Even as I pack the cooler for another family camping trip, I am already thinking about back-to-school and what we need to do to get ready for September. This year my daughter, Ruby, will be in first grade, already a seasoned student and citizen of her school community, versed in the routines of the school day, morning meeting, recess, and navigating the school cafeteria and lunchtimes. One of her favorite activities at home these days is to take out a tray and pretend that she is buying lunch at school. She loves to carry her lunch from the counter to the table as if she’s bought the turkey roll-up and carrot sticks from the Primrose School cafeteria. The reality is that she rarely buys lunch in the cafeteria at school

, and it is a bit of a treat in our house. It’s probably more of a treat for myself, as I get a pass from making lunch in the morning, but also one for Ruby as she gets to choose from a variety of foods that we rarely have in her own home; chicken nuggets, peanut butter and jelly “pockets” (like a calzone but with PB & J) and even ham and waffles!

Tuna SaladMore often than not however,  Ruby comes home reminding me and herself that she prefers the lunches that I make, asking me if I can make my “famous” tuna for her tomorrow, and can she help?  Here’s a recipe for tuna salad that she loves, along with some ideas for a complete lunch at school or at home.

We are all busy. We work, we take care of our kids and families, we take care of ourselves, we take care of our homes… so making lunch needs to be something that’s not onerous, and maybe even a little fun!  I like to get Ruby involved in the shopping, (if not the actual lunch prep which sometimes takes place late at night or early in the morning). The next time you are at the market, you can have your kids be a Supermarket Food Explorer as a way to get them involved in shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables. (Going to your local Farmers Market? You might also want to try out our Farmer’s Market Scavenger Hunt from our June issue of The Spoonful).

Before heading to the store, take some time to talk with your child about what he or she likes to eat and what they don’t like to eat. (Even if you already know, it’s good to engage children in conversation about this and help them to articulate and use language to express their likes and dislikes.) Here are a few questions to get started, but really, anything that gets kids thinking about what they like and might want to try is good.

Most of all, just have fun!

  • What is your favorite thing to have for lunch? Is that something we can make and bring to school?
  • Why are snacks important?
  • What crunchy snacks do you like?
  • What sweet snacks do you like?
  • What are your favorite fruits?
  • What are your favorite vegetables?
  • What small treat can we add?
  • What are some drinks we can include? Why is it important to drink water?
  • If you could make a sandwich with anything in the house


    , what would you make?

Some ideas to have in the house for lunches. See our Healthy Snack Tips for additional snack ideas.

  • Peanut butter and/or sunflower seed butter (good if your child has allergies or is in a nut free classroom or school)
  • Granola Bars- choose ones that are low in sugar and made with whole grains
  • Popcorn (avoid for very young children as it can be a choking hazard)
  • Whole grain breads- look for ones that use whole wheat flours and have less added sugar
  • Whole wheat Pita Bread- we like the mini ones. They are great with tuna or egg salad!
  • Whole wheat wraps- fun for making pinwheel sandwiches
  • Low salt, skinless turkey and/or ham
  • Hard Boiled Eggs
  • Canned Tuna (in water)
  • Baked Tofu- precooked and seasoned
  • Canned black beans and/or chick peas
  • Cheese sticks
  • Sliced cheeses
  • Fresh vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, red and yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes)
  • Fresh fruit- apples, strawberries, blueberries, (look for fresh, seasonal fruits in the market)
  • Avocado
  • Avoid bottled dressings and dips if possible and make your own using plain yogurt, lemon juice, herbs, and a touch of salt and pepper. Experiment by adding different herbs, garlic and even some chopped cucumber or avocado.


Click here for this month’s literature connections activity!

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