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How To: Build a Better School Lunch

Image of healthy lunch balanced plate

Do you know how to make a lunch that will keep you full and satisfied?

Lunch is a very important meal because it provides important nutrients to keep us full and energized throughout the afternoon.  

  1. Basic Principles of a Healthy Lunch
  2. Step-by-Step: How to Build A Healthy Lunch (printable)
  3. Balanced Lunch Examples
  4. Recipes

Basic Principles of a Healthy Lunch

When building a healthy lunch, the first thing to keep in mind is to create a balanced plate! This means making sure your plate or lunch box includes a variety of healthy foods.

Aim for: 

  • 50% vegetables and fruit (1/2 your plate)
  • 25% whole grains or starches (1/4 of your plate)
  • 25% protein foods (1/4 of your plate)

Add different foods to create your balanced lunch based on these guidelines. Don’t forget a healthy drink to stay hydrated!

Check out our printable healthy lunch guide below with only 4 easy steps to create your own balanced plate!

Step-by-Step: How to Build A Healthy Lunch (printable)

graphic of steps for building a healthy school lunch

1. Start with Vegetables and Fruit
Amount: 1/2 of your plate

Aim to have vegetables and fruit take up half of your plate. These healthy foods provide fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to your lunch. If you or your child don’t love veggies, try making them a bit more fun! Add shredded cheese to steamed broccoli, or try sliced vegetables like cucumbers or carrots with a dip such as hummus! Fruits are also a great option for picky eaters. Include grapes, sliced melon, or fresh berries. 

2. Add Protein Foods
Amount: ¼ of your plate

Protein foods can help keep you full and satisfied for an afternoon of learning. You can choose animal or plant sources of protein. Some easy options for lunch include turkey slices, Greek yogurt, hummus, boiled eggs, or roasted chickpeas. Check out our recipes below for more ideas on how to incorporate these proteins into your balanced lunch!

Learn more about protein.

3. Add Whole Grains and Starches
Amount: ¼ of your plate

Grains and starches are made up of carbohydrates. Usually these foods take up the majority of our plates, but try to keep it to 1/4 if possible. Look for whole grains such as whole wheat breads, wraps, crackers, rice, or pasta. These will have more fibre than white options. Fibre is great for our digestion and can help keep us full for longer. Other grains like quinoa, barley, and oats are healthy options too!

Some foods that many people consider vegetables actually fit into this category as well because they are starches. Starchy foods are higher in carbohydrates. Examples of these include corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes. These foods are also great sources of fibre and other nutrients. 

4. Enjoy a drink!

Water is always the best choice to keep hydrated, although milk can provide additional nutrition like calcium and vitamin D. Try to stay away from sugary drinks, like flavoured milks, pop, energy drinks, or juice. If you don’t enjoy water or milk, try flavouring your water with sliced cucumbers or fruit! See our recipe below, or check out our Healthy Hydration article!

Balanced Lunch Examples:

Now that we have an understanding of how to build a balanced lunch, check out these examples of putting those steps into action!

#1: Quesadilla
Veggies/Fruit: Salsa, Sliced Peppers, Orange slices
Protein: Cheddar Cheese
Grain/Starch: Whole Wheat Tortilla
Hydration: Water

#2: Yogurt Parfait
Veggies/Fruit: Berries, Sliced Cucumbers
Protein: Greek Yogurt
Grain/Starch: Granola*
Hydration: Water
*look for less than 8g of sugar and more than 4g of fibre per serving

#3: Turkey Wrap
Veggies/Fruit: Baby Carrots, Grapes
Protein: Turkey Slices, Hummus
Grain/Starch: Whole Wheat Pita or Tortilla
Hydration: Milk

#4: Pasta Salad with Pesto Sauce
Veggies/Fruit: Snap Peas, Sliced Carrots, Apple Slices
Protein: Turkey Slices or Roasted Chickpeas
Grain/Starch: Whole Grain Pasta (with pesto!)
Hydration: Water

#5: Homemade Lunchables
Veggies/Fruit: Apple Slices, Baby Carrots, Cherry Tomatoes, Sliced Peppers
Protein: Falafel Balls, Meatballs, or Pepperoni and Hummus (for Veggie Dip!)
Grain/Starch: Wrap or Thin Bun
Hydration: Water

Recipes:

Check out these recipes for healthy lunches