Getting your kids to eat healthily can be a challenge, particularly on busy school days. Each of these back-to-school lunches is designed to provide your children with a balanced meal, which could help them focus throughout the afternoon. Try out a selection of these meals to find out which ones tickle your kids’ taste buds.
What to Pack for School Lunches
When packing lunch for your child, try to include a balance of proteins, fats, grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that kids eat a mixture of these foods at every meal, with very limited amounts of sugary snacks and oils. Including one main item and several snacks in your children’s lunchboxes is a good way to ensure they eat all the food groups they need.
School Lunch Ideas
Here are some ideas for creative sandwiches, salads and pasta dishes that can fuel your child through a long school day.
1. Turkey and Guac Wraps
Give your child a more interesting variation on the traditional sandwich with a turkey and guacamole wrap. Simply combine cooked turkey, peppers, spinach, tomatoes and cucumbers in a whole-wheat wrap to sneak some veggies and protein into your child’s diet. Rather than using mayo, add moisture and flavor to the wrap with guacamole, which is high in healthy unsaturated fats. Turkey provides plenty of protein and is lower in saturated fats than some other types of meat.
2. Pea and Pesto Pasta
This lunch idea could not be easier. Boil pasta in a saucepan for 15 minutes. Roughly five minutes before the pasta is ready, add some frozen peas. When the pasta and peas are both cooked, drain the water and toss the pasta with pesto to create a tasty meal that is delicious either hot or cold. The pine nuts in the pesto provide protein, fiber, and healthy fats to fuel your child’s development.
3. Chicken and Fruit Salad
If your kids refuse to eat traditional salad ingredients, try tempting their taste buds with this sweet fruit salad. Cut apples, grapefruit, and grapes into bite-sized chunks, and combine them with pieces of cooked chicken to create a tasty salad. As your children get used to eating healthier foods, you can try sneaking some spinach or cucumber into the salad to introduce them to eating vegetables.
4. Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos
This lunch recipe takes around 30 minutes to prepare. To save time, you can cook up a batch of beans and sweet potatoes at the beginning of the week and keep the leftovers in a sealed container in the refrigerator. This recipe is high in fiber to help keep your kids feel full throughout the afternoon.
Begin by heating a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan. Add chopped onions, sweet potatoes, and a little salt, and cook for 10 minutes. Next, add beans and sweet peppers, and cook for another couple of minutes. Wrap the cooked mixture in flour tortillas to make burritos, and heat each one in the pan for a minute or two to seal them.
5. Drinks and Snacks
In addition to sandwiches, salads, and pasta, you can fill your child’s lunchbox with healthy snacks. Choose snacks from this list to ensure your child eats a good mixture of grains, fruits, vegetables, protein, and dairy each day:
- Cherry tomatoes
- Grapes or chopped fresh fruit
- Celery sticks filled with peanut butter
- Hummus and carrot sticks
- Lightly salted popcorn
- Whole-grain crackers
- Cubes of cheese
- Milk (cow’s milk, soy milk, or almond milk)
- Plain or low-sugar yogurt
Best Way to Pack School Lunches
Many parents find that the best way to pack school lunches is to prepare food in advance. While you’re cooking dinner, you could cut up fruits and vegetables for your kids’ lunchboxes, so they’re ready to grab in the morning. For recipes that require cooking, consider making a big batch on the weekend and keeping the leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer, so they’re ready to eat each day. Planning and organization can help you avoid turning to processed foods on busy school days.
If one or more of your children have special dietary requirements or you’re worried about how their diet is impacting their health, ask your doctor for personalized advice. A medical professional can help you come up with balanced school lunch ideas that take into account children’s allergies, food intolerances, and a refusal to eat certain foods.