Excited for your kids to go back to school but dreading the task of packing their lunch box? Packing a healthy lunch can be quick and easy once you master the elements of a balanced meal. As long as you have the basic groups represented, you can mix and match to quickly put together healthy lunches for your kiddos – and for yourself!
What to include:
- Lean protein such as skinless poultry, fish/seafood, eggs, low-fat or non-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese), beans, lentils, tofu, nuts or nut butters
- Whole grains such as whole wheat (bread, tortillas, pasta), brown rice, quinoa, barley, oats or corn tortillas
- Fruits and vegetables
- Healthy fats such as nuts, nut butters, seeds, olives or olive oil.
Ideas to get you started:
- Natural peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole-wheat bread
- Black bean soup with added veggies (such as carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower—puree after cooking and nobody has to know they’re there!) and a dollop of salsa packed in an insulated thermos (this model keeps my daughter’s lunch warm all day), with a few whole-grain crackers (such as Triscuits or Kashi)
- Hummus pinwheels: spread hummus or bean dip (I like WildWood’s 3-Bean Dip) onto a corn or whole-wheat tortilla, top with julienned carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers and halved grape tomatoes, then roll up and slice
- Fruit and yogurt parfait: In a jar, layer plain non-fat Greek yogurt with berries and low-fat granola or whole-grain cereal and chopped walnuts. Do your kids balk at plain yogurt? Try mixing a little flavored yogurt with the plain to reduce the amount of added sugar they’re consuming.
- Fruit “sushi:” Spread almond or peanut butter on a whole-wheat tortilla, followed by julienned bananas, apples, strawberries or any other fruit your kids enjoy. Roll up and slice into sushi-style “rolls.”
- Set up a lunch station in the evening and let the kids create their own “lunchables”-type meal for the next day:
- Choose one lean protein: low-sodium deli turkey or chicken slices, low-fat string cheese, hard-boiled egg, edamame, non-fat Greek yogurt or non-fat cottage cheese
- Choose one healthy fat or higher-fat protein choice: hummus, peanut butter, almond butter, pitted olives, 1/4-cup nuts/seeds (if age appropriate)
- Choose one whole grain: whole-grain crackers, whole-wheat or corn tortilla, slice of whole-wheat bread (quartered)
- Choose one or more vegetable: carrot sticks, bell pepper strips, sugar snap peas, cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, etc.
- Choose one fruit: apple slices, berries, banana, orange segments, kiwi, etc.