Amy Stephens


Licensed dietiTian

specializing in sports nutrition and diabetes

Snack and Lunch Ideas for Kids

Healthy Eating for Elementary School

By Amy Stephens, MS, RD, CDE

Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist

Amy Stephens is a registered dietitian who has been practicing nutrition for 13 years.  She has offices in the West Village and Hastings-on-Hudson specializing in healthy eating, weight management, and diabetes.  She has four children, three of which are in Hillside Elementary.


What to feed your kids for lunch

For many of us, packing lunches every day is a dispiriting chore. We may be dealing with picky eaters, siblings with different food preferences or kids tired of the same thing every day. Meanwhile, we want to make sure our kids eat adequate nutrients to optimize their performances in school, stay healthy and provide them with enough energy for their long days at school.   Do remember to be enthusiastic about introducing new foods to you kids.


I’ve compiled some tips and lunch ideas to make packing lunches easier.


1.  Discuss menu ideas and lunch goals with your kids in the beginning of the week. Make sure kids know what healthy foods are and why we need them.

2.  Bring kids to the grocery store to pick out their own foods.  Try ordering on Fresh Direct with your child and have them pick out the foods they like.

3.  Pack a variety of foods from different food groups.  Vegetable, starch (bread, rice, pasta, cereal) and protein (chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds).

4.  Kids need to be exposed many times before they try it.  Also, kids need to taste things many times before they will like it.

5.  Use BPA-free lunch containers with fun colors. Bento boxes are great to keep foods in separate sections to maintain food textures. Lunch Bots (available on are individual stainless steel containers that are virtually indestructible.

6.  Try to make the same foods for all kids in the house; catering to siblings with non-mutual food preferences is challenging. Try to make sandwiches with different ingredients or find fruits and vegetables all your kids like.

7.  Keep track of which foods your child likes so you can make them again.

8.  Keep it simple.  Use leftovers or colder foods for lunch.

9.  Praise and recognize kids when they try new foods.

10.  Help kids make better snack choices at home.  Keep a healthy snack cupboard at home.  Fill it with healthy food options and ready-to-eat healthy foods (cut-up vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, and ready-made salads).

11.  There are hundreds of websites dedicated to recipes of all sorts, as well as some focused just on kids’ lunches.  A couple of my favorites are and : you can type in whatever ingredients you have on hand, and the website returns recipes containing them.


Sample lunch ideas


Note: these are just a sample; there are an unlimited number of healthy options

    • Turkey sandwich on whole wheat with 1 teaspoon mayo or mustard.   Can add lettuce or


    • Low-fat tuna or chicken salad made with low-fat mayo, celery and tomato/lettuce.
    • Hummus sandwich on whole wheat with lettuce and tomato.
    • Peanut butter or almond butter and jelly on pita.
    • Mini whole wheat bagel with cream cheese, lettuce, and tomato
    • Granola, fresh fruit and low-fat yogurt
    • Leftover pasta salad made with parmesan cheese and broccoli.
    • Turkey burger slider on whole wheat bun with ketchup to dip.
    • Leftover rotisserie chicken with steamed string beans and mashed potatoes.
    • Hard-boiled egg with mini whole wheat bagel and cream cheese.
    • ½ Avocado and whole wheat pita.
    • Pita pizza on whole wheat
    • Tortilla wraps with shredded cheese, chopped chicken, and cut vegetables
    • 8 ounces of low-fat yogurt, whole-wheat crackers, and fruit
    • Quinoa salad with vegetables, beans and cheese.
    • Bean-based soup or stew in a thermos, whole-grain roll with butter or margarine, and fruit
    • Soups – best are chicken broth or tomato based vegetable soups.

    **Try different kinds of healthy breads until you find one your kids love. There are many options: thin whole wheat (Arnold’s brand), mini whole wheat pita (Sabra or Whole Foods brand), Thomas Light English muffins, Matthew’s whole wheat, Vermont’s best whole wheat or soft wheat, Whole wheat mini bagels (Thomas’ or Whole Foods), and whole wheat tortillas.


