Healthy School Lunch Choices

Need a reason to make healthy choices for lunch? People who eat a healthier lunch with lean protein and complex carbohydrates can:

  • Feel more satisfied.
  • Avoid an afternoon slump.
  • Focus better on schoolwork.
  • Feel less hungry after school.
  • Maintain their weight by avoiding excess calories.

Important things to remember:

  • Make smart choices.
  • Pick whole-wheat bread or an 8-inch tortilla instead of white bread.
  • Take deli turkey or ham instead of salami or bologna.
  • Choose grilled chicken instead of fried.
  • Order lite dressing instead of regular.
  • Use mustard or ketchup instead of mayo or dipping sauces.

Enjoy some foods in moderation:

  • Choose chips or fries no more than once a week.
  • Limit starches to 2 servings at lunchtime (1 serving equals 1 slice bread; 1/2 bun; 1 small dinner roll; 1/2 bagel; 1/2 cup potatoes, rice, or pasta).

Balance your diet:

  • If you eat chips or fries, remove one slice of bread (or half a bun) from your sandwich or burger.
  • Add tomato and lettuce to sandwiches, burgers, and tacos.
  • Include either a small salad with lite dressing, a side serving of veggies, or a piece of fruit.

Think simple:

  • A plain burger (no cheese) is a better choice than processed or breaded foods, such as a hot dog, chicken fingers or nuggets, mozzarella sticks, or pizza.
  • Choose low-fat white milk (no flavored milks) or water instead of sugary sodas or energy drinks.

Pack it up:

  • A packed lunch gives you the most control over what you eat.

Smart Substitutions

Here are some of the most common lunch items with ideas on how to make them healthier:


  • Hold the cheese.
  • Add lettuce and tomato.
  • Remove 1/2 bun (eat open-faced).

Spaghetti and meatballs

  • Spaghetti counts as starch, so skip the bread.
  • Choose marinara sauce instead of buttered noodles.
  • Add salad with lite dressing.

Chicken nuggets, patties, or fingers

  • Use ketchup or barbecue sauce.
  • These are already breaded, so skip extra bread or rolls.
  • Add vegetable or salad.


  • Blot off excess fat.
  • Choose veggie toppings.
  • Remove pepperoni.
  • Leave the crust.
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