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Healthy School Lunch Ideas

Healthy School Lunch Ideas
Want to pack healthy school lunches for your kids?
Packing a healthy school lunch is not as difficult as you may think. Here are some ideas to help you in deciding what healthy foods to pack, menu ideas, tips for picky eaters, and healthy recipes for kids.

Quick-Reference Lunch Ideas

Here’s a list of healthy lunch foods. Mix and match to see what combinations you can come up with. Share the list with your children and ask them to choose which foods they’d like to take to school. Reduce your work load by encouraging older children to pack their own school lunches. Make sure you have plenty of choices on hand for them to choose from each day.

Breads Spreads & Condiments Fillings Fruits
(Dried and Fresh)

bagel
baguette
bread sticks
crackers
English muffin
focaccia
lavash bread
pita bread
pizza bread
rice cakes
rolls
sandwich bread
tortillas
almond butter
apple butter
avocado (mashed)
banana (mashed)
brie cheese
cashew butter
cream cheese (lowfat)
goat cheese
honey
hummus
jam (spreadable fruit)
ketchup
mayonnaise/mustard
peanut butter
pesto
pizza or tomato sauce
pumpkin butter
carrots (shredded)
cheese (lite/low-fat)
chicken
chicken salad
egg salad
hard boiled egg
nitrite-free hot dogs
lettuce
shrimp salad
sliced avocado
sliced cucumber
smoked salmon
sprouts
tofu
tuna salad
apples
apricots
Asian pears
avocado
bananas
blueberries
cherries
cranberries (dried)
dates
figs
mango
papaya
pears
prunes
raisins
grapefruit
grapes
kiwi
melon
nectarines
orange sections
peaches
pineapple
plums
raspberries
strawberries
tomatoes

Vegetables Treats Other Other Grains

asparagus
beets
bell peppers
bok choy
broccoli
Brussels sprouts
cabbage
carrots
cauliflower
celery
cucumbers
eggplant
green beans
green salad
lettuce
mushrooms
seaweed (nori, wakame, hijiki)
shelling peas
snap peas
soy beans (edamame)
spinach
squash
sweet potatoes
yams
zucchini
apple crisp
applesauce
baked chips with salsa
dried fruit
fruit bar
fruit leather
granola
homemade cookies
notes from home
popcorn
pretzels
stickers
trail mix
vanilla yogurt with fruit
baked tofu
bean burrito
cottage cheese with fruit
garlic toast
polenta with pizza sauce and cheese
pasta
rice
couscous
oatmeal
bulghar

More Lunch Ideas

Red bell pepper strips – these are sweet, and your kids may find them a treat

Smoothies – you can make smoothies with healthy ingredients and put them in a thermos or drink bottle.

Roll-ups – Vegetarian Connection www.vegetarianconnection.com).

These are nothing more than tortillas that have been rolled with filling and sliced. Many kids like them more than sandwiches.

Bean Roll-Ups:

1 small or large tortilla, white, wheat or flavored
¼ cup or more refried beans
2 tablespoons salsa or sliced tomato
2 tablespoons grated cheese (optional)

Spread beans on the tortilla. Top with salsa or tomato and cheese, if using. Roll tightly. Cut into slices and stand up right.

Nut Butter and Fruit Spread Roll-Ups:

You can use 2 tablespoons peanut, almond, cashew or soy butter instead of beans and fruit spread instead of salsa. Roll in the same way.

Your Roll-Ups:

Roll-ups are limited only by your imagination. Think about adding grated carrots, sprouts, shredded apple or your child’s favorite fruit or vegetable.

Fruit, vegetables or cheese kabobs – Cut up the food in chunks and skewer them on a stick. kids like the idea of kabobs

Colorful fruit salad
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Homemade Muffins – Pumpkin-Carrot Muffins

(Reprinted from The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, CA and written by Jill Nussinow, MS, RD of The Vegetarian Connection www.vegetarianconnection.com).

Makes 1 dozen

1 large egg
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup mashed pumpkin
1 cup finely grated carrot (1 large carrot)
1 cup soy or other milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar or Sucanat (unrefined cane juice extract)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup currants
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
Vegetable cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375.
Spray muffin tins with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, beat the egg. Add the oil, pumpkin, carrots, vanilla and soymilk. Stir well to combine. In a large bowl, thoroughly combine the whole wheat pastry flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir in currants and walnuts. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins until 2/3 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven. Let cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove to rack to cool.

