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Tasty & Healthy Lunch Ideas

Packing healthy lunches for you and your children can be challenging. Here are some healthy alternatives that can help you mix it up a bit while providing good nutrition and a bit of fun.

  • Be creative. Think outside the lunchbox. Does your child enjoy spanakopita triangles, Chinese chicken salad, or veggie/soy corn dogs at home? With a little forethought and a reusable cold pack, you can probably pack them for lunch, too.
  • Keep it cold. For safety’s sake, pack lunch with a reusable ice pack. Better yet, freeze a small water bottle or box of 100% juice. Your child will have a slushy drink to enjoy at lunch and won’t have to worry about bringing an ice pack home.
  • Keep it fun. Include items that kids can stack or mix up to their taste when they eat. Remember that kids like to dunk, and include healthy dips with vegetables or other items. Cut foods into fun shapes with cookie cutters.

Celebrate Lunch Salads. A plastic container can hold the makings of a delicious salad lunch. For a Cobb salad, fill it with spinach or chopped dark green lettuce, chopped hard-boiled egg, light cheese, and/or lean ham. Or toss in the ingredients for a Chinese chicken salad: dark salad greens, shredded chicken, shredded carrots, sliced green onion, and toasted sliced almonds.

The salad will stay fresher if your child adds the dressing at lunchtime. Put a light dressing into a small container, buy packets of light dressing, or use extra packets of dressing left over from a fast-food meal.

It’s a Wrap! Wraps are a nice change of pace from the usual sandwich. Use a high-fiber multigrain flour tortilla, available in most supermarkets. Spread on mustard, hummus, light salad dressing, or green or sundried tomato pesto. Then fill ‘er up with chicken Caesar salad or assorted lean meats, cheese, tomato, sliced onion, and shredded Romaine lettuce. Just roll it up and wrap in foil. Kids can eat it like a burrito — by unwrapping it on one end and working their way down.

Pasta Lover’s Lunch Salad. Pack a cold pasta salad and a plastic fork, and your pasta lover will love you, too! Make the salad with lean meat or low-fat cheese (so it has some protein), lots of vegetables to boost fiber and nutrition, and whole wheat or whole-grain pasta.

Peanut Butter Fun Pack. Make a peanut butter fun pack by spooning two tablespoons of natural-style peanut butter in a reusable plastic container, along with whole wheat crackers or whole wheat pita pocket wedges and raw vegetables such as celery, zucchini, or jicama sticks.

Everything Is Better on a Mini Bagel. Whole-wheat bagels are a wonderful foundation for hardy sandwiches that stand up to being in a backpack or locker all morning. Start with one regular or a few mini bagels. Add tuna or lean, roasted, and sliced turkey or roast beef. Top it off with reduced-fat cheese and fresh tomato, onion, and Romaine lettuce or sprouts. Two mini bagels can supply 6 grams of fiber to the meal.

Tasty Side Dishes

Add some of these to round out your child’s lunch:

  • Fruit cups (with no sugar added)
  • Applesauce in flavors such as pomegranate or cranberry-raspberry (also with no sugar added)
  • Nuts or seeds in a shell (if age and allergy appropriate), such as walnuts, pistachios, peanuts, or sunflower seeds
  • Raw veggies (ready to pack) such as carrot sticks, sugar snap peas, celery, or jicama sticks
  • Cheese sticks — available in 2% sharp cheddar, part skim-milk mozzarella, pepper jack, and more
  • Healthy snack bars (individually wrapped) with 3 or more grams of fiber, less than 10 grams sugar, and no more than 1 gram saturated fat
  • Yogurt in individual containers (keep it cold by packing them with a reusable ice pack or a small water bottle that has been frozen.)
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