthy habits and make them more likely to actually eat what you pack together,” said Heidi DiEugenio, director of The Doctor Yum Project. “Once you decide you want to serve healthy and affordable lunches, you just need to stick with the commitment and make it happen. It will become a healthy habit for the whole family.”

Here are a few tips offered by Dr. Yum for packing healthy lunches on a budget:

Make a plan and stick to it

Make a menu of what you will pack throughout the week. Creating a shopping list from that and make sure you have all items stocked. Prep as much as possible on the weekend.

Buy in bulk

Individually packaged items come at a price. Buying items in bulk, at a co-op or even Costco — and reusable containers to put those items in — means you’ll be saving money, while also helping the environment. Keep it healthy buy opting for things like dried fruits, unsweetened applesauce, low-fat string cheese, and trail mix.

Use leftovers

Plan your dinner meals ahead, and make a bit more if necessary, so that you have leftovers for the everyone’s lunches the next day. Combine that with planning #1 above and you’ll feel like super savvy, super thrifty Supermom.

Start from Scratch

Making food from scratch means that you have more control over what gets mixed in. Grocery store items like pre-packaged muffins have ingredients that we would never find in our pantry. Muffins are particularly easy because you can make them and pop them in the freezer for later, saving you money and giving you a guaranteed healthy snack for lunch or after school.

Skip the sugary drinks

If you’ve never looked at a fruit juice label, you’re about to be shocked. An average juice box can have between 20-30 grams of sugar — that’s more sugar than most young children should have all day. Instead of bagged or boxed individual juices, let your child pick out a fun reusable container and refill with water flavored with fresh fruit like strawberries or lemon or even unsweetened tea.

A twist on the traditional lunch

PBJ makes it on most kids’ most requested lunch item list, but keep things interesting by mixing it up. Add some twists by putting sliced bananas in that peanut butter sandwich, or use a whole wheat tortilla. You can even put PB and jelly in a tortilla, fold it up and grill like a quesadilla. They’re all affordable, fun options that will make sure your child’s lunchbox comes home empty.

Rainbow veggie pinwheels


  • 8 whole wheat tortilla wraps
  • 1 cup hummus
  • 1 cup red bell pepper, thinly cut strips
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1 cup yellow bell pepper, thinly cut strips
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, thinly cut
  • 1 cup purple cabbage, shredded


  1. Spread about two tablespoons of hummus on each tortilla, leaving a one-inch border on all sides. Line up a thin layer of sliced vegetables across the hummus. Roll up the tortilla tightly.
  2. Cut the roll crosswise into four or five pinwheels and serve. These can easily be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator, ready for a party, snack, or packed lunch!

For more great back-to-school recipes, or more information about teaching children healthy habits, visit 

Originally published August 20, 2018.

Also see,  Back-to-school food safety for parents and kids.

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Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.