5 Healthy School Lunch Ideas {That Your Kids Will Love}

5 Healthy School Lunch Ideas {That Your Kids Will Love}

Whether you have the first week of the 2019/2020 school year under your belt or you are savoring the final weeks of Summer, one thing is sure; school lunches are imminent in your future. Even seasoned mothers (or father’s, but let’s be real they are in the minority of lunch makers) find themselves turning to Pinterest and mommy groups in search of easy, and healthy lunch ideas that their kids will eat. I, for one, have been packing school lunches for over three years, and as it turns out, they have been an epic fail. My oldest, bless her, finally shared with me that lunchtime has been, traumatic (her words not mine). So traumatic in fact, that my lazy mom, just send leftovers to school tactic, has made her the lunch kid with the weird soup. Alas, I have been on a mission this year to redeem her lunch table reputation and my mom status. Which is excellent news for you, because in this post I'll share the 5 healthy lunch ideas that made her the cool kid with the best lunch. And made me the mom of the moment.

When asked how I could make lunchtime better for her, my daughter was able to articulate that, while she likes our food, she just wants to fit in at lunch. Who can blame her? After further probing, I was able to discern what I feared most. That most lunches were highly processed and devoid of nutrition. To be clear. This is not about lunch shaming. Remember, my goal at Family Health Tips is to provide you with the facts so that you can make the best decision for your family. The truth is that the coveted "Lunchable" is highly processed and lacks well-rounded nutrition that will get our kiddos through the day. Let's take a look at the ingredients below and take a look at how I come to that conclusion.

Low in fiber (less than 1g) and high in sodium 660mg, the only thing this has going for it is protein.

Low in fiber (less than 1g) and high in sodium 660mg, the only thing this has going for it is protein.

There are so many ingredients and additives in this “meal” that I have only notated the really major ones. In red, I have marked the hallmark code name for MSG: flavoring. Although, my biggest issue is with the hydrogenated cottonseed oil in blue, which is a TRANS FAT. However, you’ll remember that the label clearly states “0 Trans Fats”. Fact: any hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated oil is a TRANS FAT. Then. End. I’ve talked about trans fats in previous posts. You can reference one  here .

There are so many ingredients and additives in this “meal” that I have only notated the really major ones. In red, I have marked the hallmark code name for MSG: flavoring. Although, my biggest issue is with the hydrogenated cottonseed oil in blue, which is a TRANS FAT. However, you’ll remember that the label clearly states “0 Trans Fats”. Fact: any hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated oil is a TRANS FAT. Then. End. I’ve talked about trans fats in previous posts. You can reference one here.

Similar to the cracker stacker lunchable, low in fiber and actually higher in sodium at 700mg. Yikes!

Similar to the cracker stacker lunchable, low in fiber and actually higher in sodium at 700mg. Yikes!

Again, we see clues pointing toward MSG. But more concerning, is the BHA & BHT. In lab studies these ingredients caused cancer in the forestomachs of rodents. It’s been deemed safe for human consumption because we don’t have forestomachs, so we can’t get cancer there, right?! Read more about BHA & BHT  here .

Again, we see clues pointing toward MSG. But more concerning, is the BHA & BHT. In lab studies these ingredients caused cancer in the forestomachs of rodents. It’s been deemed safe for human consumption because we don’t have forestomachs, so we can’t get cancer there, right?! Read more about BHA & BHT here.

I know that I've just sucked all the air out of your big red fun balloon and, for that, I am genuinely sorry. I never like that part. Take a deep breath, because there is one more hard fact I am about to drop. And that is, eating Lunchables every day, will no doubt set your child up for a lifetime of health issues. But stick with me, I have some light at the end of this lunch prep drama.

The idea behind Lunchables is not inherently bad. It's a shame that Oscar Meyer cares more about their bottom line than your child's health because it's not difficult to recreate the magic of a Lunchable more healthily. One that will offer real nutrition that will fuel your child's brain and body to help them succeed during their school day. Below I will share two options for healthier homemade Lunchables along with some other healthy school lunch ideas that won't break your bank or have you cutting food into little shapes and sending a masterpiece to school. Again, there is no shame at all if you love doing those things! I even have a cute DIY crafty lunch idea for you below if that's your jam.

1. Healthy Homemade Pizza Lunchable

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1 English Muffin cut - I like Ezekiel or Dave’s Killer Bread Brands they are low in added sugar, offer whole grains, and are good sources of fiber. Sourdough options are also healthier.

1-2 TBS Pizza Sauce - Aim for Organic if you can (tomatoes are on the dirty dozen list), and extra points for jarred options which will help you avoid BPA which is found in the lining of cans. Additionally, look for one that does not have a ton of added sugar.

1-2 TBS Shredded Cheese or Cheese Alternative - Organic if you can.

Protein of Choice - This can be anything that works for your kid. Vegetarian families might choose tempeh or edamame, for example. I like to upcycle leftovers from what we have on hand from meals. My standard is to make a Roast Chicken dinner over the weekend and upcyle the leftovers throughout the week for other meals and lunches. It’s my work smarter not harder version of meal prep.

You want to avoid highly processed meats like nitrate deli cuts, or pepperoni. Learn more why here.

Additional Toppings - The sky is the limit!

