Lunch Box Tips & Tricks From a Registered Dietitian!

Lunch Box TipsI recently had the opportunity to get some lunch box tips from dietitian Anne Marie Armstrong.

Anne Marie is a registered dietitian with Atlantic Superstores and a mother of two.  She liaises with stores across the Atlantic region, providing nutrition tips and answering customers’ questions about healthier eating.

With “back to school” in full swing, it was great to be able to pick her brain and get the low down on bagged lunches from a dietitians point of view.  Anne Marie was able to offer some great suggestions, innovative ideas and awesome tips.

Monica ~ When packing lunches, should we be including something from each of the four food groups found in Canada’s Food Guide?

Anne Marie ~ Yes, aim for all food groups.  Try to keep your fridge and cupboards stocked with staples from the four good groups.  If a lunch contains all four food groups there is a good chance the child will reach all the recommended servings from Canada’s Food Guide by the end of the day.  Unbalanced lunches can also lead to hunger in the early afternoon.

Monica ~ How do I keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold while maintaining a safe temperature for both?

Anne Marie ~ Check to see if the school has a way to reheat foods normally served hot (a soup for example).  If they do then the hot food item can be sent cold and packed with other cold items in the lunch bag.  If this is not the case then my suggestion would be to keep hot foods in a thermos or thermos style container.  That way, the hot food (in a thermos) could still be packed with cold items. 

Monica ~ Are granola bars healthy?

Anne Marie ~ There are so many choices in this area of the grocery store!  A “healthier” choice would be one that provides less than 10 grams of sugar and 8 grams of fat.  I would avoid using these as a staple snack item as it provides less opportunity for more wholesome choices like fresh fruit and vegetables.  In my household we try to limit these to the weekends or on Fridays.

Monica ~ Any tips to get a picky eater to finish their lunch?

Anne Marie ~ Get children involved!  Let them pick the type of fruit that is packed with their lunch or the type of bread or pasta used.  Always serve a new food with a familiar food.  If your evening meal was a fan favorite, send leftovers for lunch!  Make it fun, if time allows:  use skewers or cookie cutters, coloured napkins, fun lunch boxes etc.

Monica ~ Whether at the end of a long day or the beginning of a hectic morning, the whole lunch making process can sometimes seem overwhelming.  Is there any way to streamline the process and make packing lunches easier?

Anne Marie ~ Yes!  Do it the night before, perhaps when you clean up from supper.  If children are older, get them to help you.  As mentioned above, have foods from the four food groups on hand at all times.  As a result, you will always the things you need to put together a healthy lunch.  When children come home at the end of the day, make it their responsibility to empty lunch bags and put re-useable containers/bags in the sink or dishwasher to be cleaned.

Monica ~ Should we always include water with lunch?

Anne Marie ~ Water should be sent for children to sip on throughout the day.  Milk is great choice for the mid-morning snack or lunch.  I love the PC® 1% M.F. Partly Skimmed Milk!  These tetra packs of milk are an easy fit in to the lunch box.

Monica ~ I am sure this is a much asked questions, but with thousands of new students starting school each year it bears repeating.  Most schools are now “nut free”, is there any alternative to the much loved peanut butter?

Anne Marie ~ Many schools are now peanut free!  Soy nut butter is readily available and well received by children.  Pumpkin butter is also growing in popularity!  Your local Atlantic Superstore offers over 100 President’s Choice® and no name® peanut free products.  These products are clearly labelled as “Made in a Peanut Free Facility”.

Monica ~ What are some healthy snacks?

Anne Marie ~ The opportunities are endless!  A general rule is to aim for 2 of 4 food groups. Some examples are:

Cheese and crackers

Apple wedges and soy nut butter

Vegetables and Hummus (try the new PC® Mini Hummus containers!)

Yogurt and granola

Milk and cereal

Homemade mini muffin and cheese

Monica ~ Would you mind offering some suggestions for replacing the sometimes very boring sandwich?

