Fun, Healthy School Lunch Ideas
Packing your child’s lunch can be healthier and more cost-effective than signing your child up for the school lunch program. You may feel you’re at a loss for options when you don’t have much time in the morning to pack a healthy lunch that your child will also want to eat. But making a fun and nutritious lunch can actually be easier than making the same boring sandwich every morning. Here are a few ideas for making lunchtime fun and nutritious for your child this school year.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas
A typical homemade school lunch might include a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a juice box, and possibly a treat. If you can remember what it was like to be a child opening the same lunch every day, you probably also remember how you groaned and got bored with it quickly. It’s time to broaden your horizons – and increase the likelihood that your child will actually eat his whole lunch – by focusing on variety.
To start, invest in reusable small containers or a bento-style compartmentalized lunch box and brainstorm the variety of small finger foods you can fit into the compartments. Snap peas, baby carrots, grapes, raisins, berries, cheese cubes, chicken fingers, hard boiled eggs, and mini whole-grain crackers are just a few ideas.
Dips such as hummus, yogurt, and cream cheese also make healthy lunch foods more interesting and colorful. Once you’ve decided what types of food you want your child to eat, all you have to do in the morning is fill the compartments with a small portion of each food.
Sandwich-type foods don’t have to be completely out of the picture, as long as your child will eat them. However, you can make lunchtime less dull and more nutritious – even when you use similar ingredients every day – by reinventing the standard white bread sandwich.
Consider filling a pita pocket with vegetables and cream cheese, rolling up some peanut butter and a sliced banana into a whole-wheat tortilla, or making your child’s favorite type of sandwich on a sliced bagel instead of bread. To maintain the theme of choice and variety, though, be sure to include at least two small sides, such as fresh strawberries and pita chips.
Save money and avoid having healthy dinner leftovers go to waste by using them in your child’s school lunches. For example, if you make chili for dinner one night, use it to fill a wrap or simply pack a portion of it into an insulated container for your child’s lunch. Take future meals into account when you plan your dinner menus and quantities. Make a little extra to ensure that you will have leftovers, and brainstorm ways you can repurpose meals. Food such as eggs and grilled chicken can easily be included in various lunch meals such as salads, wraps and sandwiches.
You’ll save money if you avoid buying convenience lunches and pre-packaged foods. Rather than getting pre-cubed cheese and pre-sliced ham, buy lunch items in bulk and spend 30 minutes over the weekend slicing, dicing and rationing lunch items for the week so they’ll be easy to toss into lunch boxes on hectic weekday mornings. To save even more money and cut down on waste, plan to pour your child’s milk into an insulated drink container and scoop his yogurt into a container rather than buying them in ready-to-go containers.
When you make your child’s school lunches, you also have a great opportunity to be a part of his day even when you can’t be right next to him. Give sandwiches a personal touch by cutting them into fun shapes with cookie cutters. Use fruits and vegetables to make silly faces and fun designs. If you’re feeling inspired, design thematic lunches such as an astronaut lunch with foods shaped like rocket ships, moons and stars. Top it off by including a short and sweet personalized note in your child’s lunch box.
Involve your child
No matter how old your child is, let him help you plan and assemble his lunches. Creating grocery lists, measuring food quantities, and learning to plan well-balanced meals will teach your child important life skills and help take some pressure off of you. Also, when your child is given at least a few options to choose from, he’s more likely to take ownership of his lunch and willingly eat what’s in his lunch box every day.