Making school lunches is easy when you have a plan.

Back-to-school means it’s also back-to-packing-lunches time. Buying the food and packaging it into something your child won’t throw away is the goal of every parent. But keeping those lunches healthy also ranks pretty high on the list. We spoke with a nutritionist to get the "skinny" on prepping delicious and healthy school lunches.

The biggest key to the school lunch game is putting together a game plan. Pediatric Registered Dietitian Jodi Greebel and founder of Citrition says the best way to do that is by developing a daily lunch schedule.

“Packing lunch can be exhausting for parents, and it’s hard to be creative," she says. "I think having some sort of a schedule allows you to be creative but also not feel like you are always trying to come up with some idea out of nowhere.”

She suggests assigning a meal category for each day of the week. For instance, Mondays are sandwiches, Tuesdays are for leftovers, Wednesdays are pasta, and so on. Having the schedule in place will make it easier to shop, and you can prepare some of your “lunch items” while you’re cooking a meal. For instance, cook some extra pasta at dinner for pasta day, and chop up extra vegetables for lunch sides.

healthy lunch

Here is a sample menu created by Greebel:

  • Monday: Turkey and cheese pinwheel with cucumber sticks and dried cherries.
  • Tuesday: Leftover quesadillas from the night before served with chips, jicama, and guacamole (pick up individual-sized guacamole packs at the store.)
  • Wednesday: Bagel with Nutella and bananas, mozzarella string cheese, and pepper strips.
  • Thursday: Pasta with broccoli and Parmesan cheese, apple slices.
  • Friday: Mini pancakes like Van’s mini chocolate chip pancakes, Chobani less sugar Greek yogurt, and sliced strawberries.

Use a lunch box with ice packs to keep food cold, and buy two bento-type containers to fit inside. Having a spare container on hand makes it easy if you forget to clean out the lunch box the night before.

You can keep hot food hot longer by prepping your container. First, take a steel thermos and fill it with boiling hot water. Let it sit while you heat up your leftovers in the microwave. Pour out the water and then place your hot leftovers inside. The preheated container will keep leftovers hot until lunchtime.

What is your favorite thing to put in school lunches? We'd love some more ideas in the comments!