Preparing Healthy, Quick and Easy Lunches
The school year is quickly approaching for students, teachers, and parents and packing daily lunches are now on the agenda. With a busy family, traditional bag lunches can be an afterthought, being poorly balanced, boring and not eaten during school lunchtime. Fear no more – there are many ways to plan and prepare healthy, quick, affordable, and easy lunches to get everyone ready for back to school!
Mix It Up with Bento Boxes
Bento box lunches are quickly gaining popularity with kids and parents. This fresh take on the brown bag not only makes lunch look good, but can also help lunch taste good, too! Bento boxes are a great way to add variety and keep lunches balanced with healthy and yummy options for kids and adults. Compartmentalizing the food may also appeal to those picky eaters as well. Not only that, bento boxes are very economical, easily accessible and cut down on lunch waste like plastic sandwich bags.
Lunches Kids Can Pack
Packing school lunches doesn’t have to be stressful. Involving kids in the process can teach them independence, responsibility, and about choosing healthy food. With a little preparation, it can be a super fun activity! The key to involving kids in the lunch packing process is teaching them to prepare meals ahead of time and choosing easy recipes to try out on their own.
Meal Prep to Save Time and Money
A great way to make lunch packing a breeze is to meal prep during those Sundays afternoons. Making certain foods in larger quantities that can be eaten throughout the week not only saves money, but will make it easier to plan and pack, and it’s something your little ones can even do on their own! Check out your local farmers market for in-season produce and other local foods packed with vitamins and nutrients. Some ideas include: pasta salads, hard boiled eggs, savory muffins, roasted seasonal vegetables, and overnight oats (hey, sometimes breakfast is on-the-go, too!).
Best School Lunch Ideas:
Here are some nutritious school lunch ideas that are kid-friendly, parent approved.
#1 Good ole’ sandwiches: These are always easy for kids to make, but the process can be fun by using cookie cutters and making cute shapes out of them. Whole wheat turkey or peanut butter and jelly sandwich halves, carrot strips, fruit, edamame, and fig cookies. Looking for a fresh fruit preserve? Purchase your favorite in-season flavor at your local farmers market.
#2 Yummy leftovers: Make good use of last night’s dinner by adding it to a school lunch bento box! Maybe it’s leftover chicken cut into strips, sliced tomatoes, multigrain crackers, fruit, and some chocolate covered raisins for their little sweet teeth!
#3 Hearty salads: Salads are easy to throw together and you can add almost anything to make it enticing for kids. Try a taco salad with shredded chicken or a hardboiled egg for protein, beans, three-cheese blend, and corn. Add some fresh berries and granola or nuts to round out the meal.
#4 Pizza wraps: Use whole wheat tortillas and spread a thin layer of tomato sauce, then layer with pepperoni slices, chopped veggies, and mozzarella cheese. Roll up, fold the edges and voila!
#5 Quesadilla roll ups: Use whole wheat tortillas, spread a three-cheese blend and a light layer of shredded butter lettuce. Warm up in the microwave for 30 seconds at home and roll up, putting it in an insulated container (some schools also have microwaves children can heat them up in). Add guacamole and a cucumber salsa for added flavor and fresh strawberries for a sweet dessert.
#6 Do-it-yourself lunchables: Hard boil two eggs and assemble baby carrots (or slice regular carrots), ranch or greek yogurt dip, pretzels, and applesauce for a fun take on the favorite – Lunchables! Hint: substitute carrots or dessert snacks for in-season, local produce. Check out ways to find local produce.
#7. Pasta salad: Easy to make in bulk and loved by even those picky eaters, pasta salad is a great way to include vegetables and healthy fats for a nutritious meal. Try a BBQ chicken salad which includes bowtie pasta, rotisserie chicken, green onions, black beans, corn, cheddar cheese chunks, and a yummy ranch BBQ sauce mix. Make sure to use hardy pasta that is not overcooked, or it may be unappetizing for your kiddos. With endless possibilities, you can’t go wrong!
#8. Carrot and walnut muffins: A great way to sneak in extra veggies can come in the form of muffins! Check out the step-by-step muffin recipe, which use carrots, apples, cinnamon, and walnuts. It’s a yummy and sweet addition to any lunch!
#9. Homemade trail mix: Another recipe that can be made in a variety of ways is trail mix. Adding nuts, dried fruits and other sweets is an easy and nutritious snack for kids. As an idea, gather mixed nuts – walnuts, almonds, and cashews, banana chips, raisins, small chocolate kisses, dried papaya, and coconut strips for a flavor infused pick-me-up your kids (and even you!) will enjoy.
#10. Lunch drinks: Choosing the best drink to go with your child’s lunch will round out a healthy lunch. Water is possibly the best choice for kids since it is full of minerals and does not have any sugars or artificial sweeteners. To get that calcium in, milk and yogurt drinks are also an option, as well as fortified non-dairy drinks such as almond milk, soy milk, or oat milk. Bringing these drinks in a thermos or reusable bottle is also a great way to reduce waste.
A few more tips to consider:
- Stick yogurt cups in the freezer over the weekend and drop them in school lunch boxes each morning. They will keep the lunch cool and thaw by lunch time.
- Make sure to spritz lemon on freshly cut fruit and avocado to avoid browning and becoming unappetizing for kids.
- Nuts are a great source of protein. If allowed at your school, add them into the mix (see trail mix recipe above) to ensure your child is getting all the nutrients!
With endless possibilities, all you need is a little school meal planning and a little help (from your kiddos) to make real food into fast, fun, and nutritious lunches. Hopefully these kid-approved lunch ideas will inspire you and your family this school year!
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- The Best Kids’ Drinks to Pack for Back-to-School Lunches