Back to School: Tips for Packing Healthier School Lunches


This is a guest post by Thea Runyan, co-founder of Kurbo Health and co-author of the Kurbo Cookbook. Back to school lunches have been on my mind for the last few weeks because after years of leaving the job up to my kids, I’ve gotten back into making lunch for them, mainly to ensure that my high schooler has a protein-rich lunch to give her fuel for cross country practice after school. She’s one of those people who don’t eat much and will skip meals without a thought, and I’ve seen that ensuring she has a proper lunch greatly helps balance her energy and mood throughout the day. Take it away, Thea.

I think it is safe to say that one of the most dreaded tasks for parents at the start of a new school year is worrying about school lunch. Lunches purchased at school can be pricey and/or less than healthy. This leaves us with the challenging task of a packing school lunch that is healthy, not too expensive, and one that our kids will eat.

As you plan, keep these key components in mind as the foundation for a healthy lunch:

Whole Grain + Lean Protein + Fruit+ Veggie = Healthy Lunch!

Here are some of Kurbo’s tried and true strategies for packing healthy lunches your kid or teen will actually eat. (And don’t forget the equation above).

  • Brainstorm Sit down with your child(ren) or teen(s) and brainstorm all the foods they like in a lunch. Browse Pinterest for ideas. Get creative. Many kids and teens don’t like sandwiches so consider wraps, quesadillas (they don’t mind them cold) and leftovers instead.
  • Create a lunch menu for the week and post it in the kitchen. Including the kids in the planning will ensure happier lunch times and keeping it posted will make the packing process go smoothly.
  • Buy and prepare ingredients on the weekend. Taking this extra planning step will save you all a lot of time on those hectic weekday mornings. 
  • Get them to do it! There is no reason why your child(ren) and teens can’t help pack their own lunch. This relieves a lot of stress for parents and before you know it, it will become the family norm.
  • Pack or assemble what you can the night before and get the kids to help. This tip will save you a lot of time because all you will need to do in the morning is finish the last touches and give the parent seal of approval. I have my kids put their lunches on the counter so I can give it a quick glance and thumbs up before they go out the door.
  • Make it fun. Add a note or sticker every once in awhile to make it special. Even your teen will get a kick out of this sometimes.
  • Don’t forget the water!

If packing a lunch is not an option for any reason, try these tips to improve the school lunch:

  • Pack healthy sides like a piece of fruit, hardboiled egg, or some carrots.
  • Encourage healthy behaviors like eating the fruit and veggies first, taking the skin off chicken, and skip the roll.
  • Try to find a compromise. Agree on the number of days a week for school lunch and the number of days for packed lunch.


Grill enough chicken for the week to have plenty of leftovers. Go around the world by trying a variety of flavors in your wrap. Make sure to use a whole wheat tortilla for a yellow light lunch favorite!

Basic wrap: chicken, light ranch dressing, lettuce, tomato, cucumber.

Mexican wrap: chicken, black beans, salsa, shredded lettuce, avocado

Greek Wrap: chicken, hummus, cucumber, tomato, onion, light feta cheese

Packing suggestions: fruit, carrots

Makes 1 Serving

Prep time: Under five minutes

Thea Runyan, MPH, is the Co-Founder of Kurbo Health, the first mobile, scalable weight management solution for kids, teens and families, and the Lead Behavior Coach at Stanford Children’s Hospital. She is also the co-author (with Arielle Adelman) of the Kurbo Cookbook, a collection of healthy, Stoplight Diet-classified recipes created by and for kids and families following the Kurbo program. Thea enjoys hiking, yoga, and hanging out with her three daughters when she isn’t helping families achieve their health goals.



If You’re Going to See One Movie this Year, Frozen 2 is It
Disney on Ice Skates Back to the Bay Area Next Month
Lunch at Gott’s with a Cheesy Lifehack
The Exploratorium’s Summer Exhibit Will Inflate Imagination
If You’re Going to See One Movie this Year, Frozen 2 is It
Disney on Ice Skates Back to the Bay Area Next Month
The Best Family Fun Activities at the Presidio
Disney’s Food & Wine Festival Inspires Junior Chefs
Yes, Disney’s Aulani is Worth the Money
Road Trip: The Pilgrimage to The Pioneer Woman
Road Trip: Adventure Through Some of the Middle States
Tulip Fields Without a Flight to the Netherlands