Dietician-Approved: Kid-Friendly Lunch Boxes You'll Love!

By Paige Green, Hy-Vee Dietitian on Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Kids eating lunch

Getting out the door on a school morning can be a whirlwind, but packing a balanced lunch for your child can be broken down into simple and nutritious steps with help from your Hy-Vee dietitian and MyPlate!

The USDA recommends using MyPlate as a tool when it comes to packing your lunch. By including all five food groups you can help set your child up for success when it comes to a balanced and nutrient-dense lunch that will keep them full and able to focus in the classroom. Have your kids get involved in the lunch packing process by giving them a choice when it comes to the item packed for each food group. This ensures they are getting all five food groups and will be more likely to eat the food – resulting in less food waste and clean-up when they get home from school! Let’s dive into the five food groups so you can select the options that work best when building your child’s balanced lunch.

Fruits: Fruits contain essential vitamins and minerals including potassium, fiber, vitamin C and folate. Try packing easy-to-eat fruit options such as Hy-Vee Short Cuts peeled clementines, unsweetened applesauce cups, fruit cups packed in 100% fruit juice, bananas, apples or kiwis.

Vegetables: Veggies provide vitamins C and A to support our immune system, fiber to help keep us full longer, along with other essential vitamins and minerals to create a nutrient-dense lunch. Try kid-friendly veggie options such as: sugar snap peas, baby carrots or carrot chips, mini cucumbers or mini sweet bell peppers – and don’t forget the dip! Your child may be more likely to enjoy their veggies with dip such as salad dressing or hummus. Check out Bolthouse Farms ranch dressing for a great dip option that is lower in calories and saturated fat than traditional ranch dressing.

Protein: Protein-rich foods are the building blocks for our muscles. They include iron to prevent anemia, zinc to support the immune system, and magnesium to build bones and aid in muscle function. Protein in lunch boxes can come from nut and seed butters, Greek yogurt, deli meat, snack bars, milk and more!

Dairy: Calcium, found in dairy products, is especially important for children and adolescents when bone mass is still being built. Kid-friendly dairy options include items such as string cheese, Greek yogurt, single-serve milk containers or even cottage cheese. You can also find calcium in dairy-free alternatives to help your child meet their daily recommended amount of this essential nutrient.

Grains: The B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin and niacin in whole grains play a key role in a healthy metabolism and weight by helping our body convert the food we eat into the energy we need!

Grains can come in many forms such as whole-wheat bread for sandwiches to whole-grain crackers or even the oats in the Carrot Cake Energy Bites recipe found below.

Carrot Cake Energy Bites

Serves 12 (2 each)

All you need:

¾ cup Hy-Vee California sun-dried raisins

½ cup Hy-Vee old-fashioned oats

½ cup Hy-Vee dried pineapple

¼ cup Hy-Vee chopped pecans

¼ cup Full Circle Market organic chia seeds

1 1/3 cups shredded carrots

1 tsp Hy-Vee ground cinnamon

1 tsp Hy-Vee vanilla extract

¼ tsp Hy-Vee salt

¼ tsp Hy-Vee ground ginger (if desired)

All you do:

  1. Place raisins, oats, pineapple, pecans and chia seeds in a food processor. Cover and pulse until finely chopped.
  2. Add carrots, cinnamon, vanilla, salt and ginger (optional) to food processor. Cover and process until mixture forms a ball.
  3. Roll into 24 balls (about 1 tablespoon each). Refrigerate 1 hour prior to serving.
  4. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Recipe source: August 2022 Hy-Vee Seasons magazine

The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.