A new school year is right around the corner.
These healthy school lunch ideas will get your kids off to a great start.
Did you know that the average school lunch time is only 25 minutes? That time includes lining up, walking to, and sitting down for lunch. By the time they reach the lunchroom, students may only have 15 minutes to eat.
As a parent, how do you make sure that they get a healthy lunch that they can eat in a short amount of time? The good news is that it’s simple to create a delicious and nutritious lunch box that your child will enjoy so much that the time won’t matter. They will gobble it up as quickly as they open it!
Read on to find some healthy kids lunch ideas that you can be sure will get your kids to eat in the short lunch time they have.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas
Each lunch box should have the basic staples of food. This includes protein, fruit, vegetables, and a starch/carb. School lunch ideas don’t have to be complicated or cut into cute shapes. If they are happy and healthy, that’s all that matters.
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional peanut butter and jelly and chips but it’s just as easy to make something a bit more nutritious that will keep them full until the last bell rings.
Start with a protein for your main part of the meal. Protein is more filling than fats, carbs, or fiber, which means it’ll keep your children going all afternoon.
Protein comes in many forms such as nuts, lean meats, eggs, and dairy. (If your child’s school/classroom is nut free use an alternative such as sunflower seed butter. It tastes amazing too!)
For the main course, feel free to be as creative or simple as you’d like. Some personal favorites are these turkey and cheddar roll-ups. You can add as much or as little to them according to your child’s preference. The turkey provides protein, the cheddar provides dairy, condiments provide fat (fat is healthy, too!), and the tortilla provides carbohydrates for energy.
Other easy proteins are chicken salad, cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, egg salad, and boiled eggs. If they eat it at home, they will be happy to see a fan favorite in their packed lunch.
For a last-minute meal your child will love, homemade “Lunchables” are hard to beat. Whole wheat crackers, cheese, and low-sodium lunch meat are easy to pack and universally loved.
Fruits and Veggies
Most fruits are safe to pack, as long as your kid’s lunchbox is well-insulated.
Also take their teeth into account. Toddlers going to daycare for the day might not be able to bite into a baby carrot. And a kid with a loose front tooth can’t bite into a whole apple. Instead, offer smaller, easy-to-chew options, such as blueberries, strawberries, apple slices, and grapes.
If your kids are picky eaters, getting them to eat their veggies might be a bit more tricky. That being said, popular favorites are baby carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, and bell peppers. Add a side of hummus or low-fat ranch for added flavor.
Now that the bulk of the meal is complete, a “side item” can round it all out. Some great options for sides are baked or tortilla chips, pretzels, string cheese, pasta salad, low-sugar cereal, rice cakes, popcorn, and Greek yogurt cups.
These are what we call “safe” snacks (i.e. a food that you know your child will eat).
While you can encourage your child to eat their entire lunch, it’s not possible to enforce this while they’re at school. Offering something your child will not hesitate to eat ensures that they get at least something in their belly during the day.
Aim for nutritious drinks as much as possible.
Sugary dyed drinks are fine for the occasional birthday party, but they are not optimal for kids lunches. They certainly don’t provide enough hydration or energy during the long school day.
Some good options are 100% fruit juice, water, bottled smoothies, and white/chocolate milk.
Want a cool hack to keep kid’s lunches cold? Freeze a water bottle and use it as the ice pack. The water will thaw until lunch time but keep the lunchbox cool during the day! It also saves room in the lunchbox.
There’s no reason to completely ban sweets, but they should be limited. Maybe save the cookies, cakes, and candy for Friday lunches as a special incentive for a job well done at school that week.
Now that you have the basics down, where do you put all of this nutritious food?
Bento style lunch boxes are great for kids, because they have compartments to keep foods separated and you can fit a lot into a small space.
For a durable lunch box, we like to recommend stainless steel or silicone. Both materials hold up well to stains and heat/cold.
Coming up with healthy school lunch ideas is pointless if the meal is warm and soggy by mid-day.
Keeping your kids’ lunches cold will not only stave off bacteria, it will make everything more appetizing.
As we mentioned before, a frozen water bottle can act as both a drink and an ice pack. But there are plenty of other options on the market. Look for versions that are durable, leak proof, and that will fit in your child’s lunch box.
Make sure to wrap it in a hand towel or paper towel so that the condensation from sweating doesn’t ruin nearby food.
Keep It Exciting
If your children are used to seeing Oreos, potato chips, and other processed foods in their lunch box, they might be less than thrilled about healthier options. Make lunchtime exciting again!
Handwritten notes are quick, easy, and free—plus, you can add a sticker or two for an extra smile!
If you want to take things up a notch, plan lunch around a theme, like “mermaids,” “Disney” or an upcoming holiday. Cupcake liners, napkins, and food picks can turn a so-so meal into something truly special.
Coming up with healthy lunch ideas for kids is not as hard as you think, and it can be fun, too!
Come up with some easy choices when you’re in a rush and take some time to do something fancier when you have a free minute. With these easy school lunch ideas your child will be ready to face any school day with a smile and a full belly.
As always, if you have any questions regarding what a healthy meal looks like or need to make an appointment to address concerns regarding diet, feel free to call any of our offices to schedule an appointment.