As a dietitian, fall is my favorite time of year. I find patients often make the most successful and high impact adjustments in autumn; with kids going back to school and parents getting back into a routine, change is in the air!

Perhaps one of the best shifts a family can make together is cleaning up the lunch routine. If you can get your kids to bring and eat a healthy lunch, you’re off to a great start. Get the whole house involved! I had a family who created a useful chart that included a weekly breakdown of lunch options. Below are a few examples.

Option 1
Option 2
Option 3
Apple slices
6 Strawberries
Cucumber slices
Carrot sticks
Snap peas
Whole Grain
Whole wheat pita pocket
Oat bread slices
4 whole grain crackers
Low fat Greek yogurt
Low fat cheese
Low fat/skim milk
Lean Protein
Chicken breast
Tuna fish
Turkey slices

Ask your children to pick an option from each column. And there is no reason mom and dad can’t work from the same healthy rubric! You’ll end up with a more balanced lunch box and everyone gets a say.

Fall is a great time to keep it seasonal. Part of getting the family involved in the preparation process is picking out ingredients together. Bring the family along for trips to the local farmers market, or for a fall apple-picking trip. Give kids a small budget—say, a few dollars—and ask them to pick up a few pieces of produce they’d like to include in their lunch. You might be surprised how interested your children are in where that apple came from.

And don’t overlook the important role a humble apple can play in your packed-lunch game…

1. Kids can make “apple-wiches” by adding peanut butter to horizontally sliced apples and eating it like a sandwich.

2. Add Red Delicious, Mac and Gala apples to green salads (a little lemon juice will keep them from going brown), or try a colorful fruit salad with apples, blackberries, blueberries and grapes.

3. Make your own applesauce by cooking down apples (you can leave the peel on) with cinnamon, or even curry powder and a little bit of maple syrup or honey for sweetness.

Nutritionally, apples are an excellent source of fiber, which helps you feel fuller longer and improves digestive health. Be sure to include either a healthy fat like peanut butter or a lean protein like Greek yogurt with your apple concoction to balance blood sugar.

With the rush of getting everyone out the door, sending the family in with appealing, nutritional lunches can get lost in the shuffle. But setting yourself up for success with a little advanced planning, having fun with seasonality, and getting the whole family involved can make all the difference in turning that midday meal into a success.