It’s hard to plan interesting school lunches, and the reality is, we know our kids don’t always eat the foods we would like. So we interviewed an expert to get some ideas for making lunches that kids will enjoy and will still provide a well-rounded diet.
Jennifer McDaniel
McDaniel Nutrition
230 S. Bemiston Ave. Suite 430
Clayton, MO 63105
(314) 413-1996

Jennifer McDaniel lives in the St. Louis area and is passionate about dietary education and improvement. She did her undergrad studies at the University of Tennessee and then finished her graduate work at St. Louis University. Though she advises people of all ages and needs, she is a champion of children’s education and nutrition knowledge for mothers. “I feel it is one of the most important things in our lives,” she said when asked about her reason for working in this particular field.

Tip 1: Skewer It And Combine With A Dip

According to McDaniel, this gives foods a magical makeover, giving kids a way to eat a low-maintenance meal that is miles above the standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She recommends cutting the end off the stick so it isn’t sharp, and fill it with two or three different food groups, at least one of which should be a fruit or vegetable. This also makes portioning and cleanup a snap. Dips are a great way to encourage eating whole vegetables and different foods, and don’t overlook the nutrition possibilities of the dips themselves. The Internet is full of simple snack and dip combinations for inspiration, many of which take just a few minutes to prepare.

Tip 2: Think Outside The Bread Box

McDaniel points out that bread gets boring. She recommends sandwiching your protein servings between fruits or vegetables. Examples such as hummus and cheese between cucumber slices or nut butter on apple slices with raisins give a sweet and savory option. Honey and fruit-friendly spices can add even more flavor and is a great way to encourage eating vegetables and fruits. It incorporates them into the entree, where they are less likely to be ignored.This is also quick and easy, and can be prepared the night before for even more convenience.

Tip 3: Enhance It And Be Artistic

Googly candy eyeballs, edible markers and cookie cutters all add some artistic fun to lunch. To children who value presentation, this will encourage them to eat their lunch and come to enjoy the variety. Different shapes and colors can not only increase a child’s desire to eat better foods, but also can bring them to the joy of preparing them. These tiny touches take seconds but will increase the appeal for many children. For example, a whole wheat English muffin, a side of marinara, mozzarella cheese and last night’s grilled chicken makes a pizza that is healthy and portable. If you decorate it a little and use olive slices for eyes and an onion slice for a mouth, it becomes fun.

Related: Back-To-School Food Safety Tips For Brown Bag Lunches

Tip 4: Switch Up The Brown Bag Classics With Simple, Healthy Substitutions

McDaniel recommends finding ways to get your child involved in the process so they feel ownership of their nutrition. It’s a component of lunch that often doesn’t matter to adults but is a big deal for the child. Having a unique choice that is theirs alone can make all the difference in their experience. This can also let you incorporate different things for your child to try. Instead of cookies, try chocolate pudding cups with fresh sliced bananas. Instead of PB&J on bread, try it on a whole grain tortilla and sliced. These take just a minute to prepare, but your small change makes a big difference in the nutrition and the appeal to your child.

Tip 5: Get Feedback And Know Healthy Alternatives

You might wish your child liked hummus, but if they don’t, they aren’t going to eat it. Listening to feedback and implementing it is crucial, and McDaniel emphasizes its importance. Because each child and appetite is different, she recommends doing some easy research on healthy recipe sites. If your child refuses to eat yogurt, then send them with yogurt dip for a fruit. If that doesn’t work then testing different foods that bring the same nutrients that you were trying to resolve with yogurt. This lets you make some ingredients ahead of time, and assemble an easy lunch without any hassling or last minute changes. To save yourself time and make your new family of recipes work, keep certain healthy staples ready for substitution. You spend less time arguing about what goes in the lunch bag and you know your child is happy with the result.

Related: Time-Saving Tips For Healthy School Lunches

Bon Tindle is an author from Springfield, MO. She writes fiction and nonfiction for several publications, and can be reached through her website ( with comments or questions.
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