Healthy Lunches for Back to School
School is just around the corner, and that means thousands of lunch bags will soon be packed. In order to make sure your kids are the ones eating the food you pack instead of trading it for someone’s leftover dessert, try a few of these easy and healthy lunchbox options.
On a Roll!
Sandwiches get boring – so change it up a bit by making a healthy roll-up for your kids. Tortillas come in all sorts of flavors and options, from white, to wheat, to spinach, and more. Pick your kids’ favorite or have them try something new, and then add some of the following toppings.
- Shredded turkey (shredding it makes it easier to eat on a roll-up)
- Shredded lettuce
- Cheese (you can use sliced, crumbled Feta, or shredded)
- Sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, or even shredded carrot (use whatever your kids will eat!)
- Fresh basil leaves
Roll up the tortilla (you can easily make this a vegetarian one by skipping the meat) and add a small reusable container of Ranch dressing or other sauce for dipping. If your child doesn’t want to dip, you can drizzle seasoned olive oil the toppings before rolling.
Pita Pocket Pizzas
For another alternative to bread, use pita pockets for your child’s sandwich. My kids love turning whole wheat ones into pizza pita pockets by filling them with cold versions of pizza ingredients.
- Sliced pepperoni, salami, or chopped ham
- Shredded mozzarella
- Sliced black olives
- Chopped peppers
- Any other pizza topping – you could use ham and pineapple, or go veggie with pepper and fresh tomatoes.
Drizzle olive oil over the toppings in the pita pocket that has been infused with Italian inspired spices like oregano, basil, and garlic.
Appetizers for Lunch
Just because it is a school lunch doesn’t mean it has to look like one. My kids love taking appetizers for lunches, and they are easy to pack and serve. Skip the Lunchables, though, as these are expensive, have a lot of container waste, and generally have higher calorie foods included. I like to use reusable plastic containers that come with mini dividers in them like these.
- Add into your container ingredients that your kids won’t be trading:
- Chunks of cheese – try different flavors at the deli to experiment with new kinds your kids might like.
- Crackers – we like whole wheat ones and baked ones for healthier versions. You can also try Rye-crisps, too.
- Slices of cucumber, pepper, tomato, radish, or fresh peas in the pod
- Small slices of fresh deli meat (or skip for a vegetarian option)
- A side serving of hummus for the crackers and veggies
1 1/2 cups of drained canned Great Northern white beans, chick peas, or garbanzo beans
1/4 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic – if you don’t have it fresh you can get it packed in a jar with olive oil
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
Dash of lemon juice (I also like a dash of hot sauce, but only use according to your child’s taste preferences)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- In a food processor puree beans until they are coarsely pureed.
- Add onion, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
- Add olive oil and puree once more.
- Add more salt, pepper, hot sauce, etc. to taste.
Fruit Salad & Dip
Go beyond the apple or banana and send your kids with small containers of cut up fruit – cantaloupe, strawberries, honeydew, watermelon, etc. – and add in a side container of fruit dip. The dip can be considered part of the dessert (and you can send graham crackers to use with it as well), but it also helps encourage finicky fruit eaters to get their servings of fruit each day.
Easy Fruit Dip Recipe
- 6 ounces of softened fat free cream cheese
- 1 tsp. of lemon juice
- 1 to 11/2 cups of powdered sugar
- Skim milk (you’ll be adding enough to get a smooth consistency – roughly ½ cup, but add in smaller amounts until it is desired thickness.
- Blend all ingredients until smooth and store in the refrigerator. For lunches, serve ¼ cup of the fruit dip in a small reusable plastic container.
Pasta Salad Smorgasbord
Pasta salads are easy, healthy, and versatile (and easy to serve in a reusable bowl and keep cold in the lunchbox). At the beginning of the week, make a large box of whole wheat or whole grain pasta noodles (Rotini, Penne, etc.). Divide the noodles out and mix with varieties of ingredients for several different kinds of salads (no one wants to eat tuna pasta salad all week). Try some of these combinations.
- Chunked chicken breast, fat free mayo or salad dressing, frozen peas, chunks of cheese
- Tuna, chopped celery and peppers, fat free mayo, salt and pepper
- Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, olives, fresh basil leaves, and crumbled Feta (drizzle with Italian dressing or flavored olive oil
- Chunks of salami or pepperoni, shredded mozzarella, chunks of tomatoes and peppers, and a dash of oregano for a pizza version – use olive oil for dressing
Other Easy Lunchbox Add-Ins
School lunches don’t have to require you spend hours of prep work in the kitchen, but if you invest an hour or so on a Sunday evening chopping and preparing, you can have the basics ready for a week’s worth of healthy lunches. Don’t buy individual, pre-packaged servings – these are usually more expensive, have higher preservatives, and increase packaging waste. Buy in bulk and then repackage into reusable containers.
- Granola with raisins (and nuts if allowed at your child’s school)
- String cheese
- 0 calorie drink mixes your child can add to his water bottle (invest in reusable water bottles).
Even though I homeschool, I still use these recipes to plan ahead and serve healthy lunches for my kids, and my daughter takes these with her to campus (she’s attending college). My kids even like to use lunchboxes and pack their food so we can eat on the go if we want – and that happens every week – but saves our wallets and our waistlines from the drive-thru windows.