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Are your kids tired of eating sandwiches every day for lunch? You can add variety to their lunch bag without adding time to your morning or evening routine.

Try packing what I call a "snack meal." This is a meal comprised of three to five food groups, including grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy and protein. It requires minimal prep yet provides the nutrition your child needs for lunch.

Snack meals are great for both packed lunches, and to have in the refrigerator ready to go for your child to grab when lunch break arrives.

If your child has more than three hours between lunch and the next meal or snack, strive to provide at least one serving from all five food groups. This will provide a satisfying combination of fiber and protein to give your child's brain fuel to learn and keep their belly from getting empty too quickly.

5 food groups for your child's school lunch

The list below is not all-inclusive but provides some suggestions of foods you can grab from each food group to make a lunch. This list works great for adult lunches, too.


  • Cooked pasta
  • Dry cereal
  • English muffin
  • Granola
  • Granola bar
  • Mini bagel
  • Muffin
  • Pita chips
  • Pretzels
  • Popcorn
  • Waffles, French toast sticks or pancakes
  • Whole wheat crackers
  • Whole wheat tortilla, bread or bun


  • Canned or cooked vegetables
  • Low-sodium vegetable juice
  • Raw veggies (carrots, grape tomatoes, bell peppers, etc.) with dressing, dip or hummus
  • Small salad with dressing
  • Steamed edamame


  • Canned fruit cup
  • Cut-up fruit (melon, pineapple, berries)
  • Dried fruit
  • Small fresh fruit (apple, orange, pear, peach, plum, banana)
  • 100% fruit juice


  • Cheese curds
  • Cottage cheese
  • Drinkable yogurt
  • Milk or nut milk (soy, almond, cashew, oat, etc.)
  • Greek or regular yogurt
  • Shredded cheese
  • Sliced cheese
  • String cheese


  • Canned chicken, tuna or salmon mixed with mayonnaise
  • Deli meat
  • Hard-boiled egg
  • Hummus
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter or other nut butters
  • Steamed edamame

To find other tasty, dietitian-approved ideas, view our recipes.

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