Back to school is fast approaching and you might be hoping to get your child or children back on track with healthy eating habits after a summer of snacks and sweet treats. The subject of healthy back to school lunch options seems to flood the internet this time of year.
As a parent you might have the best intentions and think you’re doing the right thing by packing your kid’s lunchboxes with fresh fruits and vegetables. Alas, many kids don’t always like these healthy options. Many children look forward to the salty, fatty, and sweet choices they can get in the cafeteria. Or, they don’t want to stand out from their friends with what they consider lunches that ‘aren’t cool.’
Preparing healthy lunch options takes some ingenuity, creativity, and a little bit of time. We will try to demystify the process to make it easier for you to encourage your children to eat a nutritious lunch.
Basic Rules for Healthy School Lunches
1. Kids eat with their eyes first. Lunch must be visually appealing. Make sure there is variety and you pack a wide color spectrum.
2. Variety and options need to be apparent. One way to achieve this is by using a lunch box with compartments that resemble a Japanese bento box. Alternatively, use snack size baggies so your kids can see the choices clearly. You will need small containers for sauces and dips. Tiny ice packs are also a good idea.
3. Hit all of the food groups and hope they eat at least two of them. Have a protein, a vegetable, a fruit, and a carbohydrate. Try to include something salty, sweet, and maybe sour.
4. Do not stress out when the box comes home with food still in it. Move on to a new recipe until you find the items that your kids want to eat. The idea is to provide sufficient calories and nutrition for energy to get through the school day.
Healthy Lunch Ideas
Breakfast All Day
Ever notice that some kids just really like breakfast food? Try this combination.
• 1 mini whole wheat bagel sandwich with scrambled egg, ham, and cheese
• 4 ounce container of vanilla yogurt
• 1/3 cup honey sweetened granola (Recipe #1)
• 1/3 cup sliced strawberries
Little guys often need a protein pick-me-up mid-day to get through an afternoon of school. Chicken, cheese, aminos, and nut butter is sure to hit that mark.
• Baked chicken breast fingers with a crunchy panko crust and sweet dipping sauce (Recipe #2)
• Broccoli bites with coconut aminos (Recipe #3)
• String cheese sticks or mild cheddar cheese squares
• Apple wedges with peanut butter or sunflower seed butter
What child doesn’t like pizza? Try a thin whole grain tortilla rolled around some pepperoni, thinly sliced tomatoes, and cheese cut into 3 or 4 portions.
• 1 whole grain roll-up with pepperoni, tomato slices, and mozzarella cheese
• Baby carrots with Greek yogurt ranch dip (Recipe #4)
• 1/3 cup fresh blueberries
• 4 ounce container of organic apple sauce
This lunchbox is great for those kids who are snackers and like to, or need to, nosh all day.
• 1 cup cubed deli ham and Swiss cheese
• 1/2 cup mini oat bran pretzel twists
• 1/2 cup red seedless grapes
• Almond butter energy balls (Recipe #5)
Recipe #1: Whole Grain and Honey Granola
• 6 cups rolled oats
• 1/2 cup coconut oil
• 1/2 cup honey
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/3 cup dark chocolate chips or raisins
1. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, honey, vanilla, and cinnamon. Add the oats and stir to coat evenly.
3. Place the mixture on a baking sheet and cook for 30 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes, until the granola is golden and toasted.
4. Allow the granola to cool completely. Add the chocolate chips or blueberries and mix together. Store the granola in glass jars or sealable baggies until ready to serve.
Recipe #2: Crunchy Chicken Fingers with Dipping Sauce
• 1 pound chicken breast tenders
• 1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
• 3 egg whites, lightly beaten
• 2 cups panko bread crumbs
• 4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
• 2 tablespoons honey (more if you like it sweeter)
1. Preheat your oven to 450°F.
2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a shallow bowl, place the egg whites and beat lightly. In another bowl, place the bread crumbs. You can add a little salt and pepper to these as well.
3. Dip the chicken tenders into the egg whites to coat. Then, coat them all over with the bread crumbs. Place the fingers on a lightly oiled baking sheet.
4. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the bread crumbs are golden brown and the chicken is cooked through. You want an internal temperature of 165°F when checked with a digital meat thermometer.
5. In a small bowl, mix together the mustard and honey until smooth. Serve the sauce with the chicken tenders.
Recipe #3: Broccoli Bites with Coconut Aminos
• One 16 ounce bag of organic broccoli florets (usually available in produce section)
• 4 cups water
• Large bowl of ice water
• 1/4 cup coconut aminos or teriyaki sauce
1. In a medium pot, bring the water to a boil. Add the broccoli and blanch for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure the broccoli is still bright green. Remove the broccoli with a slotted spoon or spider to the bowl with ice water. After 1 minute, drain the broccoli in a colander to dry.
2. Place the broccoli in a bowl. Pour the coconut aminos on the broccoli and toss to coat. Refrigerate until ready to pack for lunch.
Recipe #4: Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip
• 2 cups whole milk Greek yogurt
• 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
• 2 teaspoons dried dill
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1 teaspoon onion powder
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients. If your Greek yogurt is very thick, add a tiny bit of water. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Recipe #5: Almond Butter Energy Balls
• 2/3 cup creamy almond butter
• 1 cup rolled oats
• 1/2 cup flax meal
• 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or vegan chips
• 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
• Shredded coconut (optional)
1. In a medium bowl, combine the first 5 ingredients. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to firm up the mixture.
2. Roll into golf ball size balls, approximately 12. Roll the balls in the coconut, if desired. Store the balls in the refrigerator until ready to serve.