I love a new school year because it’s a chance to start fresh and focus on good habits. For a kindergartner, EVERYTHING is new. While too many changes can be overwhelming, it also can be an easy time to establish new habits because, well…”that’s just what you do when you’re in kindergarten.” (wink, wink)

For many kindergartners, this is the first time they are responsible for bringing their own lunch, as well as eating in a crazy group setting without a lot of help or supervision. So, today, I’m sharing some tips to help make it a success.

First, a few caveats:

  • Even though these suggestions are for kindergartners, they generally work for preschoolers and early elementary kids, as well.
  • The amounts I’m suggesting are based on the average size and activity of a 5-year-old. But they are just averages. We all know that sometimes kids eat more, sometimes they eat less and sometimes they eat nothing at all.  Tweak these suggestions in whatever way works best for your kid and your family.
  • If your child has food allergies or other health conditions, you’ll need to make the appropriate modifications.

A Frame of Reference — Calories

It’s important to let kids self-regulate their hunger. When kids have healthy hunger signals (which they do until we over-ride it by telling them to “eat just one more bite”), the calories they eat will balance out. One day they may exceed the average, but the next day they may eat less. Growth spurts, etc. play a role, too.

All that said, here are the average calorie needs of kids in this age range.


[table id=2 /]

A Frame of Reference — Food Groups

For the purposes of this post, we’ll be constructing a lunch based on the recommended average daily intake of a 1,400 calorie diet. Remember, these are averages. Your kid won’t eat this exact way everyday, but it’s a good benchmark to aim for.

[table id=3 /]

Constructing a Kindergartner’s Lunch

Now that you know how much of different foods the average kindergartner should eat in a day, how does that translate to lunch? This isn’t an exact science, but I like to divide the number of each food group by 4. This assumes that your child will have 3 meals and 2 snacks (whereas each snack is a half meal).

Following this formula, here’s about what the average lunch should have in it.

constructing a kindergartners lunch


Translating the Recommendations to Reality

Life isn’t always so neat and tidy as these numbers, though. We’re talking about real kids here with real (busy) people packing the lunches. Some days, you may not put a vegetable in your kid’s lunchbox at all (or he may not eat it). No worries. Just do your best to offer a veggie for afternoon snack and dinner.

The goal is to balance things out as much as you can by offering your child foods that fit into this formula. At the same time, realize that you really can’t control what your child chooses to eat. That’s okay. You’re still teaching a valuable lesson about what a healthy diet looks like.

Here are a few examples of lunches I’ve put together for my kindergartner. Note that NONE of these are perfect or fit the formula. But they’re pretty close.

lunch 1


lunch 2


Lunch 3


How to Handle Sweets

In my experience, most kids in the cafeteria have dessert in their lunchbox. Rather than deny my kids dessert (which makes them crave it more), I’ve found it works best to give them a SMALL bite of something sweet.  As you can see in the above examples, the dessert takes up a much smaller space than any of the healthy options, so it’s visually clear to them what is most important.

Small Steps

If this “ideal” lunch is a far cry from what your child eats now, start small. The suggestions in “It’s All About: Making Healthy Choices” can help you get there.


Final Tips

A few final words to the wise!

  • Involve your child as much as you can. I often ask my kids things like “would you like pretzels or crackers?” “would you like a peanut butter sandwich or a ham sandwich?” “would you like strawberries or bananas on your peanut butter sandwich?”
  • Make sure everything you pack is easy for your child to eat. In my kids’ school, they have just 15 minutes for lunch. If they have to fuddle around with wrappers, that takes away from the valuable time they have to eat.
  • If your child isn’t eating something, ask questions. For example, I noticed my son’s water bottle was still completely full after the first few days. Turns out, his school has a certain process for getting all the kids’ lunchboxes to the cafeteria and his water wasn’t making its way over. Once I understood the process, I rearranged things to make sure he had his water.


{Disclosure: I received free products from Rock the Lunchbox, a campaign sponsored by Honest Kids, Annie’s Homegrown, Organic Valley, Applegate and Rudi’s Organic Bakery. As with everything on this blog, all opinions are my own.


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