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Pack a Healthy Lunch with Michigan Apples

Studies have shown that establishing healthy eating habits early in life can positively impact an individual’s food choices later in life. As you start to get back into the school routine, remember that packing lunch with your child is a great opportunity to discuss the benefits of nourishing foods while encouraging healthier habits. Work with your children to plan out simple, balanced lunches and shop together for meal components. This practice will put your family in control of the foods you select and is certainly worth the effort!

Keep in mind that it’s important to set guidelines for lunch prep and make sure that all family members are on the same page to stay consistent. Here are my key recommendations:

  • Pack in plenty of produce – Fruits and veggies are often missing from lunches or replaced with less healthful items like chips and cookies. Try to include around ½ cup of fruit and vegetables into each lunch box as they provide the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and protective plant compounds that growing bodies demand. Include mostly whole fruits like Michigan Apples, but an occasional 100% juice box is also ok. Baby carrots, mini cucumbers, sugar snap peas, grape tomatoes or colorful pepper strips make great finger food as well. Add in a small container of a yogurt-based ranch dip if needed. Keep a variety of fruits and veggies on hand that you know your kids enjoy and let them choose the 2 items they want each day.

Family Fun Tip: Visit a local Michigan Apple orchard and have each family member select a different kind of apple. Have a tasting to see which one is the sweetest or tartest. Kids can add their favorite apple to their school lunch or use them as an ingredient in our recipes below.

Check out the 2019 Michigan Apple Harvest Schedule here!

  • Embrace the grains – Bread and cereals are good sources of fiber, carbohydrates, protein, several B vitamins and minerals such as iron. Grains are an essential part of a healthy diet, providing nutrients and energy for a child's normal growth and development. School children need about 5-7 servings of grain foods per day depending on age, sex and activity level. (One serving = 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of cereal or ½ cup pasta/rice). Choose whole grains when possible but remember that refined, enriched grains can also be part of a healthy balanced diet. Check the ingredient list on refined grain products to make sure that the word “enriched” is included.

  • Don’t forget dairy – Don’t miss out on the nutritional benefits of dairy foods. They provide 9 essential nutrients, including a good source of high quality protein, vitamin D, calcium and potassium. Milk, yogurt and cheese can be easily incorporated into fun and tasty lunch menus. If you don’t want to pack fluid milk, encourage your students to purchase it at school.

  • Power up with protein – Protein will help keep your child’s immune system strong and healthy and it also plays a key role for building and repairing muscles. Protein also provides energy in the form of calories to help optimize their energy levels throughout the day. Dairy products provide a good source of protein along with eggs, lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans, nuts and seeds.

  • Include a “Treat” – Who doesn’t like finding a little something extra in their lunch box? This treat can be in form of a better-for-you dessert or a colorful napkin. Some ideas include – a small container of trail mix with some chocolate chips, a healthier cookie, pudding made with milk, a whole grain granola bar, a few stickers or a shiny Michigan Apple with a special note tied to the stem.

Get your school year started right with these inspiring menus and recipes featuring the healthy benefits of Michigan Apples. These dietitian-approved lunch menus include delicious better-for-you options to help growing bodies perform at their best all day long!


Menu 1:

Michigan Apple Cheese Wraps – Place an apple wedge and cheese slice on top of the deli turkey and fold over meat to wrap.

  • Baby Cucumbers and Grape Tomatoes

  • Fruit and Nut Trail Mix


Menu 2:


Menu 3:

  • Michigan Apple Nut Butter Sandwiches – Spread one side of an apple slice with nut butter then sprinkle with schocolate chips and granola. Top with remaining apple slice.

  • Yellow Pepper Strips and Sugar Snap Peas

  • Whole Grain Pretzel Twists

  • Low Fat Milk

Tip: rub apple slices with diluted lemon juice to prevent browning.


A word about food safety and lunch boxes:

In most instances, food is stored in lunch boxes for several hours, so the lunch box needs to stay cool to ensure food is safe. Follow these guidelines:

  • Choose an insulated lunch box or include a freezer pack. You can also place a small frozen water bottle inside but place it in a zip lock bag first.

  • Follow safe food preparation methods.

  • Prepare lunches the night before and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

  • Perishable foods such as dairy products, eggs and sliced meats should be kept cool and eaten within about four hours of preparation.

Meet the Author

Shari Steinbach

Shari Steinbach, MS RDN
Shari Steinbach & Associates, LLC

For the past 26 years, Shari has worked as a dietitian in the grocery industry for two major retailers in the Midwest. In her retail roles, Shari has managed consumer health communication, health influencer partnerships, nutrition programs, and solution-selling strategies.

Shari has served as a nutrition expert and corporate spokesperson, providing food and nutrition advice through monthly television spots on ABC, NBC and FOX affiliates and local radio segments. She has also conducted numerous educational presentations to community groups and professional organizations throughout the country. Her timely nutrition and food product information and strategic social media messages have reached millions of consumers.