Food for Thought Blog

Back to School – Packing Healthy & Budget Friendly Lunches

August 26th, 2021Food & Recipes

September often brings the excitement of children being back in school, however, it also brings the task of packing lunch boxes. For families that are on a limited budget or accessing food assistance, packing lunches can add additional stress. Research has shown that children who eat healthier perform better in school, highlighting the importance of a nutritious lunch.

Throughout Waterloo Region, 36% of individuals accessing food assistance are under the age of 18 – that’s about 1 in 3. As a result, school-friendly snacks or nutritious lunch box items continue to be most needed items at The Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

3 Steps to Make a Nutritious Lunch

  1. Include 2 Fruits & Vegetables. A balanced lunch includes fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and protein. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants. Fresh, frozen, canned, and dried options are all great choices and packed full of nutrients.
Fruit & Vegetable Options:
  • Applesauce
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Raisins
  • Frozen Mango Chunks
  • Bell Pepper Strips
  • Fruit Cup
  • Baby Carrots
  • Cucumber Slices
  • Grapes
  • Dried Apple Chips
  • Broccoli
  • Bananas
  • Frozen Berries
  1. Include 1 Whole GrainWhole grains are high in fibre, iron, and B-vitamins. Try to include whole grains over white when possible. Include at least one choice in your child’s lunchbox.
Whole Grain Options:
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole Grain Cereal
  • Whole Grain Bread or Bun
  • Whole Grain Tortilla or Pita
  • Whole Grain Crackers
  • Whole Wheat Pasta
  • Brown Rice
  • Popcorn
  1. Include 1 ProteinProtein is essential to build and maintain different parts of our body such as our muscles, skin, hair, nails, and red blood cells. Protein can be found in both plant and animal sources. Include at least 1 choice in your child’s lunch box.
Protein Options:
  • Canned beans
  • Nut or Nut-Free Butter
  • Hardboiled Egg
  • Cheese
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Seeds
  • Yogurt
  • Hummus or Bean Dip
  • Tuna, Salmon, Egg, or Chicken Salad
  • Beans or Chickpeas
  • Cooked Chicken, Beef, Seafood, etc.

See below for some simple, and healthy lunch options you can create following the three easy steps outlined above, while staying on budget.

  • Whole wheat pasta, leftover meatballs, spaghetti sauce, cucumber slices, and clementine wedges
  • Yogurt Parfait (yogurt, mixed berries, bananas, granola, or cereal topping)
  • Whole grain wrap filled with nut free butter and banana, paired with celery slices
  • Chicken salad mix, whole grain crackers, grapes, and carrot sticks
  • Hummus, whole grain pita wedges, snap peas, and frozen mango chunks

What About Snacks?

Snacks are important as they prevent us from getting hungry between meals and help to ensure our body has enough energy to function throughout the day. Aim to pair a fruit, vegetable, or whole grain with a source of protein to create a balanced snack rich in carbohydrates and protein.

Try out some of these fun combinations:

  • Whole Wheat Banana Muffin and Cheese Cubes
  • Celery and Nut Free Butter
  • Canned Peaches and Cottage Cheese
  • Carrots and Roasted Chickpeas
  • Frozen Berries and Yogurt
  • Hardboiled Egg and Apple Slices
  • Homemade Trail Mix (whole grain cereal, seeds, and dried fruit)


Don’t forget to include a beverage to help maintain hydration. Avoid pop, sport drinks or juice which contain added calories and sugar. Instead, opt for water, milk, or a dairy free beverage. Also, try packing a reusable water bottle so that your child can refill as needed.

Looking for some delicious lunch box recipes? Check out