Back to School: Bag Lunches for a Dietitian’s Kindergartner

Photo by: Ramesh NG

I have *just about* survived Week #1 of Kindergarten! My daughter is in an all-day Spanish immersion school, so not only are the all-day routines and riding the bus completely new experiences, but the whole day is in Spanish. And that’s not even the biggest deal! Eating lunch in a school cafeteria is a totally brand spankin’ new event.

Of course as the nutrition controller of the household, buying lunch at school isn’t an option despite the constant begging… “Just one day could I try the cheesy sticks, mini pizza, or milk in a cute pink carton? Pleeeeeze?”  So it took some creativity and dessert! to make the bagged lunches exciting, tasty, and healthy. Here’s what appeared in my daughter’s lunch bag this week:

Half a hummus and basil sandwich on whole wheat bread

1 large carrot, peeled (she prefers 1 large carrot to carrot sticks, not my idea!)
8 raspberries
6 crackers
2 chocolate-filled Oreo-type cookies

What still remained in the lunch bag after school: the carrot (“I didn’t see it”), crackers, and cookies. Those items became the afterschool snack. 

Half a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread (no jam, her preference)

Apple Carrot Crusher (from TJ’s, basically applesauce with carrots in this fun squeezy tube)
8 raspberries
5 slices orange bell pepper
6 crackers
2 chocolate-filled Oreo-type cookies

What still remained in the lunch bag after school: the raspberries (“I couldn’t open the container, and no one was around to help me”), crackers, and cookies. Those items were again the afterschool snack. “Mommy, you don’t need to put crackers in my lunch anymore.” Ok, I won’t!

3 Spinach & Sweet Potato “Quiches” (eggless, made in a mini-cupcake pan, recipe coming soon!)

10 Beef-Less Strips (TJ’s, made from wheat gluten)
10 cucumber slices
Apple Carrot Crusher 
2 chocolate-filled Oreo-type cookies

What still remained in the lunch bag after school: 2 of the “quiches,” 3 cucumber slices, and cookies. Those items were again the afterschool snack.

1 Smart Dog in a whole wheat bun (wrapped in foil, no condiments, her choice)

Apple Carrot Crusher 
4 cherry tomatoes, 4 basil leaves
2 Medjool dates
2 chocolate-filled Oreo-type cookies

What still remained in the lunch bag after school: dates and cookies. Afterschool snacktime!

Half a chocolate peanut butter sandwich (sounds terribly unhealthy, but it’s just peanuts + a few dark choc chips ground together fresh at Whole Foods) on whole wheat bread

6 red pepper slices
10 Kalamata olives
1 chocolate chip cookie

Not sure what will return home today, but I suspect a couple red pepper slices and the cookie. 

You may think the daily dessert isn’t ideal, but growing up in a “Dessert-Only-Once-A-Year” household, I firmly believe that a small dessert after a nutrient-rich meal teaches healthy eating habits and moderation. Agree or disagree? For more healthy lunchbox ideas, take a gander at The Lunchbox Bunch: A team dedicated to healthy lunches!

18 thoughts on “Back to School: Bag Lunches for a Dietitian’s Kindergartner

  1. Get Skinny, Go Vegan. says:

    Looks like you have it figured out!!! Guess the “fake” Oreos are the “Trader Joe-O’s”???
    They seem way better than Oreos! Still junky if you don’t eat sugar, but a great way to feed a kid who is longingly looking at everyone else’s really bad food with envy!!!! I am SO thankful that my folks raised me on basic brown rice, veggies, fruits, and pressure cooked dried beans. Because we go back to what we know, so it’s basically saving their lives by making a healthy routine early!!

  2. Jen Reilly says:

    These cookies were the Newman’s O’s Chocolate Creme variety. Yes, not perfect, but a great treat for my daughter who knows to eat all her healthier grub first. And, funny, b/c the lunch period is so short, she doesn’t even get a chance to eat her dessert! (But then eats it after school at home…)

  3. krisztina says:

    I enjoyed reading your post as I found myself in the same position, as my son started preschool in a french school last year. he didn’t understand anyone, and had a very different lunch from the others (everyone has home packed lunches no cafeteria), as our whole family is vegan, so I started to pack bento style lunches for him so he wouldn’t want other kids lunches but they want his 🙂 Here is my little blog diary of his lunches if you want to check it out:)

    • Jen Reilly says:

      Krisztina! Your lunches are a work of art! That’s definitely taking veggie lunches the next level. I’m so impressed! I will definitely be borrowing some of your ideas for my daughter’s cafeteria cuisine. xoxoxo Jen

      • karen nap says:

        I also have the problem of all my daughter’s friends wanting her amazing healthy lunches. Of course, she envies theirs and lately has been swapping out all her healthy handmade foods for the other kid’s crap. Her favorite is lifeless looking peaches from the salad bar and seriously, those peaches don’t even look like food. What is a mother to do?

