A balanced lunch diet is essential as you prepare the meal. Obviously finger/hand foods are preferred -- it becomes less convenient when your child needs a fork or spoon to eat, although the occasional pudding with a plastic spoon can be an option. And have the child help prepare the lunch -- this way there are no surprises which sometimes backfire, and the child often anticipates and looks forward to the lunch as the time approaches during the day.
Generally lunch has carbohydrates for energy -- so starch in form of bread and maybe crackers can be provided. Protein is typically in form of cheese, meats/fish (tuna), soy/tofu, egg or even peanut butter. Thus sandwiches are a relatively easy and healthy way to provide these nutrients. Sandwiches can start with various types of breads (including wheat, rolls, pita pockets, or wraps), and mustard added as a spread (avoiding the high fat mayo or dressings). Other options can include hummus, cheese sticks, even salads, sushi, or pasta (but may need fork).
Vegetables -- carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, slices of red/yellow/orange peppers, pickles -- and fruits -- apples (sliced), grapes, berries, orange or mandarin segments, or bananas are popular.
An alternative is to give crackers and veggies with a spread such as hummus that occasionally replaces the sandwich.
Drinks should be water from the fountain, milk (nonfat), or 100% juice limited to 4-6 oz.
Note that chips, cookies, etc are not included above. These can also be added for energy but should be limited in quantity so other foods are eaten.
Hello, I shared your question on Education.com's Facebook Fan Page, and here is a response it generated from a fan named Richelle:
"1st graders love to have an array of things to nibble on. Depending on his/hers own taste: pitted olives, pita bread, hummus to dip the bread it, bag of unsalted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds, cut up fruit either a whole apple cute up or a mix of fruits, 9 or 12 whole grain bread with almond butter and a natural sweet spread, cut into small squares for it be more "fun" for them to eat, container of hot or cold soups. There is SO much more for a 1st grader to take than say an 8th grader (is willing to take, that is:)"
I'll let you know if any additional responses come in.