    Snack ideas

    Carrots, cucumbers or celery and Ranch dressing (Cindy’s kitchen makes a kid-friendly one). Single serving Sabra hummus containers are an option for very busy parents, available at Costco – or buy a large one – or make hummus yourself – and spoon into a small Lunch Bot or Tupperware container.


    • Cut-up fruit and nuts.


    • Small banana and low-fat yogurt


    • Dry cereal (Crispex, Granola, Wheat Chex) and cut up apple


    • Granola bars (Cliff Jr. Z bar)


    • Granola with low-fat yogurt


    • Cheese and whole wheat crackers
    • Package of seaweed – Annie Chuns Brand (Whole Foods) or Trader Joe’s Brand
    • Applesauce (either packaged or homemade) and baby carrots
    • Edamame, lightly salted

    ***As always, please check labels carefully if your child has a food allergy.




    • 6 oz Refillable water containers (Kids Konserve or Klean Kanteen – available on
    • Low-fat milk at school or in thermos
    • Unflavored soy or almond milk in thermos


    Additional Resources for meal planning



    • Dinner A Love Story, By Jenny Rosenstrach.  Great resource with more in depth food ideas and great recipes.  Jenny’s blog is:
    • Cooking Light Magazine. Quick recipe section in the back is really helpful.


    Can type in ingredient and get recipes (ie. Black beans, kale, spinach)




    How can a Registered Dietitian help you

    I’ve heard many times, “Which foods are the best to eat?” or “I became a vegetarian to lose weight”. Often times, patients end up in my office having difficulty adhering to strict elimination meal plans or are so confused by the rules of a specific diet. The posting below, by, Staci Lyons, is a great explanation about how a registered dietitian professional can help create an individual nutrient dense meal plan that is based on sound nutrition information.

    Posted on
    By Staci Lyons
    Pinnacle Medical Wellness

    The food that we eat and the events that take place during digestion is a complex science.

    Few understand these complexities beyond the limited scope of what might be remembered from an eighth grade health class. What’s worse is the constant presentation of poor and sometimes even false information about this process and the way in which it affects our bodies.

    When surveyed, most Americans admit to taking much of their dietary cues from friends and family or the media. Unfortunately, friends and family are often just as misinformed. The media, particularly those groups involved in the marketing of products that we consume, can often provide misleading information in an effort to sell more of their products. Are sports drinks really a good source of hydration? Is the Paleo diet that the neighbor raves about really the answer to shedding unwanted pounds? Is the barbecue chicken wrap a healthy alternative when ordering at the burger restaurant named after a red bird? Warning: The answer to that one may be shocking!

    The end result of this confusion is that many individuals live day to day in a constant state of dysfunction — their bodies protesting with the warning signs of fatigue, inflammation, undesired weight gain, and illness. Poor nutrition and dietary habits are problems that carry serious consequences. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 10 percent of Americans are now diabetic with an additional 30 percent classified as pre-diabetic. Poor diet is identified as the primary cause of Type 2 diabetes. A recent study points to a very strong link between obesity and breast cancer. The list goes on and on.

    Of course, most individuals do not purposely aim to maintain unhealthy eating habits. A registered dietitian can help make sense of this scientific puzzle.

    As a qualified medical professional, an RD is able to provide an individualized plan and the education needed to optimize body function and help cut through some of the misinformation. A registered dietician is licensed through the state and earned a four-year degree from an accredited university which is an important point to contrast against the qualifications and education of others that may offer nutrition counseling at the local gym or the late night infomercial.

    Dietary counseling is a growing discipline. Where once difficult to find, registered dietitians can now be found practicing in our community.

    Ask your physician or physical therapist about recommending a registered dietitian. It might be a good investment of time and money as a way of avoiding the financial and personal consequences of poor health.