      • Jen Reilly says:

        Karen, The competition is tough! If the syrupy peaches are the worst thing your daughter wants, you’re both going to be ok! Maybe you could include some of those organic fruit cups in her lunch? (Like these: At least they resemble fruit! I know as a child I went through a crappy food phase, but I returned to the good stuff pretty quickly. The best thing you can do is not give up, and keep making the healthier choices hip, fun, and exciting. Let me know how it goes! – Jen

  4. Judy says:

    Jen, I enjoyed reading this, as the mom of a vegan first grader. It’s good to get some new ideas. Hummus and lettuce sandwiches are a standby here, as well as leftover lentil or split pea soup. (I have to make sure the soup is in a container she can open, because, as your daughter pointed out, they’re on their own in elementary school!.) My daughter also has had a similar experience regarding time contraints. About midway through kindergarten, she said I could stop packing a dessert and she’d have it after school.

    • Jen Reilly says:

      Hi Judy! Thanks for your noting your standbys. I *do* feel like tricky packaging is totally limiting our lunch options. And the lunch period must be really short b/c my daughter is the fastest eater in the family and LOVES dessert. Well, keep up the great lunches despite the trickiness of it all 🙂 -Jen

  5. Morgan Weir says:

    One of the things that can deter a child from eating all of their lunch is a schedule that includes lunch and recess. The faster they eat, the sooner they get to play. In my kindergarten, lunch is followed by quiet book time. Better for digestion too I would think.
    The kinders in my class LOVE red or orange bell peppers. Also nori or rice-and-nori “sushi.” Other than that, it’s pretty individual. My daughter loved any cooked vegetable (spinach, kale, green beans) as long as there was a little bit of vinegar on it.

    • Jen Reilly says:

      Thanks Morgan! My daughter has recess before lunch, which seems like a good set-up. And so funny that you mentioned the “sushi” – I went to buy a package of veggie avocado rolls as a special treat from Whole Foods, and they were all out! But i know they’d be a total hit. Next week! Great tips 🙂 – Jen

  6. Adina Maxfield Lav says:

    My kids’ school doesn’t allow anything with nuts. They love hazelnut butter spread and would eat it every day, but it simply isn’t allowed. Any other whole food ideas beyond hummus (which they also love)?

  7. Wona Miniati says:

    Love all these ideas, Jen! I often struggle to find new ideas for my kids’ lunches, so I’ll bookmark this page and come back often!

    And in the vein of lunchbox ideas, this week I made the rookie mistake of packing almond butter sandwiches in the same container as homemade kale chips. My kids sullenly reported that the kale chips were soggy and limp as wet noodles! So just sharing my lesson learned: never pack kale chips in the same container with bread. Reminds me of a tip my mother-in-law gave me: if you want to prevent home-baked cookies from getting hard, just stick a slice of bread into the tupperware, and it’ll keep them soft. Must be the same concept that robbed the kale chips of their crispness.

  8. Jen Reilly says:

    Thanks, Wona! And great tip on the kale chips! I only ever put apple slices in w/ cookies to keep them soft, but I’d rather sacrifice a piece of bread than a good apple. I’ll definitely be using that one. – Jen

  9. Angela Wilson Rodriguez says:

    I’ve been a vegetarian for 17 years and just went vegan. My carnivore husband is even on board and going vegan, but it’s been the hardest on the kids (2 and 5) who are very picky eaters to begin with. I will just have to keep trying and pushing the healthy, but it can get very discouraging. Thanks for the site! I’ll keep trying 🙂

    • Jen Reilly says:

      Hey Angela! Congrats on making the tricky, but healthy move! I’m 99.9% vegan, my 3 kids are mostly vegan (we allow some non-vegan foods when we can’t control the choices), and my health-conscious, but meat-loving husband is vegan/vegetarian at home and eats some meat when he’s out. It can be hard to balance all the taste buds, but there are some amazing products out there. Are you familiar with Field Roast’s Frankfurters? They’re DELICIOUS, filling, and aren’t too terribly processed. I can only get them at Whole Foods and I talk about them in my post here:

      Also, to help support your new move, the PCRM 21-day vegan kickstart is underway. Check out vegan tips, recipes & info here (it’s all free):

      And, you may enjoy some of my picky kids posts which start here: .

      And finally, if you don’t already have a copy of my book (, it has 93 photographed vegan recipes with most of them being incredibly easy and kid-friendly (my kids were part of my tasting panel). Let me know if you have more questions and congrats again!


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