Back to school also means that it is time to pack school lunches again. It is hard enough to come up with ideas that are healthy, simple, quick and will actually get eaten. Add to that challenges such as the balanced day schedule, restrictions on food that can be brought to school, and eating environments that are often chaotic - eating in busy classrooms, in crowded school cafeterias, and even on gym floors does not always give kids a chance to focus on their food - and it is no wonder many parents dread packing their children’s lunch.
Here are 15 easy, fun, and quick ideas for school lunches that are nutritious, unique, and easy to prepare:
(1) Cheese muffins: Pair one of these muffins with cucumber slices and a pear for a yummy lunch that is full of protein and fibre.
(2) Cereal for lunch: Pack dried cereal in a container. Add a bottle of milk, and a container or berries (dried fruit works great too). At lunch time, kids can pour the milk over their cereal, and add berries or dried fruit.
(3) Carrot cake wraps: Pair these yummy pinwheels with sliced apples tossed in a little lemon juice to prevent browning.
(4) Cheese kebobs: Food on a stick is fun! Slice cheese into cubes, and thread cheese and fruit or veggie chunks alternately onto small skewers (even toothpicks work). Pair with multi-grain crackers, a whole wheat bun, or banana bread sliced into sticks. Here are a few ideas for different combinations:
(a) Grape Expectations: Alternate chunks of cheddar, gouda, or fontina cheese with red grapes.
(b) Greek: Alternate feta, red bell pepper chunks, and kalamata olives
(c) Boccocini: Alternate mozzarella with cherry tomatoes. Add fresh basil if desired.
(d) Hawaiian: Alternate chunks or pineapple with cheddar cheese. Add cubes of ham if desired.
(5) Quesadillas: Prepare quesadillas in advance, adding in veggies such as chopped bell pepper. Slice into triangles, and pack a separate container of salsa for dipping. You can also make "pizzadillas" with mozzarella cheese, and pizza sauce for dipping.
(6) French toast sticks with yogurt: French toast naturally combines grains and protein from the milk and eggs. Prepare extra on the weekend, and store in the fridge or freezer. Slice into sticks, and add a container of yogurt for dipping. Melon cubes balance the lunch out.
(7) Tropical wraps: Combine a container of spreadable cream cheese with a container of crushed pineapple. Spread onto wrap. Add additional chopped pineapple, lettuce, and shredded coconut if you would like. Roll up, and slice into pinwheels. Carrot sticks, mango cubes, and nut free trail mix make great sides.
(8) Pasta salad: Prepare extra noodles the night before. Toss with salad dressing and mix in such as bite sized veggies, chickpeas or beans, and cubes of cheese.
(9) Thanksgiving for lunch: Spread the inside of a pita pocket with mayonnaise, cranberry sauce, or a mixture of the two. Stuff the pita with cooked turkey, shredded lettuce or sprouts, and dried cranberries.
(10) Mini frittata muffins: Like little crustless quiche muffins, you can prepare yours with any fillings your kids will eat Pack with a banana or sliced orange and a homemade granola bar.
(11) Apple and sunflower seed butter spirals: Apples and sunflowers are synonymous with fall, and they taste great together too. Spread sunflower seed butter on a wrap, top with thin slices of apple and roll up. Alternately, spread sunflower seed butter and apples on cinnamon raisin bread and make a sandwich. Add a container or yogurt or string cheese for extra protein and calcium.
(12) Falafel fun: Make your own mini-falafels from scratch, start with a pre-made mix, or purchase prepared falafel balls. Bake instead of frying. Allow to cool, and pack into one segment of a bento lunch box. Add salad in another compartment, and pack and container of tzatziki or hummus for dipping.
(13) Bean burritos: combine pinto beans or black beans with cooked rice, cumin, and salsa. Spoon onto a tortilla, top with shredded cheese, tuck in sides, and roll up. Kids can heat the wrap at school if they have access to a microwave. If not, you can heat the burrito in advance and wrap it in tinfoil to stay warm, or slice it in half and place in a thermos. Feel free to use refried beans instead of whole beans, and add chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, or other toppings your kids will eat.
(14) Tortilla or Pizza roll ups: Spread tortilla with tomato sauce, and top with shredded cheese spread, a few leaves of spinach, or other toppings of choice. Microwave for approximately 30 seconds, or just until cheese is melted. Roll up pinwheel style. Wrap in foil to eat warm, or allow to cool, and then slice into pinwheels and serve cold. Pack with fresh fruit.
(15) Tortellini (or ravioli) dippers: Cook extra tortellini or ravioli the night before. If desired, toss with a bit of olive oil to prevent from sticking. Pack a separate container of tomato sauce, and toothpicks or a fork for dipping. At lunch, kids can skewer pasta and dip into sauce. Add fresh snap peas to round out the lunch.
Don't forget some great breakfast ideas for your kids too!