Sometimes the hardest part of making a healthy lunch to send with your child to school is just coming up with the ideas. We’ve all been stuck in a sandwich rut at one time or another. But a packed lunch doesn’t have to be boring — or worse, unhealthy.
All it takes are a few creative ideas to get the ball rolling. Before you know it, you’ll be a master in the art of making healthy lunches.
Rules to Remember
One of the hardest and most important rules to follow when packing a lunch is to skip the pre-packaged foods, which can be expensive and much less nutritious than fresh food. Processed foods like cookies and chips have a lot of sodium, sugar, and saturated fat: all things you want to avoid.
Instead, focus on making one main “entrée” for the lunch. Pair it with a healthy snack and a bottle of water, low-fat milk, or 100% juice and you’re done! Desserts are not necessary after lunch. And if you incorporate something sweet like fruit, your child won’t miss the treat.
Also, when you’re sending your child to school with food that needs to remain chilled until lunch time, freeze a water bottle or juice box the night before to use instead of an ice pack. This way, your child won’t need to worry about bringing the ice pack home and she’ll have a cold drink to enjoy with her lunch.
If you don’t have a lot of time in the morning to prepare a lunch, try getting a head start the night before. All of the following ideas can be cooked or put together the night before and chilled in the refrigerator until the morning.
- Mini Pizzas. Split an English muffin and top with mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce. Bake for five minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool, then refrigerate overnight. Keep cool with an ice pack.
- Make-Your-Own “Lunchables”. Slice up deli meat, cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, or any vegetable your child likes. Store them in a divided container with whole-grain crackers. Add in mustard packets or a container of hummus for added flavor.
- Pasta and Veggie Salad. Mix 6 ounces of cooked tri-color rotini or your child’s favorite pasta with a teaspoon butter, halved cherry tomatoes, and cooked peas. Keep it chilled with an ice pack.
- Chicken Salad Sandwich. Add grapes, sliced apples, and crushed cashews to your usual chicken salad recipe for a delicious twist on a classic sandwich.
- Turkey Pinwheels. Spread a whole-wheat tortilla with hummus, then add thin layers of turkey and spinach leaves. Roll it up and slice it into sushi-like pieces.
Lunches You Can Make in the Morning
If you’ve got a few minutes to spare before sending your child off to the bus and getting yourself out the door as well, try some of the following recipes. They don’t require a lot of preparation and will taste great in a few hours.
- Pita-Butter and Banana Sandwich. Spread two slices of whole-grain pita bread with almond butter, a drizzle of honey, and banana slices.
- Fresh Kebabs. Skewer cheese cubes, grapes, watermelon chunks, cubed turkey or ham, cherry tomatoes, or any other favorite fruit or vegetable with a plastic or wooden skewer. Use cling wrap and keep chilled.
- Pita with Jelly and Yogurt. Spread jelly and Greek yogurt or cream cheese on a whole-grain pita. Keep chilled.
- English Muffin with Strawberries.Split and toast and an English muffin. Spread with goat cheese or cream cheese, strawberry jam, and thinly sliced strawberries.
- Tuna Bagel Sandwich. Use a full-size, whole-wheat bagel or a few mini bagels. Add tuna, reduced-fat cheese, tomato slices, and lettuce.
Easy, Delicious Sides
Don’t forget to fill out your child’s meal with some healthy extras. Kids love finger food, and these easy treats are sure to please:
- Cheese cubes and Triscuits
- Fruit slices or chunks
- Pretzels with a small container of dipping sauce, like mustard or yogurt
- Baby carrots
- Squeezable yogurt tube
- Hard-boiled egg
- Sliced bananas and blueberries mixed with yogurt
- Cooked couscous with mixed fruits and nuts
Once you’ve tried a few new ideas, repeat the ones your child loves and try to find other options that are sure to please. Just try to balance the food groups to create a well-rounded meal that will give your child the energy she needs to get through the rest of the school day.
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