School Lunch Ideas: 10 Healthy Ways to Fill Your Kids' Lunchboxes
When you're looking for school lunch ideas, it's easy to throw a handful of cheap, pre-packed lunchbox fillers into your shopping cart and call it a week. But what are those shortcuts really costing? Besides the empty calories, sodium, and sugar, there's the guilt you feel sending your child off to school with something you'd never cook or eat at home. For example, did you know Lunchables have between a quarter and a third of the daily recommended sodium for an adult?
Lunch Box Planning TipsWith a little planning, though, you can craft a week's worth of cheap and healthy lunches that your kids will love. Try these quick tips:
- Plan ahead. While it would be nice to buy farm fresh food each day, the reality is quite different. Shop on Sunday to plan out the week's meals, and try preparing these items ahead of time:
- Cooked rice
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Rotisserie chicken
- Pre-sliced matchstick carrots
- Cooked pasta
- Cooked ground meat
- Multitask your cooking. If you're making ground meat, save money by buying in bulk and cook more than you need for multiple meals. Cooked ground meat is great for spaghetti and meat sauce, tacos, sloppy Joes, chili, and shepherd's pie (just to name a few!).
- Buy fresh. One rotisserie chicken can make lunches for the whole week. Chicken salad sandwiches, burritos, chicken quesadillas, mini chicken pot pies, and barbecue chicken sandwiches are just a few ways to use it up.
- Presentation is key. If you make your child's lunch look fun, it will be more fun to eat. For example, Bento boxes have compartments that can hold different pre-portioned items. Some Bento boxes even have covers that press cool designs onto the sandwiches inside. Blunt-edged toothpicks are also an inexpensive and fun way for kids to play with their food in an appropriate way: they can spear each item individually or mix and match flavor combinations.
- Pack in the fruits and vegetables. Nutritionists recommend kids eat five to thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables each day, so make sure the majority of the foods in your child's lunch are healthy. If he's is hungry at lunchtime, your child will eat it!
- Pack items in reusable containers. You're not only saving the environment and money, you're also checking to see how much your child ate. Include a small sweet treat like a few M&Ms, a Hershey's Kiss, or a small snack pack of gummies, but take it away if that's the only thing that's getting eaten.
- Steer clear of pre-packed individual servings. Potato chips or cookies that boast 100 calories each are expensive and may be unhealthy lunchbox additions. Instead, buy a large bag of pretzels, crackers, or cookies, and count out individual servings into small snack containers that you can easily toss into your child's lunchbox.
10 School Lunch Ideas
Using the tips listed above, try these 10 school lunch ideas that are easy to make, fun to eat, cost-effective and healthy!
- Pasta Salad: Toss pasta with olive oil or canola oil, chunks of rotisserie chicken, frozen veggie mix like peas and carrots, and your child's favorite seasoning.
- PBB Hand Roll: Peanut butter, banana, and honey rolled in a tortilla and wrapped in foil.
- Chicken Rollups: Rotisserie chicken, cheese, lettuce and matchstick carrots rolled in a tortilla and cut into bite-sized sushi rolls.
- Fake it Don't Make it Chicken Soup: Heat chicken broth, leftover cooked pasta, rotisserie chicken chunks, and frozen veggies in the microwave for 1-2 minutes and pour it into a thermos. For a vegetarian option, use miso or veggie broth and cooked tofu chunks.
- DIY Tacos: Pack taco shells, cooked ground meat, cheese, shredded lettuce, and a small container of salsa for a build-your-own treat.
- Pizza Bagels: Spread tomato sauce on a bagel half and sprinkle cheese on top. Broil it in a toaster oven just before wrapping in foil.
- Bean and Cheese Burrito: Spread refried beans on a tortilla and add cooked rice, pre-made salsa, and shredded cheese. Roll it up and heat it in the microwave for about a minute before wrapping in foil.
- Chef's Salad: Layer cut grape tomatoes, shredded carrots, craisins, shredded cheese, cut cucumbers, corn kernels, sliced hard-boiled egg, and canned beans on top of shredded lettuce with a side of salad dressing. Your child can shake it all together or pick and dip.
- Pita pocket: Stuff a pita pocket with low-sodium lunch meat, lettuce, shredded carrots, cucumbers, spinach, and any other vegetable your child won't complain about. Try adding sliced strawberries or apples for a creative twist.
- Mac-n-Cheese-n-Trees: Make a simple cheesy sauce by heating milk with shredded cheddar cheese. When the cheese is fully melted, add a small amount of flour while stirring to thicken the sauce. Pour over leftover pasta and add broccoli and frozen corn.
Pair these entrees with cut fruit, water, carrots or celery, and pretzel sticks for a complete, guilt-free lunch you can be proud of!