Save Your Sanity With Easy School Lunch Ideas
If you shoved your children’s lunch boxes into a kitchen cabinet on the last day of school and haven’t had to face them all summer long, the fast-approaching school year is surely causing some anxiety over a new year of packing school lunches. Don’t feel like you need to be Pinterest-perfect. Instead, create easy school lunches that mix healthy foods with the foods they love. Here are a few challenges you can overcome to ensure that packing lunches doesn’t feel like such a chore.
What Should a Healthy School Lunch Include?
Ask your kids what you should pack for lunch and they’ll suggest crunchy snacks and sweet desserts. Those foods can certainly have a place in their lunch box, but you also want to be sure you’re packing healthy foods that will help them perform well throughout the day. To create well-balanced school lunch ideas that leave them feeling full and provides brain and body power, include a variety of these foods:
Grains — Whole wheat grains provide good fiber which slows digestion and keeps hunger away. They also include carbohydrates which fuel muscles. Make sure the ingredient lists on the items you choose include whole wheat flour.
Add whole wheat bread, pita, or wraps. You can also include brown rice or whole wheat pasta. Even granola bars offer a healthy serving of grains. (But, watch out for added sugars!)
Proteins — Including protein will help your student feel full for the remainder of the day.
Choose lean proteins like turkey or chicken. Peanut butter, milk, cheese, and greek yogurt are great sources of protein as well.
Vegetables & Fruits — Choose options you know your child likes and will eat. You can save the battle of trying new foods for dinner time. You know your kids best, but these are a few kid-approved lunch ideas:
- Carrot sticks, pepper strips, cucumber slices, or cherry tomatoes
- Berries, bananas, apple slices, applesauce, or clementines
What Peanut Butter Substitutes Do Kids Like?
Many schools restrict peanut butter in packed lunches to protect students who suffer from peanut allergies. If your child is a peanut butter & jelly enthusiast, these restrictions can make packing lunches tricky. Have you looked into peanut butter substitutes? Try one of these options for your school lunches:
Sun butter — Sun butter is made from sunflower seeds and taste-testers suggest that it is the most like peanut butter in taste and texture.
Almond butter — Almonds and peanuts are similar in nutritional value and the taste difference between almond butter and peanut butter may go unnoticed in younger children.
Soy butter — Sun butter has a thick, creamy texture just like peanut butter but the taste difference is more noticeable. You may be able to cover up the different flavor with jelly or honey, whichever your child prefers.
Cookie butter — Yes, really! Cookie butter is made from Biscoff speculoos cookies and tastes delicious on toast or sandwiches. It’s also a real treat when dipping apple slices!
My Kids Are Tired of Sandwiches. What Else Can I Try?
It may be the start of a new school year, but it doesn’t take long for lunches to get a bit repetitive. If your kids are requesting something different, here are a few easy school lunch ideas for inspiration.
- “Deconstructed” sandwich — slices of deli meat, pepperoni, or cheese with crackers for stacking
- Pinwheels — meat and cheese, peanut butter and bananas, or other ingredients rolled into a wrap and cut into bite-size pinwheels
- Grilled chicken strips with BBQ sauce or ranch for dipping
- Pasta with their favorite sauce
- Hummus and pita chips
Which Lunch Box Supplies Do I Need?
Packing school lunches goes a lot faster when you have all the necessary supplies.
Divided container — Ziploc® divided containers are a popular choice for a reusable container but other divided or stackable options are available.
Silicone cupcake liners — These multi-taskers can hold anything from crackers or berries to trail mix or cherry tomatoes. The silicone allows them to bend and fit into any extra space and when you place them into your divided container, there is no need for an extra lid.
Small containers with lids or refillable pouches— These handy containers are perfect for dipping sauce, yogurt, applesauce, and anything else that’s runny and messy.
Thermos® — Most cafeterias don’t offer an option to reheat lunch but a Thermos, an old-school classic, can keep soup, pasta, or other hot meals warm until lunchtime.
Reusable utensils — If you’re concerned about your silverware getting tossed in the trash but don’t want to burn through disposable utensils every day, try reusable utensils. You can find options in plastic, metal, or bamboo.