Mastering the Healthy School Lunch

In the School Bag

Well that time of year has crept up on us again…

School is back in session!

It always seems to round the corner so quickly once August starts.  Most of us are seemingly unaware that it is looming ahead, still lost in summertime freedom. Then, before you know it, you are buying school supplies, organizing backpacks and…the oftentimes dreaded… making school lunches.

healthy lunch ideas

The school lunch part is always the thing that really got me. I don’t know why, but I absolutely hated it. It was so boring. Sandwich, pretzels, fruit, maybe some veggies too.  Tucked inside those little plastic baggies and organized into the lunch box. Same old, same old, every night. I realized, my kids deserved better, and frankly, I would die of boredom if I had to make this same lunch every day for the rest of my kids’ years in school. We wanted healthy and delicious lunches, but I wanted to bring some of the same creativity that I enjoy while making family meals.

Mastering the Healthy School Lunch

Lunch Supplies

I decided to make a change. The first step: Ditch the plastic baggies.  We started with these amazing Ziploc containers, pictured in all the lunch pictures below. They are the best. They are leak-proof, and have multiple little compartments to tuck fun food in, are easy to clean, and are BPA free. Another option for this is the Bento Box. It has even more compartments, but since the Ziplocs worked for us, we stuck with those. {Editors note: Melissa loves the Easy Lunchboxes}

Leftovers for Lunch
The best container! Tucked inside it are some cucumbers, fruit, trail mix, some mashed up tacos from dinner the night before and some sour cream.

Besides the Ziploc Containers, here are some more of our favorite lunch supplies:

  • Silicone cupcake cups: These are great for filling with healthy foods and separating them from the rest of the food in the large compartment. We bought lots of fun shapes and colors and it just adds a fun element to the lunch.
  • Silicone smoothie freezer pop molds: These are perfect to fill with a single serving of applesauce or yogurt, and if you are really adventurous, you can make your own smoothies and freeze them ahead of time so they stay nice and cold while thawing out in the lunchbox.
  • Reusable napkin: In order to be more green, buy some cloth napkins that your child can use in their lunch. We had some fun and tie-dyed some white ones to make them a little more interesting. The best thing, you don’t have to feel guilty throwing away a paper napkin that they never even used!

Healthy, and Delicious Lunch Ideas

Next step, figuring out what to fill all these sections with. I knew that I had to think beyond the sandwich. It is not that my kids don’t like sandwiches, but I think they were ready for a change too.  Every day I tried to add new and exciting things to their lunches.

Here are some fun foods ideas to try to create a balanced, healthy, creative lunch your kids will gobble up!

  • Cheese cubes or a stick, rolled up deli meat, hard-boiled eggs, Greek yogurt, peanut butter, tuna, shredded or diced chicken breast, veggie burger, beans, protein bars, and hummus.
Healthy lunch options
A whole-grain muffin, turkey roll-up, a Babybell cheese round, red pepper slices, black olives, and pear slices.
  • Whole wheat crackers, pretzels, whole-grain muffins, granola bars, whole grain pasta, brown rice, beans, bread, waffles, granola, or tortilla chips.
Tortilla ROll-up Lunch idea
Tortilla Roll-Ups, Orange Slices, pea pods, yogurt, dark chocolate squares, and walnuts
  • Fresh, frozen or canned fruit (packed in fruit juice or water). Unsweetened apple sauce or fruit puree pouches.
Non-Sandwich Healthy lunch
Pear slices, cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, turkey roll-ups, trail mix made from fruit o’s cereal (no artificial colors).
  • Fresh veggies cut into bite-size pieces
Healthy School Lunch Ideas
Cheese stick, clementine, cherry tomatoes, turkey slice, pistachios, graham crackers spread with cocoa hazelnut spread
  • Fruit leather, dark chocolate, trail mix, a few chocolate chips
Breakfast for Lunch School Lunch idea
Whole grain waffle sticks, orange slices, and sliced strawberries, cashews, plain greek yogurt swirled with honey for dipping.

Some fun, easy things you can make a big batch to have on hand to pack:

  • Soups, stews, macaroni and cheese, tortilla roll-ups, popcorn, whole-grain pizza, quesadillas, tacos, pasta, salads, and sandwiches are not off the market either for a few lunches here and there either!
Healthy School Lunch
Clementine slices, peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain, drinkable yogurt, carrot sticks and ranch dressing for dipping.

We have fun trying to create exciting combinations, but I know what you are saying. You think you would not have time to make these lunches and that the sandwich lunch is much quicker. I have found that it is the exact opposite. It is easier to pack this lunch for a few reasons. Keep reading for some tips to make lunch packing time a breeze!

