Healthy Lunch Ideas for the New School Year

school lunch packed in a lunch container

As of September 2011, all food and beverages sold in publicly-funded elementary and secondary schools will have to follow the Ontario government’s School Food and Beverage Policy. This new policy includes a set of nutrition standards for providing healthier food and beverages SOLD at school.  

While the food and beverages that kids bring from home don’t need to follow the nutrition standards, this may be a good opportunity for you and your children to talk about what makes a healthy lunch and then pack a healthier lunch together.  When children are involved in meal preparation, they are most likely to eat those foods. Canada’s Food Guide can provide the advice you need to make the healthiest choices. 

Let’s look at some example lunches to see how you can create a lunch that’s healthy and delicious.

Lunch example #1:

A whole grain tortilla wrap with cheese, roasted turkey and baby spinach with a side of canned peaches, yogurt and water to drink.

Food or drink

Tips for choosing healthy ingredients

Tortilla wrap

  • Canada’s Food Guide recommends making half your grain produdcts whole grain. Look for “whole grain” as the first ingredient such as “whole grain whole wheat flour”.
  • Choose grain products with 2 g or more of fibre per serving. For a high fibre choice, look for 4 g or more per serving.

Cheddar cheese

  • Look for partly skim milk cheeses with 20% M.F or less.

Roasted turkey meat

  • Make sandwiches with roasted turkey or chicken meat instead of deli meat. 

Baby spinach

  • Canada’s Food Guide recommends you eat one dark green vegetable each day. Leafy greens like Romaine lettuce, spinach and arugula are all good choices.

Canned peach slices

  • Choose canned fruit packed in juice or light syrup.
  • Or look for fresh fruit in season. See this availability guide for seasonal Ontario vegetables and fruit.

Strawberry yogurt

  • Look for lower fat yogurt.
  • Or choose a low fat plain yogurt and add sliced fresh strawberries.


  • Drink water often. Add flavour with lemon or lime slices.

Lunch example #2

Bean chili with a side of cherry tomatoes with dip, an oatmeal cereal bar for dessert and milk to drink. 

Food or drink

Tips for choosing healthy ingredients

Bean chili

  • Navy beans, kidney beans, white beans or lentils are healthy meat alternatives.
  • Choose canned tomatoes or sauce that are lower in sodium or have no added salt.

Cherry tomatoes with dip

  • Choose low fat dip. Try tzatziki, hummus or salsa.
  • Try other vegetables like sliced cucumber, bell pepper rings, baby carrots, sugar snap peas, green beans or celery sticks.

Oatmeal cereal bar

  • Look for a lower fat, higher fibre variety with at least 2 g of fibre per serving.


  • Choose white milk (2% MF or less), chocolate milk (1% MF) or fortified soy beverage (plain or flavoured).
  • Try a lower fat yogurt drink.

Lunch example #3

Whole wheat pasta with Caesar salad, raisins for dessert and 100% apple juice to drink.

Food or drink

Tips for choosing healthy ingredients

Whole wheat pasta

  • Look for whole wheat or whole grain pasta.Cook it without adding salt.
  • Choose a sauce made with lower sodium canned tomatoes.
  • Add fresh vegetables such as onions, mushrooms and peppers for flavour, fibre and nutrients

Side Caesar salad

  • Canada’s Food Guide recommends you eat one dark green vegetable each day. Leafy greens like Romaine lettuce, spinach and arugula are all good choices.
  • Look for a low fat salad dressing.
  • Instead of bacon bits, add roasted chicken breast (this is a great use for leftovers) or chickpeas for protein.


  • Choose plain, dried fruit with no added sugar.

100% apple juice

  • Choose 100% fruit, vegetable or juice blend.

Lunch example #4

Steamed rice with tofu, bok choy and snow pea stir-fry, with a side of sliced mango and a chocolate soy beverage to drink.

Food or drink

Tips for choosing healthy ingredients

Steamed rice

  • Choose brown rice instead of white rice. This is because brown rice is a whole grain. Canada’s Food Guide recommends making half your grains each day, whole grain.


  • Canada’s Food Guide recommends having meat alternatives like tofu more often. Other meat alternatives are beans, dried peas, lentils, eggs, nuts, nut butters and seeds. Check with your school to see if nuts are allowed.
  • You can also make stir-fries with chicken, pork, beef, salmon, shrimp and scrambled egg.

Bok choy, snow peas

  • Canada’s Food Guide recommends you eat one dark green vegetable each day such as bok choy or snow peas. 
  • Other good choices are broccoli, leafy greens like spinach or kale and green beans.

Mango slices

  • Canada’s Food Guide recommends eating an orange vegetable everyday to help you get enough vitamin A.
  • Orange coloured fruit such as mangoes also have vitamin A. Other good choices are papaya, peaches, nectarines, cantaloupe and apricots (but not oranges).

Chocolate soy beverage

  • Choose a plain, vanilla or chocolate soy beverage fortified with calcium and vitamin D. 

For more lunch and snack ideas see:

Packing Healthy School Lunches and Snacks FAQs

Food for a Balanced School Day

The Ministry of Education website has resources that can help you better understand the school policy:

FAQ on the new Nutrition Standards for Schools


School Food and Beverage Quick Reference Guide (You can use this guide to figure out how foods fit into the three categories.

School Food & Beverage Policy Website with interactive tools to help understand the new standards.

Contact your local public health unit for information about how the policy is being implemented in your neighbourhood. 

Last Update – January 30, 2019

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