As a health-conscious parent, you do everything you can to make sure your kids eat nutritious food at every meal. But you can’t watch what they eat all the time.
While there have certainly been efforts to get students in America to eat a better school lunch, those meals aren’t always as healthy as they may seem. And then even when there is healthy food on the menu, recent reports show lots of kids tend to eat the junk food and dump the fresh fruits and veggies right in the trash!
In fact, even though the U.S. government began mandating that public schools provide fruits and vegetables at school lunch, the number of kids actually eating fruits and vegetables went down since the ruling went into effect!
Healthy eating habits start at home. The best way to make sure your kids eat well is to pack their school lunch yourself!
So for this week’s recipe round-up, we’re looking at ways to make healthy school lunches fun. But we also want to make them easy for you because not every parent has time to cut sandwiches into cute shapes and make radish roses for their kids’ salads.
These recipes shouldn’t have to be warmed up, and we’re skipping the typical sandwich ideas for school lunch options that are a bit more creative. Try out these ideas and your kids will be the envy of every student in the cafeteria.
1. Roll-Ups or Pinwheels
Bite-sized lunches are fun for kids, and homemade pinwheels are the perfect way to change things up while sneaking in nutritious food.
You’re going to need some tortillas and cream cheese – but the rest is up to you and your child’s preferences. Add some deli meat with spinach and tomato, or go meatless and roll up some cucumber and carrot slices for crunchy pinwheels. You could also try versions with fruit or peanut butter and jelly – as long your child’s school is okay with peanuts in the cafeteria. If you don’t like the idea of using cream cheese, try hummus or some other type of spread.
Once you slather on your spread of choice and add your other ingredients, you just roll everything up, let it chill and then slice the tortilla in circles. They look cool. They taste great. They’ll be one of your kid’s favorites for sure!
2. Pasta Salads
Some schools may be willing to throw your kids packed lunch into the microwave and warm it up. But it’s just easier to go with a cold lunch.
Cold pasta or pasta salads can be an excellent way to give your kids a lunchtime pick-me-up with carbohydrates, and you can also add some protein and fresh vegetables to the mix.
I’ve got a little guy who is a macaroni and cheese addict – but really – he just loves noodles. So this idea is right up his alley.
For one kid-friendly pasta recipe, check out the WearyChef.com (pictured above). Katie Goodman from Good Life Eats has three more pasta recipes she packs for her kids school lunches. These pasta salads are a good way to introduce things kids may be wary of at first, like olives and artichokes. But you might be surprised at the kinds of food your kids actually enjoy.
3. Pita Pockets
Another sandwich!? They do get old after awhile. But packing a school lunch your kids will love is 80% presentation. That’s why changing things up with pita bread can make all the difference.
Lots of kids have fun assembling their own lunches, too. So you can send all the ingredients along with pita pockets and let them stuff things in themselves.
Some ideas for pita stuffing include thinly sliced apples, cucumber slices, shredded cheese, some leftover chicken breast and the list goes on..
Use your imagination and consider letting your kids make their own suggestions.
If you need some help getting started, check out the chicken pita sandwich with spinach and red pepper from Health.com (pictured here). There’s also a turkey, cucumber, spinach and cream cheese pita pocket on Mom.me (along with a bunch of other great ideas).
4. Veggie Sushi for Kids
Sushi rolls have become popular all over the country. No longer considered as exotic as it used to be, sushi is on its way to becoming a standard dining option. Believe it or not, there was a time when pizza was considered out-of-the-ordinary, too.
The last time I took my wife out for some sushi, we were somewhat surprised to see families with kids. My oldest son has a friend who brought sushi to school, and that made him interested in trying it, too.
Sushi doesn’t necessarily have to be made with raw fish. There are kid-friendly ways to make sushi into a healthy school lunch idea.
If you want to learn how to make vegetarian sushi, check out these directions from Instructables. You may want to use sushi rice, but other kinds of rice will work too, as long as it is moist and somewhat sticky. You’ll also need to pick up some nori, which is roasted seaweed. This could be an acquired taste for some kids, but it’s worth a shot!
Your kids will be much more likely to be excited about eating their healthy school lunch if they help make it. That’s what Gillian from LaLaLunchbox.com did for what she calls lunchbox-friendly sushi. Her version includes avocado and some scrambled eggs for protein.
By the way – the LaLaLunchbox app could be a useful tool for lunch planning. It makes a game out of figuring out who wants what for lunch and when they want it.
5. Kid Kabobs
Shish kabobs are fun to eat no matter how old you are. When you skewer fresh food for your kids, you’ve got a can’t-miss school lunch with practically endless options.
If the state fair has taught us anything, it is that food on a stick is 10-times more fun. Of course, state fair food is usually deep-fried. When you make these kid-friendly kabobs, you’re the one in control. So choose to make a fruit skewer with grapes, apples and cheese cubes. Cherry or grape tomatoes are also perfect for skewering, as are chunks of sweet peppers or baby dill pickles for a fermented food.
If it’s a healthy food you can put on a stick (or toothpick, pretzel stick, whatever), you can make a kid kabob lunch out of it. The colorful shish kabobs you see pictured above comes from a list of easy school lunch ideas from WhoaBella.com.
6. Homemade Lunchables
Kids seem to love those prepackaged Lunchables from Oscar Meyer, which you’ll find in your grocery store cooler. But who wants to pay extra for something that would be so easy to make yourself? Plus, with homemade “Lunchables,” you get to decide what goes in it.
The DIY pizza Lunchable lets your children pretend they’re working at a pizzeria. You can use crackers or slice up some pre-made pizza crust into bite-sized portions. Then send along some marinara sauce with shredded mozzarella and healthy pizza toppings finish things off. Check out the pizza crackers from Recipe Rebel for more.
Something that will make this kind of school lunch easier – and might be smart for packing lunches in general – are compartmentalized lunchboxes.
Here are a few to check out:
Share Your Own School Lunch Ideas
We know there are creative moms and dads out there with suggestions for how to pack school lunches that are fun, easy and healthy.
So by all means…please chime in with a comment. We’d love to hear what you do, too!
As an added bonus, check out the video below for more reasons why it could be a better idea to pack a school lunch for your kids. Young filmmaker Zachary Maxwell took a camera into his school’s cafeteria to show us how what sounds healthy and appetizing isn’t exactly what it seems.