10 healthy & simple lunch ideas for the back to school
Special to The Union
What does a dietitian pack for lunch? As a registered dietitian, I get asked this all the time. Back-to-school season is one of the most hectic times for families, and one of the most challenging parts of the school routine is making sure your family has a tasty and nutritious meal.
Getting creative can be tough, so I created 10 sandwich-free lunch ideas to make it fun. The first rule for cool lunch building is there are no rules. It’s great to think out of the box. My recipe for the perfect lunch box is:
Protein: To give the brain healthy nutrients to fire the brain throughout the school day.
A veggie or fruit: Think color on each plate at every meal!
Something crunchy: I think it helps pace the meal as you have to slow down a little to eat crunchy things and it just balances the textures in the other part of the meal to make it feel complete.
Something sweet: Often this is a fruit, or it could be “fruit snacks” or even a chocolate chips in a pancake.
Here are 10 ideas to try or use as inspiration for healthy and easy lunches. You can modify or trade out things you need to for dietary restrictions.
Energy Bites Lunch
To make these just mix 1 3/4 cup quick cooking oats (these are easier to chew for the little ones) with 3/4 cup of peanut butter or any nut butter, 1/4 cup of honey and a handful or two of chocolate chips. Stir until everything is well combined and then form into balls and refrigerate until you are ready to pack them. There are many energy bite recipes; try them! They work great as you can refrigerate them and use for a week! Pack with sugar snap peas, dried cranberries (or throw those in the bites!) and apple slices.
They are a kids favorite for a reason — and contrary to our adult biases; they don’t need to be piping hot to be delicious. Try an “avodilla” (avocado and cheese) or “frijollila” (bean and cheese). Have fun being creative with your own lingo- as that’s half the selling point! I make my bean and cheese burritos by grabbing a can of refried beans then mixing it with shredded cheddar cheese and piling it inside a soft fresh tortilla. Roll it up and put it in their lunch box for an easy and fiber filled lunch option! I love to give them salsa to dip the burrito in on the side to sneak in more veggies too! Pack with avocado slices or guacamole, jicama sticks, pineapple chunks and mango slices.
Rice paper wrappers or large lettuce leaves make great rolled-up meals that are fun to eat. Fill them with tofu, pork or shrimp; add shredded cabbage and carrot, and serve with or without a dipping sauce, or let your kid’s branch out using their own ideas. Pack with cubed meat or cheese, sliced red bell peppers and blueberries.
Deli Meat Roll-Ups
Think outside the bun! Rolling sliced deli turkey, ham, or roast beef around cheese sticks, cream cheese, and even greens can change the way your kiddos think about lunch meat. Pack with: pretzels, celery (optional sunflower-butter filling), and cinnamon-sprinkled apple slices.
Vegetable Sushi or Onigiri
Using leftover rice and cooked fish from a previous meal, packing sushi for the family can be as easy as making sandwiches, especially if the kids feel like helping. Roll in whatever veggies you have left over such as cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, and avocado and add your favorite sauce. Wrap it in a rice wrap or nori. Pack with edamame, raspberries and pudding.
Cold Noodle Salads
Think soba or plain udon. Pad Thai or even macaroni salad cold can be a huge treat! Especially with the protein-packed pasta available at stores. Try and add a form of protein to it like cubed chicken, canned fish or even a large meatball. Pack with snap peas, clementines and raisins.
Hummus and Pita Plate
Nine out of 10 kids love a good smear of hummus on pita or crackers. Why not make it the star of the show? Whether you want to use garbanzo, white bean or even edamame-all are great choices for you. Pack with salami, olives, carrots, baby tomatoes and grapes.
Mix the meats, cheeses and veggies your kids like into plain quinoa and dress lightly with a basic vinaigrette. Pack with: Tomato/mozzarella/basil, popcorn and pear slices.
Breakfast for Lunch
Make extra food when you have time for a nice breakfast on the weekend, and save the leftovers for lunches — think hard-boiled eggs, leftover pancakes or French toast, and leftover sausages. Pack with sliced strawberries or blueberries and greek yogurt for extra protein.
Leftover Picnic Lunch
If you’ve eaten it for lunch on the weekend, why not pack it in a lunch box? Because nothing beats a cold chicken leg on a Monday. Pack with potato salad or coleslaw, watermelon, broccoli with yogurt ranch dip.
Jill Whisler, MS, RDN is part of the Rethink Healthy Team, a service of Tahoe Forest Health System. The BFIT and Harvest of the Month program will be starting soon in the TTUSD. For more information on how you can get involved in our programs, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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