Cart Smarts: Five tips for back-to-school lunches

"What are you doing, mom?"

"Paying for your Sunday school."

"I get to go to school?!"

Owen is beyond thrilled about the idea of going to school. Every time he sees a school bus on the road, he points and yells. He loves wearing his little backpack with his name embroidered on it. And, ever since he saw me writing a check for his Sunday school, he has been asking me if today is the day he gets to go to school. My husband says he wishes we could bottle this excitement and save it for when Owen's a teenager and refusing to get out of bed for school.

For many, this week is filled with last-minute summer activities and lots of back-to-school shopping.


With my job at the grocery store, I can expect to answer plenty of questions about packing healthy lunches this week.

Here are my top five tips for packing healthy lunches, for adults and kids alike:

Use MyPlate.It's the perfect guide to building a healthy meal. Mentally walk through each part of the plate so that you don't leave out a food group — whole grains, lean protein, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy.

Be safe.Temperature control is an important part of food safety. If you don't have access to refrigeration (in the case of students, for example), then be sure to include an ice pack in your insulated lunch bag. Or better yet, throw in a Fruchi smoothie — it doubles as an ice pack and a full serving of fruit!

Plan ahead.If your family is anything like ours, mornings are chaotic. For us, it makes the most sense to pack lunches at night. But the first part of planning involves shopping. Whatever you have at home is what you will use to pack your lunch, so grocery shop with this in mind. If you want to fill your lunch bag with healthy foods, then be sure to fill your cart with those very same foods.

Make it easy to eat.Cut oranges and apples into wedges. Slice sandwiches in half. Include finger foods for kids. And don't forget a spoon for yogurt! If there's a barrier to eating it, the food will come home uneaten.

Avoid monotony.Variety will help prevent boredom and incorporate more nutrients, so do your best to come up with some creative lunch ideas. Try a new nut butter in your child's PB&J sandwich. Make a big batch of pasta salad, filled with whole-grain noodles, vegetables and cheese cubes — this will cover lunches for a few days. Switch up your deli meat sandwich with tuna, rotisserie chicken or egg salad. Add chickpeas or other beans to your lettuce salad for extra protein. Pack breakfast for lunch with oatmeal, walnuts, dried fruit and skim milk.

I wish you a successful start to the school year, filled with excited students, influential teachers and healthy lunches.


Tuscan-style tuna salad

2 (6-ounce cans) chunk light tuna, drained

1 15-ounce can small white beans, such as cannellini or great northern, rinsed

10 cherry tomatoes, quartered

4 scallions, trimmed and sliced

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt


Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine tuna, beans, tomatoes, scallions, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Stir gently. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 4 servings, 1-cup each.

Recipe from

What To Read Next
Get Local