Healthy Tastes Good
Bologna sandwiches and prepackaged foods might be easy—but just how healthy and satisfying are they? If you’re looking for some unique, tasty alternatives for your child’s lunches and snacks, you’ve come to the right place.
We’ve got a full lineup of easy but delicious meals and treats for your student’s lunchbox. Before you know it, you might just be packing these tasty foods up for yourself!
Bagels are a sure kid-pleaser, and minis even more so. If you can find whole grain mini-bagels, all the better. To make mini- bagel sandwiches, simply halve a few miniature bagels and toast them. You can then add standard sandwich ingredients, like turkey, lettuce, low-fat cheese, and mustard. A light cream cheese with sliced cucumbers is also a great option. If your child is more adventurous, try some pesto or tomato slices. These popular bite-size meals fit well in a lunchbox, or can double as a breakfast treat in a pinch!
Homemade Trail Mix
Kids love trail mix, and there are infinite ways you can make it. Nuts are a heart-healthy staple to include, but check to see if your child’s school has a nut-free policy. If so, nuts can easily be swapped for crunchy granola clusters or pumpkin seeds. Plus, consider adding:
- Your child’s favorite dried fruit, like cranberries or apricots
- A cup of cheese crackers, like goldfish crackers, or mini pretzels
- A cup of toasted oat cereal, like Cheerios
- Chocolate chips or mini-marshmallows (for special occasions)
Rice and Pasta Salads
Young palates may enjoy rice and pasta salads just as much as seasoned foodies do. Better yet, both rice and pasta salads can be made very easily.
A simple tuna pasta salad provides the protein and carbs your child needs for a successful school day. For a recipe that makes lunch plus leftovers, combine 12 ounces of cooked macaroni with a 12-ounce can of tuna and half a cup of mayonnaise. Next, add a cup of peas or chopped celery for some greens. Add pinches of sugar, salt, and pepper to taste.
Rice salad generally consists of a cup of cooked rice, veggies like onion or corn, and a vinegar-based dressing.
Sugar Peas, Jicama, and Other Sweet Crunchy Veggies
Sugar peas—also called sugar snap peas—are a kid-friendly veggie that your child may actually like. These sweet taste sensations are fun to eat raw—after you break off the stem and remove the string on the side of the pod, they’re ready to pop in small mouths!
For something a little special that will have kids asking for more, combine 1.5 pounds of sugar peas with a pound of small pasta, a quarter cup grated parmesan, and some drizzled olive oil—it’s perfect in a lunch-sized Tupperware!
Don’t forget other sweet crunchy veggies like jicama. For a healthy “fries” recipe that is actually raw, slice uncooked jicama into strips. Put them in a bag that zips at the top with a tablespoon of olive oil, and a little salt to season. Kids can shake to combine this lunch treat themselves!
Most kids love chili, and it works as well for lunch as for dinner. Most schools allow children to use a microwave to reheat lunches. This means your child can enjoy a warm serving of chili, or other hearty foods. Just be sure you pack the meal in a microwave-safe container.
To give your kids a boost of extra vitamin A in their chili serving, try adding extra veggies like carrots. You can puree them if you have time, or just cook them along with the rest of the chili.
For a lunch as easy as it is tasty and nutritious, try making wraps. Many kids love wraps made from whole wheat, spinach, or even tomato tortillas. Simply wrap up some cooked chicken or sliced ham and vegetables into the tortilla. For extra flavor, spread with some light cream cheese or light ranch spread.
Any kind of lunch fixings can be served as a wrap—even peanut butter and jelly!
Veggies and Dips
Celery, carrots, and even broccoli can be made more exciting with a delicious dip. Try light ranch dressing, spinach dip, or a low-fat cheese-based dip.
For a low-fat version of ranch dip that you can make yourself, simply mix ranch seasoning into plain yogurt and serve in a tight container in your child’s lunchbox.
To dress up veggies for the more distinguished young palate, try:
- Artichoke dip
- Light cream cheese with seasonings
- Cottage cheese with seasonings and light mayo
Salads with Fruit
Kids who turn their noses up at green salads might be interested in tasting a fruitier salad. Add watermelon, grapes, dried cranberries, or apple slices to a plain salad to sweeten it up in a hurry. Give this quick recipe a try:
- Take a cup of diced watermelon
- Add a handful or two of fresh baby greens
- Drizzle with one tablespoon each of red wine vinegar and olive oil
- Crumble some feta cheese on top
Toss it all together in an airtight container, and voila—you have a kid-friendly side salad!
Sandwiches Cut into Fun Shapes
A sandwich becomes much more appealing to young ones when it’s cut into a shape they recognize. You can use cookie cutters to carve sliced sandwich bread in to any shape imaginable, from teddy bears to butterflies or hearts.
For extra parent points, place sandwich ingredients open-faced on the bread to make faces. Spread the bread with egg salad or tuna salad. Then you can use sliced eggs and olives for eyes, a baby pickle or piece of corn for the nose, and a tomato piece cut into a mouth shape. Wrap tightly in foil to preserve the faces during transit to school.
Kale Chips or Baked Chips
Kale chips are a great way to get kids interested in greens. While picky eaters might not like the sound of “kale” even in chip form, try positioning them as “olive oil chips” for better results. All you need to do to make a batch of kale chips is take three cups of torn kale:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Place bite-sized greens on foil-lined baking sheet with two tablespoons of olive oil. (A small sprinkle of salt is optional.)
- Bake until crispy, about 12 minutes.
If you don’t have time for kale chips, remember that baked chips have less fat than regular chips (but they should still be eaten in moderation).
Fresh Fruit: Strawberries, Blueberries, Grapes, and More
Wondering how to get your youngsters to eat more fruit? No lunchbox is complete without some fresh fruit to top it off. Try these ideas to add fun, variety, and easy eating:
- Cut up different fruits and provide a lunchtime fruit salad. It’s easier (and less messy) for kids to eat sliced fruit than to tackle a whole piece.
- Whiz up a fruit smoothie by blending a cup of fruit with a half cup of milk, half cup of juice, and half cup of yogurt. Serve in a lunchbox thermos or airtight travel cup.
- For a healthier dessert, make a fruit crumble topped with berries, peaches, or other fruits.
Homemade Spiced Popcorn
For a more nutritious alternative to a dessert in your child’s lunch bag, try homemade spiced popcorn.
Popcorn is a favorite treat, and you can start a family tradition by making it yourself with some delicious spices. Simply heat a quarter cup of oil in a large pot on medium heat. When it’s hot, add a half cup of popcorn kernels and close the lid tightly. Once popping slows, you can add your children’s favorite spices and seasonings such as: Parmesan, sea salt, paprika, garlic powder, or cumin, among others.
Hummus or Bean Dip with Pita Bread
Hummus can be fun for kids because it involves dipping! There are several varieties of hummus that are more likely to be a hit with children, including:
- Peanut butter hummus
- Hummus without tahini
- Sundried tomato hummus
Cut up pita bread into scoop-sized pieces, and show your child how to enjoy this healthy sandwich alternative. Bean dip is also popular; try black bean dip or white bean dip with pita bread or pita chips.
Back-to-School with Health and Style
Going back to school can be a tough transition for kids. Help them bridge the gap between home and the cafeteria by providing tasty lunches that will make them smile.
Simple can still be creative. Stick to key nutritional principles, and then add your own twist. Your kids will be asking for healthy favorites again and again.