Last week we gave you ten back-to-school snack ideas to serve your hungry kids when they get home from school. This week, we are helping you pack a healthy and filling school lunch with ten recipe ideas.
School lunches typically are boring, mundane and not as nutritious as they can be. However, you can easily transform a plain PB&J sandwich or salad into something tasty and nutritious that will give your kids the energy they need to finish the school day. We all know that transitioning back to school after a fun summer can be draining, so pack your kids a lunch that will get them through to the 3 o'clock bell.
Kids need to eat at least the recommended daily amount of nutrients, so these lunchbox ideas include a lot of fruits, vegetables, healthy starches, fiber and protein, and don't include a lot of unhealthy fats, sugars, simple carbohydrates or sodium.
Here are ten recipe ideas your kids are sure to love. Granted that some of them will require a sprint to the microwave -- if one is available -- but that fosters a streak of healthy competition in the cafeteria.
10. Sandwich Stuffed Pita
Rather than placing the usual meat-cheese-lettuce combo between two slices of white bread, stuff your kid's favorite sandwich ingredients into a pita half. Opt for the high-fiber and whole-wheat pitas to ensure your child gets a more complex carbohydrate. Make a regular turkey, cheese, lettuce, tomato stuffed pita for the plain, picky eater, and include hummus, guacamole or pesto for the more adventurous eater. You can certainly stuff that pita with a chicken salad or tuna salad as well.
9. Fresh Harvest Salad
What better way to incorporate fruits, vegetables and protein than in a salad featuring the freshest and most in-season fruits and vegetables. You can switch up the ingredients each time you make the salad, too. Build a salad with a combination of romaine lettuce and spring mix, then add in slices of apples, oranges, peaches, diced sweet peppers and carrots, and cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast for a lean protein; you can also top with sliced almonds. For a healthy carbohydrate, add toasted wedges of whole-wheat, high-fiber pita bread. Give your kids a vinaigrette with healthy fat from the olive oil. Pack the salad with a cool pack so it stays fresh until lunch time.
8. Healthy Lunchable
Lunchables are super easy to pack for your kids, but unfortunately they are not very healthy options. So, if your kid still loves Lunchables, prepare one at home, instead. Mix and match different lunchbox packs with low-fat cheese cubes, whole-grain crackers, lean slices of turkey, ham or roast beef, grapes, strawberries, apples or pears.
7. Homemade Soup
Canned and bottled soups tend to be super high in sodium and cholesterol, but if you make the soups at home, you control the amount of sodium. Make a large pot of soup, such as chicken noodle, tomato, vegetable or chowder for dinner, then send your kid to school with the leftovers. Pack some crunchy vegetables, like carrot sticks, celery sticks or slices of sweet bell peppers with a few whole-grain crackers.
6. Panko Breaded Chicken Nuggets
Coat fresh chicken tenders in milk or buttermilk, Panko breadcrumbs, garlic powder, paprika, and salt and pepper for a sweet taste and crunchy texture. Pack them in your kids lunch with a vegetable, such as carrots, broccoli or peas, and don't forget the honey mustard, barbecue sauce or ketchup for dipping.
5. Lettuce Wraps
Salads become boring fast, so jazz things up by sending your kid to school with a lettuce wrap pack. Pair two or three lettuce leaf cups with ground turkey meat coated in a light Asian sauce, a tablespoon of peanuts and crunchy wonton strips. When they get to lunch, all they have to do is assemble the Asian lettuce wraps. Make sure the lunch is packed in an ice pack to stay cool all day, otherwise, the lettuce won't be as crisp.
4. Light Mac 'N Cheese
Macaroni and cheese is not the healthiest option for lunch, but if you substitute half of the cheese for cauliflower puree, you can cut down on the unnecessary amount of fat from the cheese and incorporate a healthy vegetable. Use whole-grain, high-fiber macaroni noodles to provide your child with a more complex carbohydrate. Throw in some fresh herbs and other vegetables, like chopped pieces of broccoli or peas for more added nutrients. The more veggies you can add, the less pasta and cheese you have to use.
3. Fruit and Veggie Muffins
Use healthier ingredients in muffins, like whole-wheat flour instead of only using All-Purpose flour, or fresh fruit to cut back on the sugar. Use healthier fats, like canola oil instead of butter, as well. Make zucchini and carrot muffins or peach and blueberry muffins. Pack a muffin with crunchy veggies or a side salad and skim milk in a thermos. Make it to the microwave for a quick reheat and it's even better.
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2. Mini Bagel PB&J Sandwiches
There isn't anything more predictable than a PB&J sandwich for lunch, so substitute the ordinary white sandwich bread for two whole-grain miniature bagels. Use a cinnamon-raisin flavor if your kid enjoys the sweetness from the jelly more so than the savory peanut butter. Spread just a tablespoon of peanut butter on each mini bagel sandwich and a favorite jelly or jam. Add fresh fruit, such as sliced strawberries, bananas or berries to upgrade the regular PB&J. Complete the lunch with milk in a thermos and a side carrot sticks.
1. Tortilla Pizza
What kid doesn't love pizza? Unfortunately, this fan-favorite dish is full of fat and simple carbohydrates, but that can be easily fixed by using a tortilla instead of crust and low-fat cheese instead of the full-fat version. You have two options when making a pizza with a tortilla, either leave it flat like a regular pizza pie, or fold it over to seal in the pizza sauce, cheese and toppings like a quesadilla. Pack it cold and all your kid has to do is heat it up for a hot pizza, or he can eat it as is if you cooked it the night before.