Anne Marie ~ Sandwiches are definitely a lunch time staple!  For a change of pace pack the fillings for a sandwich (meat and cheese, for example) and add some whole grain crackers or rice cakes so your child can make their own.

Think outside the box and consider what your children like.  Do they like pancakes?  If you make pancakes on the weekend, make extra and freeze.   Extras can be placed into a lunch and eaten cold or heated (if microwave available).  Did you have spaghetti for supper?  Use leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Monica~ Many families are now very environmentally aware, how can we pack a “greener” lunch?

Anne Marie ~ Packing a greener lunch is much easier these days.  Re-useable sandwich/snack bags and lunch containers are readily available.  Avoiding juice boxes and plastic water bottles (opting for a re-useable water bottle) and packaged/processed foods at lunch time can go a long way in reducing waste.

Monica ~ What are some healthy drinks to include in lunches?

Anne Marie ~ As mentioned above, low fat milk and water are the best choices.  If your child enjoys juice, ensure it is 100% juice and limit it to ½ cup per day.

Monica ~ Would you share some of your favourite healthy lunch packing tips?

Anne Marie ~ Other than the tips I mentioned above, I love to remind families that a healthy lunch is only healthy if it is eaten!  So, consider what your children like and go from there.  For many families, leftovers are lifesavers especially if is a meal your child enjoys.  Finally, remember, a lunch doesn’t have to be ‘fancy’; it could be whole grain crackers, fruit, cheese cubes and leftover chicken.  As long as the four food groups are represented, you are good to go!

Awesome answers Anne Marie, thank you so much for sharing your expert knowledge and enabling us to make informed, healthy choices!



  1. I work as a sub cafeteria person for the Wareham Schools and there are so many choices for the kids that they don’t really need to bring their lunch anymore. In addition to the hot lunch, there’s also a well stocked salad bar, a hot sandwich or pizza or burgers, there is fresh fruit, fruit cocktail, baby carrots with sunflower seed ‘butter’, hot pretzels, soups, and also special diet items for certain kids! It’s better stocked than some restaurant buffets.

  2. You know, I think you have to start the children out right. If they live on junk food in the summer you can’t expect them to reach for the carrot sticks but if that is what they are used to they will gobble up those yummy delicious and good for you foods. Great story! Thanks for sharing, Jessica

  3. This is great. We always had to eat school lunches when I was growing up, but I always envied those who got to bring their lunches!!

  4. These are some really great tips. Thank you for providing this very informative information. Our children come home at lunch time because we live in a small community. However, trying to figure out what will be for lunch is no less difficult because he does come home. Thank you for the reminders!

  5. Great tips. Veggies and hummus are one of my favorites :)

  6. Fabulous! Love these tips. Veggies and hummus are faves in our house…even with our 4 year old!

  7. Great tips! A balanced meal is a must, but it can be hard to pack in a lunchbox sometimes. Glad I know this, now!

  8. Great tips. We send in milk for lunch and a water bottle for my son to drink from all day. Hummus is a great snack and my kids love anything that snaps – like veggies – when you bite them.

  9. Wow those are some great tips. We definitely rely on granola bars on the go, I will be paying attention more closely to the ones we buy though!

  10. These are some amazing tips! I won’t be packing my toddler’s lunch box for a little while – but I want to implement this in her snack prep for when we go out. And I will definitely use this when I pack up my husband’s lunch box too :). Thanks!

  11. Hmmm I can use these snack ideas for me! Always looking for something to eat during the day that isn’t full of sugar.

    Thanks for the tips!

  12. Nice :) I met Ann Marie at a SS event last year… she made some delicious recipes that night.

  13. Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumbleupon every day. It’s always useful to read through content from other writers and use something from their websites.


  1. […] seems to happen at once: shopping for school clothes, footwear and school supplies; homework; packing lunches; planning dinners; registration for social and sporting groups and then car pooling to get to […]

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