By Rachael Kent Frias, Maui Health Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Having a healthy lunch at school is important in so many ways — it supports learning and concentration, keeps immune systems strong to fight off those classroom colds, and provides the energy needed to get through a long school day. Here are some tips for packing a healthy lunch that will satisfy both you and your kids.

Protein power. Having a serving of protein supports growing bodies and helps kids feel full for longer. Try lean meats, eggs, fish, or plant-based proteins like tofu, beans, or nut butter.

Eat a rainbow. Colorful fruits and vegetables not only give kids the variety of vitamins and minerals they need, but they also add visual appeal to the lunchbox. Bonus challenge – try to fill half the lunchbox with fruits and veggies for the most nutritious meal!

Make it whole grain. Whole grains have more fiber and nutrients than their refined counterparts, and help kids maintain energy levels throughout the day. 

Healthy fats. Healthy unsaturated fats, like those found in avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish, are important for brain development and health.

Don’t forget calcium. Support growing bones by making sure your child is getting enough calcium with dairy products like yogurt, milk, and cheese, or plant-based sources like beans, tofu, fortified plant milks, and cruciferous vegetables such broccoli and bok choy.

Pack a water bottle. Kids need plenty of hydration during recess or PE class. For more flavor, add a splash of juice or squeeze of lemon. Or try adding slices of fruit or cucumber for a refreshing twist.

Eat local. Take advantage of Hawaii’s abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables with local favorites like mango, papaya, star fruit, sweet potato, and taro.

Keep it safe. Avoid food-borne illness by packing perishable items in an insulated container with ice packs and remind your child to always wash their hands before eating. 

No matter what’s in the lunchbox, a great way to encourage healthy eating habits is to get your child involved in planning and preparing meals. Talk with your kids about what foods they like for lunch, and let them help you plan a menu of healthy options. You can also enlist their help preparing and packing their lunch each morning, or the night before if school mornings are too busy. Kids are often more willing to eat healthy meals and try new foods when they’re involved in preparing it.

Back-to-school means new friends, new routines, and new learning, so it’s more important than ever that kids have the nutrition and energy they need. By packing a lunch that’s healthy and enjoyable, you can help set your child up for a successful school year. For more, visit