Back 2 School: Healthy foods your kids will actually eat

HOUSTON – Who said school lunches have to be boring?

Registered dietitian, Kristi King, from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital said the goal for back-to-school lunches is each should contain a protein, fruit, vegetables and grains. She packed several lunches for KPRC kids and we found the kids were willing to eat their essential nutrients if they could mix and match which foods they wanted to eat from each category. 

Below are the ingredients of each lunch King made. If students pick one food from each category, King said the lunch doesn’t have to sound like it pairs well together, “If it sounds good to your child and they will eat it, by all means put it in their lunch.”

KPRC conducted a taste test with the following ingredients in sectioned lunch boxes. The lunches kept food separated with bento boxes and backing cups, which proved to be a hit for the kids who do not like food to touch.

These are King’s suggestions to help you start the school year, there are countless other combinations that can fit within these categories:


King made BLT sandwiches which combine both the protein and veggies kids need for a well-balanced lunch. She added cut cheese sticks to tortellini for added protein. For a twist to the lunch staple, peanut butter, she removed the core of an apple and served the PB inside the apple. She also used deli turkey to roll with spinach and cheese.

Bacon (served as BLT sandwich)
Chicken salad (served in a lettuce wrap)
Cheese tortellini
Peanut butter 


King said popcorn is a good source of grain and fiber but best served plain, without butter and salt. She also served mini waffles by themselves but said you can use them in place of sandwich bread, if you want to make a sweet sandwich, she said to use cream cheese (which counts as protein) on the waffles. The waffles count as a serving of grain.

Mini waffles
Wraps (can be used in place of lettuce for chicken salad suggestion above)
Wheat bread for BLT


Served in separate containers, inside baking cups and in fun shapes, she said can help make eating fruit fun.

Cherries, pitted
Apple (cored, served with peanut butter)


King said these veggies served with ranch dressing, by themselves or on a sandwich count as one of the child’s servings of vegetables for the day.

Lettuce & tomato (on sandwich)
Cherry tomatoes (King sliced these and added them to tortellini)
Bell peppers 
Carrot sticks
Cucumber slices
Broccoli salad (King’s recipe below)


King used the drinks as a way to encourage whatever nutritional need was left to balance. She recommends milk or chocolate milk if your child needs more dairy in the day. King also suggested flavored water made by Capri Sun, they look like juice pouches but could be encouraging for kids who avoid water. Since some school districts may prohibit water in class, King recommends packing a water bottle in lunch boxes to make sure the student stays hydrated.

Chocolate milk
Flavored water
Vegetable juice


King said a small serving of chocolate chips or a Rice Krispie treat is fine to occasionally add a treat to the child’s lunch.

Fun Broccoli Salad

2 crowns of fresh broccoli, washed thoroughly, cut into bite sized pieces
1 lb bacon, cooked & crumbled
1/4 c red onion, finely diced
1/2 c dried cranberries
3/4 c roasted sunflower kernels
6-8 oz plain Greek yogurt
2 tsp white vinegar
4 Tbsp Truvia Baking Blend

1) combine broccoli, bacon, onion, cranberries, & sunflower kernels in a large bowl
2) whisk together yogurt, vinegar & Truvia
3) toss dressing in with broccoli 
4) all to sit in fridge for 2 hours prior to serving
5) stir & enjoy