School lunch menu ideas

Updated February 21, 2017

Crafting a successful school lunch menu requires a careful balance between adhering to USDA nutritional guidelines and appealing to the appetites of picky young eaters. Whether brought from home or purchased at school, an ideal school lunch includes a protein, carbohydrate, vegetable or fruit and dairy element for a comprehensive meal that will sustain children throughout the school day. Provide a variety of foods to please diverse student palates.

Sandwich Bar

A school lunch menu that offers students choices helps students develop healthy eating habits that enable them to make healthy choices when they are not in school. Set up a make-your-own sandwich bar in the cafeteria. Provide multi-grain or whole wheat rolls in stead of traditional sub rolls. Swap out fat-heavy meats like salami for healthier options like turkey or low-sodium ham. Low-fat American and Swiss cheese are also lighter options. Encourage students to load their subs with fresh vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, onions or cucumbers. Instead of oil-based dressings, provide fat-free options or balsamic vinegar. Ensure a complete meal with fruit salad and yoghurt for dessert.

Disguised Foods Menu

Make lunch time a playful experience with a menu of disguised foods. Disguised foods are either arranged to resemble other kinds of foods, or foods that incorporate healthy ingredients in unexpected ways. Create a turkey meat loaf "cake" by serving up individual slices with a "raspberry" ketchup filling and mashed cauliflower "frosting." Sprinkle piles of puréed carrots with a bit of cumin powder; they will resemble sweet potato pie topped with a bit of cinnamon. For dessert, a banana coated with sugar-free chocolate syrup is a deceptive replacement for a fudge Popsicle. If you want to sneak in a healthy substitution, make brownies from a box mix; instead of the butter, oil or eggs, mixed in a can of mashed black beans. The brownies are moist and delicious even without the added fat. Be sure to advise children of the real ingredients in each dish to avoid dangerous allergic reactions.

Ethnic Menus

Incorporating new and exciting foods into an existing diet is an integral part of maintaining a sustainable healthy eating regimen. Incorporate ethnic cuisine into a lunch menu to provide students with new opportunities for discovering healthy foods. Ethnic foods are suitable for both bag lunches or school lunch menus. For a Mexican themed menu, offer students lettuce wraps make with spiced ground turkey and low-fat sour cream; a side of beans and rice offers a complete protein to provide energy. Add some Indian flavour to a school lunch menu with a healthy lentil or vegetable curry made a tomato based sauce and seasoned with cumin and curry powder. Serve curry with steamed vegetables and raita, a mixture of plain yoghurt, spices and chopped cucumber to sooth the spiciness of the dish.

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About the Author

Hannah Wahlig began writing and editing professionally in 2001. Her experience includes copy for newspapers, journals and magazines, as well as book editing. She is also a certified lactation counselor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mount Holyoke College, and Master's degrees in education and community psychology from the University of Massachusetts.