Summer is coming to an end and students are heading back to school. Despite the improvements in the quality of school meals in recent years, some families prefer to pack their own lunches. Unfortunately, many packed lunches don’t match up to the nutrition standards of school lunches. Many common packed lunches provide too much sodium, fat, and sugar and lack enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains or dairy. To help your kids eat smart, here is a list of ideas for tasty, easy, low-cost, and healthy packed lunch ideas.
Leftovers, no extra cooking required. The easiest lunch to pack is leftovers from dinner the night before. To make it work, be sure to plan for enough servings to cover dinner and lunch the next day. You can also pack a combination of leftovers and other items, especially if your kids don’t like eating the same meal twice in a 24 hour period. For example, cook an extra portion of protein to pack along with a fruit cup, some whole grain crackers, and a handful of baby carrots. Or cook extra veggies to send along with a sandwich and a clementine.
Sandwiches, a classic for a reason. Sandwiches are so easy to pack and are fairly affordable options. The standard peanut butter and banana on whole wheat provides 3 of MyPlate’s food groups in one item! (If your school is peanut- or tree nut-free, use sunflower seed or soy nut butter instead.) Check out our post Making A Healthy Sandwich for filling suggestions and recipe ideas. Instead of chips, pair sandwiches with veggies or fruit as sides. These can be prepped ahead of time in individual servings to grab quickly throughout the week.
Build Your Own MyPlate, guaranteed to make a balanced meal. Bento box lunches are trendy these days. And they’re surprisingly healthy and way easier to pack than you think. Pack a serving of each of MyPlate’s food groups, put in a divided container and violà, bento box lunch! This is a great strategy for pickier eaters since you can choose varieties of fruits, veggies, or protein that they will actually eat. Be sure to check out our Build Your Own Recipe series, which has other easy ideas for mixing and matching ingredients for creating meals personalized to your family’s tastes.
Smoothies and snacks, a healthy treat. Smoothies can be good ways for kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. Check out our post All About Smoothies for ingredient suggestions and recipe ideas. Pack in a thermos to keep cold until lunch. Pair smoothies with a few other snack items (see suggestions here and here) to round out the meal, keeping MyPlate in mind.
Don’t forget about food safety when packing lunches. If you send perishable foods, you need to keep them cold. A reusable ice pack in an insulated lunchbox is best. You can also send a frozen juice box or water to keep the rest of lunch cold as well as be a part of their meal.
What are some other healthy lunches your kids enjoy? We’re also interested in hearing the challenges you have in packing lunches for your kids. Share them with us in the comments. As a bonus, every commenter will be eligible to receive a copy of our upcoming e-cookbook with 20 packed lunch recipes, along with grocery lists and cost estimates to make packing healthy lunches a snap!