Is everyone gearing up for back to school? I know we are! Grayson just picked out his “most favorite dinosaur backpack ever” with matching lunchbox, and it got me thinking … I need some lunch ideas. I already meal plan for dinners so I don’t need to worry about what’s for dinner, but I need to have some good “go to” lunches ready or else I’m going to have “What’s for lunch?” stress on my hands!
Grayson goes to an extended day preschool program and eats lunch at school. Since he’s a picky eater, it can be quite a challenge to find lunch ideas that he’ll actually eat, that are nutritionally balanced, and easy to pack. He pretty much refuses to even look at a sandwich unless it’s a PB&J.
I’m sure many of you run into this same challenge. If you have older children who have the option of packing or buying a lunch, the challenge to get them to eat a nutritionally balanced meal can be even greater.
To help us all out, I put together some delicious, quick and easy lunch ideas. I’m also sharing some of my favorite lunchbox “tools” to make packing a healthy lunch easy. Spoiler alert: this is not a post on bento box lunches; I wish I had time to make a sunshine out of cheese slices but most days that’s just not in the cards. One thing that I try to stick to is preparing Gray’s lunch the night before. I’ve found that it relieves so much stress in the morning when I already have a million things to do just to get us out the door on time!
Option 1: Make your own “lunchable”
There’s a reason why these pre-packaged meals are so popular: they’re easy and kids love them! However, they are heavily processed and filled with preservatives, added sugar and sodium. Solution: Make your own! They’re quick, easy to prepare, and you control the quality of the ingredients. I like to use some of the following items:
- Nitrate free, organic lunchmeat. Applegate Farms has many delicious options (e.g., turkey, ham, salami, etc.) and although a little pricier than their non-organic counterpart, I’m usually able to get three or five lunches out of one pack of lunchmeat, making it around $1/meal for the lunchmeat.
- Organic string cheese or cheese sticks. Costco carries this for a great price! Sometimes I sub the cheese out for a Kefir squeeze pack. Lifeway Probugs are our favorite. The kids love the flavors! I love that they are a great probiotic source, and they are lower in sugar than most of their yogurt counterparts.
- Crackers or some other carb. Popcorn is one of Grayson’s favorites.
- One fruit and one vegetable. Grapes and blueberries are a favorite around here along with bell pepper slices and carrots. Sometimes I add a little ranch dressing for dipping because we love ranch!
- And because dessert is important, I pack a “healthy” version of one of their favorites. My kids really like Annie’s Organic Fruit Snacks because, well, they are fruit snacks. I really like them because they don’t contain any artificial flavoring or dyes.
Option 2: The “Not Peanut Butter” & Jelly
PB&J is actually a very healthy lunchtime option if you use natural peanut butter, an all-fruit spread, and minimally processed bread. However with so many schools being nut-free, the old lunchtime staple of PB&J is no longer an option. Fear not! There are many great peanut butter substitutes out there. If your only restriction is peanuts, then other nut butters such as almond or cashew butter are great alternatives. If your school is completely nut-free, then Sunbutter (made with sunflower seeds) is a great option. Once again, look for these in a natural form without added sugars and salt. They’re easy to recognize if you look at the ingredient list because the only thing you need to see in the ingredients is the actual product itself (i.e., almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds) and nothing else.
Option 3: Leftovers
My favorite! I love packing leftovers for several reasons:
- They’re easy; you already made the meal! When storing leftovers after dinner, just put them directly into lunch containers. Voilà, lunch is ready!
- You can offer a lot of different variety by using your leftovers. You can serve them in the same preparation as last night’s dinner or spice them up. Just change/add a few ingredients and you have a completely different meal. For example, chicken from dinner can become a chicken roll up sandwich the next day.
- Leftovers for lunch reduce food waste. I always saved our leftovers, but we rarely ate them either because we didn’t feel like eating the same thing for dinner twice or there wasn’t enough left over for a full meal for all of us. At the end of the week, I was throwing away a lot of small amounts of leftovers. That was until I realized that these smaller portions are really the perfect lunch-sized portions. If your kids don’t have access to a microwave at school, purchase a small lunch-sized thermos to keep meals hot. These are my favorite for the kiddos.
I hope this helps give you some quick and easy lunch ideas that you can feel great about serving, and your kids will love eating!
Meal Planning Advice? Questions? Recipes? Resources? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Heidi Wilson, Heidi’s Hints: Meal Planning Made Easy