4 simple rules for healthy, budget-friendly lunches your kids will love

Written by |

Most parents want to provide their kids with the healthiest meals possible, but the challenge can be finding nutritious foods that taste good to them.

Read more: This drink is healthier than water

4 tips and tricks for healthier lunches

Coming up with new kid-friendly recipes is overwhelming, so we reached out to Ashley Koff RD, a well-respected registered dietitian and creator of “The Better Nutrition, Simplified Plan.”

She says these four tips can lead to better health for the entire family!

1. Better nutrient balance

When’s the last time you actually saw what’s served in the school cafeteria? Sure, it’s not as bad as it used to be. But it’s still not ideal.

By preparing your child’s lunch regularly, you can focus on better nutrition.

“We need nutrient balance just like our car needs gas, oil (engine), air (tires), wiper fluid and so on,” Koff said.

Mistake #1: Not enough protein or healthy fats

Kids love carbs, but too many of them will result in an overwhelming rush of energy that will wear off before their next class period ends.

The challenge can be finding the right proteins and fats to store in a lunch box.

Ashley suggests trying hemp hearts, which provide complete plant protein, essential omega fatty acids, iron for growth and fiber to help you feel full.


She likes these recipes for Hemp Pesto Paninis and Choco PB Hemp Bars — or try the simple snack mix below!

Mistake #2: Skipping carbs

If your little one isn’t getting enough carbohydrates at lunch, Ashley says they won’t get the quick energy needed to make it until afternoon snack time.

Often times, carb-deprived adults and children will just end up reaching for the cookie jar later on.

Simply adding chickpeas, beans, a piece of fruit or some sweet potato can give your child’s lunch the nutrient balance to fuel their body for hours.

Mistake #3: No non-starchy veggies

We know that getting your kids to eat vegetables is a tough one, but non-starchy vegetables are so important.

“They are the body’s clean up team and we need to aim to get in a rainbow of colors most days to give our bodies what they need to clean up and stay healthy,” Koff said.

Here are some examples of non-starchy vegetables:

  • Asparagus
  • Baby corn
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Greens
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Salad greens
  • Tomato

Picky eater? Try this!

Have you tried the cauliflower rice from Trader Joe’s? Ashley says it’s a hit with children!

And on Ashley’s podcast, actress Teri Hatcher said she adds budget-friendly caramelized onions to everything from main dishes to side items — and kids love it!


Hatcher even referred to herself as the “Caramelized Onion Queen!”

4 simple rules for healthy, budget-friendly lunches your kids will love

2. Better quality

Ashley says there is no perfect food, but she recommends buying organic whenever you can.

“Our bodies run best when we give them fuel that they recognize, and have the least likelihood to irritate or disrupt optimal functions,” Koff said.

If you listen to Clark on the radio show, you already know that buying organic doesn’t have to mean paying too much. Costco and Aldi both have a great selection of organics!

And if you prefer the farmer’s market, Ashley says you may be able to get a discount if you go right before they close.

Read more: 5 cheap options for organic food

3. Better quantity

If you’re trying to introduce your children to different types of foods, sometimes the problem is they eat too little.

“While trying a bite is an awesome way to encourage new tastes, it’s key to back that up with ensuring their bites add up to enough nutrients per nutrition pit stop,” Koff said.

Ashley recommends skipping hyper-processed snacks, including those that say things like “fat-free” and “sugar-free” on the label. Instead, opt for whole or minimally-processed foods.


For example, a small serving of chocolate and peanut butter is an OK afternoon snack, but make sure it doesn’t contain loads of added sugar or hydrogenated oils.

And use your fist and palm as a guide to keep your portions according to your size.

4. Better frequency

Every parent can relate to the nights when they make dinner and their kids say they’re not hungry! So frustrating, right?

The problem is that going too long without nutrition makes our bodies cranky. For a child who tends to skip lunch, Ashley says you can pack a few “pit stops” instead — which are basically nutritious snacks.

And forget about the clock! Don’t be afraid to switch things up in non-traditional ways.

“Why not have dessert smoothies at 5 p.m.? Or can’t overnight oats happen at 4 p.m. as easily as 7 a.m.? Then, at 6 p.m., mini burgers in a bowl of some veggies may go down at lot more successfully,” Koff said.

Read more: Never buy dietary supplements with these 15 ingredients