How to Make Better Brown Bag Lunches

Packing brown bag lunches for our children and ourselves can be healthy if we make wise food choices.

A study from the Tufts’ Friedman School published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics looked at packed lunches of elementary school children in eastern Massachusetts. They found that only 27% of packed lunches meet at least three of the five food group standards followed by the National School Lunch Program. Additionally, they found kid’s lunches often contain less healthful options such as potato chips, prepackaged lunch combinations like salty processed meats and crackers, and sugar-sweetened items (fruit snacks, cookies, soda, and candy). These processed foods can leave children (and adults) short on nutrients.

Tips for Packing a Healthy Lunch:

  • Choose healthy proteins: Try strips of baked, skinless chicken, canned salmon or tuna, cheese, nuts, nut butters, hardboiled eggs, beans, and tofu
  • Opt for whole grains: Breads, wraps, tortillas, and crackers
  • Always include a vegetable: Almost any cut vegetable can be packed
  • Think of fruit as a dessert
  • Skip the sugar-sweetened drinks and pack a water bottle

Mix and Match Brown Bag Lunches

Bagged lunches can get boring, fast. Pick one item from each food group for a healthy lunch that varies from week to week:

Main Dish

(Whole Grains and Protein)




Whole grain wrap with turkey, dried cranberries, and sunflower seeds

Sliced cucumbers and cauliflower florets with hummus dip

Pineapple (fresh, frozen, or canned/packed in juice)

Cottage cheese

Black bean taco salad with salsa and tortilla strips

Baby carrots and halved cherry tomatoes

Kiwi, sliced or halved

Shredded cheese (top a dish)

Whole grain pita with tuna salad and leafy greens

Bell pepper strips with guacamole dip

Fresh or frozen berries (unsweetened)

Plain yogurt

Small bagel with egg salad, sprinkled with fresh dill

Sugar snap peas and tzatziki (yogurt-cucumber) sauce

Fresh or frozen mango cubes or peach slices (unsweetened)

Sliced cheese

Whole grain pasta salad with chicken and roasted veggies

Kale chips or crunchy freeze-dried peas

Easy-peel mandarin oranges

Mozzarella cheese stick

Special Tips for Kids Lunches

Kids can be picky eaters. Keep these tips in mind when packing for even the pickiest eaters:

  • Keep it colorful with fruits and veggies.
  • Make it fun: Cut healthy foods into fun shapes or slice a wrap crosswise into 1-inch pinwheels.
  • Involve the kids: Ask them to portion foods into reusable containers.
  • Give a choice: Ask what they prefer within the food groups.
  • Keep portions kid-sized.

If you have any questions about what to pack for lunch or how you can keep your family healthy, speak with Winchester Hospital’s Nutrition Services team.


*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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