Interview: New & Healthier School Lunch Box Options with Registered Dietitian Kristen Johnson

Registered dietitian Kristen Johnson joined me just in time for back to school, to discuss healthy food options for kids lunch boxes and share tips for getting them involved in meal planning!

Registered dietitian Kristen Johnson

Candace Rose: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years. What are some healthy food options kids will love, and how can parents get their children involved in regular meal planning?

Kristen Johnson: “We like to make meal planning as easy as 1, 2, 3. So number one- choosing protein or a dairy source when packing the meals. A good source of protein, whether it’s lunch meats or tuna or black beans or peanut butter; and then also including a dairy- so you have low fat dairy options, non fat dairy options, low fat cheeses or yogurts.

Number two: including whole grains- so whole grain crackers, whole grain wraps, whole grain breads. We like to say that we want to make half of our grains whole grains, so choosing healthier options.

And then number three: just including servings of fruits and vegetables in the lunch box. So find out what your kids like- what their favorite fruits are, what their favorite vegetables are and cut them into bite-size pieces and easy to pack in the lunch.”


Candace Rose: What prompted you to get the program started?

Kristen Johnson: “Well, like you said, childhood obesity is a huge epidemic right now, and one in three children are overweight or obese so we know it’s really important to establish some of these healthy eating habits at a young age that they can carry to adulthood. So just really starting them young, making them aware of what these nutrient rich foods do for them- they give them the energy they need to grow and play and to learn so it’s really important that we let our kids know that fruits and vegetables and whole grains and protein and low fat dairy is really good for our bodies.”


Candace Rose: Is there anything else we should be paying attention to on food labels?

Kristen Johnson: “It’s really important to look at the serving size, watch the portion control so if you’re eating something in package form, make sure that you’re only eating a serving of it or you aware of what a serving is. And then also looking at the ingredient list. You want the first few ingredients to be real ingredients- foods that you know, that you can understand. We like to say that a first grader should be able to read the food label, so we want to make sure that we’re buying real foods and we’re adding that nutrition into our lunches.”


Candace Rose: How can parents plan ahead to make the lunch packing process easier?

Kristen Johnson: “You could make extra food for dinner. Pack the leftovers in some Tupperwares and you can grab and go in the morning. You could have Sunday be your preparation day where you’re cutting your fruits and your vegetables and packaging them into containers or Ziploc bags. You can put those right in the fridge so that you can grab and go. Just having all these foods be really convenient and a lot of people think that fast foods are unhealthy but they don’t always have to be. Having some nutritious foods that are easy to pack in the lunches is definitely important.”


Candace Rose: What are some of the best healthy alternatives?

Kristen Johnson: “Today we’re talking about how you can take your traditional lunch box meals and make them a little bit healthier- so a lunch box taco salad. So if you made tacos the night before you could add some taco meat to the salad, but put black beans on it; put fresh salsa, whole grain tortilla chips, and the kids can actually take that to school and assemble. And we have these little cucumber boats- mini cucumbers. They’re hollowed out in the middle with a little tuna fish salad right in the middle of them. So the cucumber’s a good way to add those veggies into the diet. And it’s just a fun meal for the kids. And then we also have sandwich kabobs, so it’s just a sandwich on a skewer. It’s on whole wheat bread with low fat cheese, low sodium deli meats; and they’re just great alternatives to some of those not-so-healthy dishes that we do put in some of the kids lunch from time to time.”


Candace Rose: Do you have any additional tips or information you’d like to share?

Kristen Johnson: “We have a lot of good information on our website at, and also we have a series of videos that show you how to put a healthy lunch box together, and a lot of good recipes to go with it.”


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