It’s back-to-school time, which means it’s time to start thinking about how to fill up those lunchboxes. When your son or daughter has type 1 diabetes, lunch away from home can definitely take some extra planning. Tim Harlan, M.D., a chef, diet book author, and associate chief of general internal medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans, offers some additional pointers:

1. Plan lunch menus a week in advance. By doing this, you have time to shop beforehand and will always be prepared.

2. Get kids involved. It can be challenging sometimes, but first and foremost, pack what your kids love. When they like what they find in their brown bag, they’re less likely to trade it for some other kid’s junk food! If there’s a particular casserole they like that will work well cold, send that. Soups and stews can work if kids are older and sure to bring home the Thermos® — and they’re great for sneaking extra veggies into.

3. Strike a balance. The prototype for a good school lunch for all children, including those with type 1 diabetes, is a quality carbohydrate (such as whole grains), along with some protein, veggies, and fruit. The fiber fills kids up, and protein helps satisfy them through the afternoon. Next, be sure to tally the carb counts of the portions you’ve packed to make sure you’re hitting your target.

4. Try using leftovers as sandwiches. Topping some roast chicken with lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and sprouts gets that extra serving of veggies in. When using leftovers, plan to pack them in a cooler with some ice packs (or a Thermos® for hot soups) for safety’s sake. Let the kids choose the cooler—if it’s a few bucks more but they think it’s, well, cool, they’ll be more likely to take care of it.

5. Fall back on old staples. A great choice for a last-minute, go-to lunch is a PB&J sandwich. Choose whole wheat bread and keep extra loaves in the freezer so there’s always some on hand (frozen bread also helps keep sandwich ingredients cooler). For a healthier option, top it with natural peanut butter with no added sugar or salt and a bit of good preserves. The result: whole grains plus great quality protein and monounsaturated fats.

6. Portion things out in advance. How do you effectively label and organize foods so they’re easy to grab and include in lunches? Two words — Sharpies® and Ziplocs®! Packing foods in individual serving-size bags and writing carb counts on the outside is really helpful.

7. Create grab-and-go snacks. Keep plenty of fruit (such as apples and pears) along with fresh vegetables (such as celery and broccoli) in a separate crisper drawer. Nuts are cheaper in bulk and great for kids — buy some along with dried fruit or trail mix and pack them into individual bags.

When it comes to school lunches, a little planning can make weekday mornings go much more smoothly. Don’t miss the bus!


Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.

All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.


More Back to School Topics:
Meal Planning for the Week
Getting on a Good Schedule for the School Year

See All Seasonal Topics >