Healthy School Lunch options
Orange slices, hard-boiled egg, whole grain pumpkin muffin, cucumber slices, trail mix made with dark chocolate chips and cashews

Healthy Lunch Making Tips

Stressing about school lunches is not what you want to do every night. Using some of these easy tips, you can whip up lunches quickly and easily…and you won’t even have to do it alone!

Prep is Key

Add easy to prepare or easy grab and go foods to your weekly grocery list. Prep as much food as you can right when you get home from the grocery store. Doing this will help your week fly by with lunches, breakfasts, and even dinners! Following some of these easy tips will help you be able to get that lunch done in no time!

  • Cut up fruits and veggies and store in a container
  • Hard boil eggs, cool, and keep in the fridge
  • Prep trail mixes or granolas, store in an airtight container
  • Cut cheese into cubes or buy pre-packaged cheese sticks
  • Make any dressings or dips ahead of time, and store in the fridge
  • Purchase easy to pack things like
    • lean deli turkey or ham
    • whole-grain crackers
    • natural tortilla chips
    • salsas without added preservatives
    • plain Greek yogurt that you can add fruit and honey to
    • granola bars
    • applesauce pouches.

Not everyone has the time (or desire!) to make things homemade, but there are a lot of healthy, pre-packaged foods to choose from.  Read labels and choose wisely. A lot of junk food is packaged in a way to trick us into thinking it is healthy!

Make it in BIG Batches

If you think that I whip up chicken noodle soup the night before and quickly pack it all in a lunch, you are definitely wrong! Making things like soup, stews or casseroles your kids love in big batches, serving it for dinner and then saving the rest for lunches works really well! Here are some things I make in big batches when I have time, and then use them for lunches as long as it is fresh:

  • Soups and stews
  • Tacos (I usually make a taco and then cut it up and pack a fork!)
  • Whole grain pizzas
  • Turkey roll-ups
  • Yogurt mixed with honey (then I add different fresh fruit to it each time I pack it so I change it up a bit)
  • Homemade Trail mix or granolas
  • Smoothies (I then freeze them in my silicone pop molds)
  • Tuna salad
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Muffins
  • Granola Bars

Freezing All of Your Hard Work

The best part of making things ahead is that you can freeze it. Muffins, bread, and smoothies all freeze really well. Soups and stews can be packaged into individual-sized servings and put in the fridge overnight to thaw. If you think ahead, you can have a well-stocked kitchen, ready for lunch prep at any time!

©H. Garvey | Little Lake County | 2016

Getting the Kids to Help

If you are like me, there are some days that it is just easier to crank out the school lunches on your own. Most days though, it is a good idea to have the kids help. Not only does it save you a little time and effort, but it teaches them to be responsible as well. The most important thing though is to make it doable. Telling them to make their lunch with no direction is surely going to result in a meltdown and more work in the long run for you. Here are some tips to have your school-aged child help out with their lunch prep:

  • Inform them where you keep all the supplies that they will need to pack their lunch
  • In the beginning, set up the food that they are going to pack in stations and just have them place it into their lunch container.
  • Talk to them about healthy lunch choices, ask them what kinds of healthy foods they would like to see packed in their lunch and what kinds of food they don’t want. (Parents sometimes forget that something they may love at home, is not the sort of thing they would want to take to school).
  • As they get older and more comfortable, have them choose what their lunch will be each day and supervise while they find it on their own and pack the portion they want.
  • Engage them in prepping foods ahead of time. My kids love baking muffins with me and then freezing them for future lunches.

Enjoy the process

School lunch making does not have to be a dreaded task anymore! With some great supplies, a few creative ideas and a little prep, you can be making healthy, delicious lunches that will keep your kids going all day long!  Make it fun, and it will turn into something you might actually enjoy doing!

Want more? Check out Girl and Her Kitchen for some great recipes to pack for lunch and even more creative lunch ideas! Enjoy!

By: Heather Williams

Heather is a busy mom of three who loves exploring Lake County with her kids. When she, her husband, and kids are not embarking on new adventures, you will most likely find her cooking and posting some great family-friendly recipes at Girl and Her Kitchen.

Mastering the Healthy School Lunch
About Melissa Haak 29 Articles
Little Lake County is for parents, grandparents, caregivers, families, anyone who is looking to do their living where they live. Run by Little Trike Media, Little Lake County is a digital magazine by parents for parents about everything Lake County. Whether you’re looking for a fun weekend activity with your family, a place to take your toddler when it rains, or a preschool to enroll your child in, Lake County parents can turn to us for the answers.

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