2. Healthy Homemade Cracker Lunchable

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Crackers - We use classic butter round similar to Ritz. Publix and Late July brands are my favorites! They are the closest to Ritz flavor without the High Fructose Corn Syrup and other junkie stuff. I typically put enough in to make 4 sandwiches.

Cheese or Cheese Alternative - I fold (or cut) a sandwich slice style of cheese in quarters or eighths, depending on the size. Opt for organic for dairy items if you can. Our favorite non-diary alternative is here.

Protein - Follow the same guidelines for protein as the pizza example.

Again, you can get as creative with these as your kid will go for. I usually include cucumber slices and hummus with this lunch, either to be used in a cracker stacker or as a dippable snack on its own.

3. Healthier PB&J {plus homemade uncrustables for the ambitious}

You can’t go wrong with a classic PB & J amirite?! Here are some things to consider:

Bread - Look for whole-grain options that provide fiber (preferably at least 2g per serving). Make sure there is no High Fructose Corn Syrup in the ingredients, and aim for the lowest amount of added sugar. As mentioned, Ezekiel is my pick, you can find it in the freezer aisle.

Peanut Butter - Avoid added sugars and other unnecessary additives. Peanut butter only needs peanuts, oil, and salt to be yummy - anything else should be suspect.

Jelly - Opt for one that uses real cane sugar or stevia vs. high fructose corn syrup. The body knows what to do with real sugar or other natural sweeteners! Word of the wise, while agave is trendy, it is very high on the glycemic index. It is an excellent example of something natural but not the best option. Regular white cane sugar would be better if given the opportunity.

*Jelly alternative - If your kids go for it, you can totally use smashed whole fruit in place of Jelly. Think strawberries, blueberries, and grapes.

In other PB&J news, let's talk uncrustables. Are your kids into them?! They are a lunchtime novelty, for sure. They are a great example of marketing loopholes. For example, they state 0 trans fat on the label, but they contain trans fat. SMH. Read further on that here.

If you are crafty and like making lunches a work of art for your kids, you can make your own healthier uncrustables. I am not crafty lunch making mom, but I found this recipe to be cute, none the less, and I hope someone puts it to good use. *Looking at you, crafty mom*.

4. Yogurt Parfait

1/2 Cup Plain Yogurt - Organic if you can. We opt for greek, full fat when I can find it, which is full of, well protein and fat to help keep kiddos fuller and satisfied longer.

Honey - Local and raw so you can capitalize on the full spectrum of benefits. 1/2- 1TBS depending on your kiddo’s tastes. You can lessen it over time as they become accustomed to the flavor of plain yogurt. **Honey for kids 12mo+ please. Younger kids can enjoy this with maple syrup as a sweetener.

1 TBS Granola - Look for one that has 9g or less of sugar.

A handful of fruit - strawberries, blueberries, grapes, etc. Soft skin fruits, like berries, are on the dirty dozen list, try to spring for organic options. Frozen organic fruit will be less expensive and equally as nutritious.

Mix all ingredients, except granola, in a thermos. Kids can add the granola at lunch.

5. Mac'n'Cheese

When I said I had been a complete lunch failure for the past 3 years, I wasn't being entirely honest. According to my daughter, my mac'n'cheese lunch was my only redeeming quality. This is a no-fuss, no shame in my game, household staple. You can find the recipe here. Note: you'll need a thermos for this one as well.

To Bento, or not to bento ?

You guys! Have you seen how fancy lunch boxes are these days? Long gone are the plastic box options of the '90s. As I mentioned, you will need a thermos of sorts for several of the lunch options above. It's not the end-all say all if you don't have one of the bento box style lunch boxes (we don't!). I do have my eye on the Omie Box because of the ability to pack hot and cold foods all at. The. Same. Time (*swooning*). However, I already have too much invested in our current lunch system.

A sampling of the random hodge podge that we’ve collected over the years. The Thermos brand thermoses hold up - this one is almost 4 years old! In comparison, all the containers plus the lunch boxes, equal what an Omie Box would, so the Omie is not a bad deal.

A sampling of the random hodge podge that we’ve collected over the years. The Thermos brand thermoses hold up - this one is almost 4 years old! In comparison, all the containers plus the lunch boxes, equal what an Omie Box would, so the Omie is not a bad deal.

Until these containers bite the dust, we're sticking with what we have - and it works for us! All that to say, the above lunch ideas will work with a variety of different container systems.

Lunch Sides

To ensure that your kids are getting enough fruits and veggies daily, aim to include 1-2 servings per meal (plus snacks). This may take some trial and error to find out what your kid likes, but it's worth it. We typically include a whole fruit (fruit/veg puree pouches are good, but not great) as a lunch side. Lastly, it seems a “snacky” type side in is order, according to my oldest. Apparently, the trail mix I had been sending doesn’t count. Sigh. Be mindful of sugar, Sodium, and additives when it comes to packaged snacks. Hippeas, veggie straws (bonus points: dipped in hummus), or pretzel thins (more points for pairing with nut butter) are our new household go-tos.

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In full transparency, we have only used this lunch rotation for one week. My kids may very well turn up next week and proclaim to hate all of the above (just my kids?). But in the meantime, I am totally loving being mom of the moment who packs the cool lunches. God speed, and lunch packing success to you, momma.











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