9 Tips for Healthy, Budget School Lunches from an Online Dietitian


Preparing school lunches can be a daunting task for even the most creative of chefs, especially considering the need to prepare meals for all 180 school days. When browsing websites for ideas, we come across animal-shaped sandwiches and elaborate recipes that take up more time than we spend on getting the entire family organized in the morning, much less lunch prep.

But don’t worry! You don’t have to struggle with the age-old question, “What’s in my lunchbox today?” There are simple, healthy, and affordable ways to get ready for the next 180 school days without losing your mind. Get your kids to get the nutrients they need and maintain a healthy weight with healthy lunches.

To help you out, here are nine tips to keep your school lunches healthy and exciting, without breaking the bank.


Create a grocery shopping plan. Start by taking inventory of what’s already in the pantry, and then plan your grocery list accordingly. This will help reduce food waste and save money in the long run. Before hitting the store, decide which lunches you’ll be making for the week so you can shop with intention. Focus on the perimeter of the store first, where you’ll find produce, dairy, meats, and bakery items, before moving on to the processed and packaged aisles.

Get your kids involved. By having more of a say in what they want to eat, they’re more likely to eat well. Raising healthy, adventurous eaters will give your kids the tools to make better food choices. This includes having them help with grocery shopping and meal prep and cleanup.

Preparing food ahead of time is another great way to save time during the week. On Sundays, wash and cut up in-season fruits and veggies, and store them in separate containers for easy mixing and matching. Cube cheese and roasted chicken in the same way, and keep them ready for salads, sandwiches, and other lunchtime favorites.

Mix things up with pita, tortillas, lettuce wraps, and more.

Get creative with lunchtime leftovers. Pasta and quinoa salads, bean salads, and even leftover pizza are all great options that can be repurposed for the next day’s lunch.

Make sure your kids stay hydrated by avoiding boxed juices, which are filled with loads of sugar or sweeteners, and sticking to water instead. Freeze water bottles overnight to keep them cool and refreshing throughout the day.

With a little bit of planning and creativity, school lunchtime can be healthy, kid-friendly, and economical. By keeping things fresh, interesting, and varied, you’ll be sure to provide your kids with all the nutrients their growing bodies need.


Here are some healthy school lunch ideas using leftovers from dinner. (And for those of you who pack lunches for work, here are some great options for the whole family.)


  1. Leftover grilled chicken: Slice the chicken and use it to make a chicken Caesar salad. Add some croutons and a light dressing.
  2. Leftover roasted vegetables: Make a wrap using a whole-grain tortilla and add the roasted vegetables along with some hummus and feta cheese.
  3. Leftover brown rice: Use the brown rice to make a rice bowl. Add some cooked vegetables, protein like tofu or beans, and a tasty sauce for flavor.
  4. Leftover chili: Heat up the chili in the morning and pack it in a thermos with some shredded cheese on top. Pack a bag of baked tortilla chips.
  5. Leftover pasta: Use leftover pasta to make a pasta salad. Add some cherry tomatoes, black beans, cheese, cucumbers, and a light vinaigrette dressing.
  6. Leftover roasted chicken: Make a chicken sandwich using whole-grain bread, sliced chicken, lettuce, tomato, and a light mayo or mustard.