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Guacomole dip – made with mashed avocados – dip blue corn chips

Quesadillas – melted cheese on a whole-wheat tortilla – add veggies

Baked Beans – in a wide-mouthed thermos

Homemade Soups, Stews or Chili – in a wide-mouthed thermos

Make lunch fun – put in love notes, little toys, other special treats

Creative Kids Lunch Box

Laptop Lunches are American-style bento boxes designed to help families pack nutritious, environment-friendly lunches for school, work, and travel. These sustainable lunch containers–which come with a book of healthy lunch ideas and lunch-making recipes–are reusable, recyclable, and dishwasher safe. And all of the lunchboxes are lead-free. The best part is that it’s easy to pack a variety of fun, creative lunch items in these colorful compartments. Kids love the design, and it helps them to become more adventurous in eating a variety of healthy foods. More info

Using Leftovers

Don’t forget about leftovers! Packing leftovers in your child’s lunch can save you time and energy, and kids love them. When you’re deciding what to cook for dinner, think about how you might incorporate leftovers into a lunch for the following day. Make a few extra servings for dinner and set them aside for the next day’s lunch. While you’re doing the after dinner kitchen clean-up, place the Laptop Lunches on the counter. As you’re putting away the food, pack some of the extras in the Laptop Lunches and refrigerate overnight. Here are a few ideas for making it work:

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If you make chicken breasts, prepare an extra serving and slice it for sandwiches the next day instead of purchasing deli lunch meat.
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If you’re making a salad for dinner, slice some extra vegetables, such as cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, and celery, or make an extra undressed salad directly in the Laptop Lunch. (Make extra dressing and pour it into the dip container.)
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While you’re making dinner, boil a few eggs. Pack the eggs whole, make deviled eggs, or use them in egg salad.
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Make extra pasta, couscous, or rice and make side salads for lunch by cutting up vegetables and adding salad dressing.
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Grill extra vegetables and use them in sandwiches.
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Make an extra baked potato and pack it with nutritious toppings.

If you’re worried that it might seem less appealing the following day, consider packing it for lunch two days later, provided the food will remain fresh for an extra day.

Sandwich fillings

Try some of these sandwich fillings in whole-wheat pocket bread, on whole-grain bread, bagels, crackers, English muffins, rice cakes or rolls, or try filling and rolling tortillas or lavash flat bread.

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Cheese, avocado, and sprouts
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Grilled cheese with cucumber or sprouts
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Leftover grilled vegetables (bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini) with sliced cheese, goat cheese, or pesto sauce
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Cheddar or mozzarella cheese with apple slices
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Brie cheese with mustard and sprouts
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Cheese, tomato, sprouts or lettuce, and pesto sauce
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Leftover turkey loaf with tomatoes, and lettuce or sprouts
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Sliced leftover chicken or turkey, cranberry sauce, and lettuce
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Sliced leftover chicken or turkey, honey mustard, tomatoes, and lettuce or sprouts
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Sliced leftover beef with mayonnaise or horseradish, sliced tomato and cucumbers
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Chicken salad made with celery, lettuce, and tomato
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Tuna/cucumber/green pepper salad with tomato
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Salmon salad with lettuce or sprouts
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Shrimp salad with lettuce or sprouts
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Lowfat cream cheese, and smoked salmon (with tomato, and red onion)

Ideas for picky eaters

Do you have a picky eater in your family? Here are a few ideas for helping him or her transition to a healthier diet:

Prepare your child.

Talk with your child about nutrition and the importance of developing a healthy body. Together, come up with a family plan, including a list of steps the family wants to take to transition to a more healthful diet. Post the list in a place where everyone can see it.

Think Positively.

If your child sees you enjoying these changes, he will be more likely to join in.

Involve your child.

Children of all ages can help with menu planning, shopping, and preparing meals. Children who feel they have had a part preparing the meal will be more likely to eat it.

Introduce a wide variety of foods.

Offer a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Offer a few teaspoons of each at every dinner. Even if your child eats only two bites, he will understand that these are the foods that make up a healthy diet. When he starts wanting more than two bites, expand your offerings to include more foods. As your child grows, increase serving sizes.

Experiment with old favorites.

Offer a new food with a familiar one. Applaud adventurous eating.

Offer the same food prepared in different ways.

Offer foods alone and prepared in combination with other ingredients. Cut foods in different ways. Try carrot sticks one day and carrot coins another.

Don’t Give Up.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, many children will not accept a new food until it has been offered at least ten times. Continue to offer new foods until your child considers them familiar.

Introduce foods one bite or several bites at a time.

Some children become overwhelmed by large quantities of food on their plate. Others will feel more successful if they can finish a small quantity of food you have provided, so keep portions small.

Serve vegetables and new foods as an appetizer.

If vegetables and new foods are served last or with other foods, children can easily fill themselves up and leave vegetables behind. Start dinner, for example, with two green beans and two carrots or a green salad as a starter. When everyone has finished theirs, serve the rest of the meal. Consider serving fruits with the meal or saving them for dessert.

Don’t become a short-order cook.

Prepare only one meal for the entire family. At first your child may refuse to eat dinner. Remain calm, stand firm, and ignore tantrums. Your child will not die of hunger from skipping a meal, but will likely come to the next meal with a healthy appetite and a willingness to eat what is served. Allow each family member to plan one dinner a week. Doing so will ensure that everyone has at least one dinner to look forward to.

Give your child a choice.

Give your child some choices within the boundaries you establish. For example, instead of asking, “What do you want for lunch?” ask “Would you like a turkey sandwich, or a quesadilla?”

Do not completely forbid certain foods.

Forbidden foods can quickly become the foods of greatest desire. At school, for example, children are more likely to trade for foods that are not allowed at home. Allow your children to choose a special food from time to time and let them eat it guilt free. Teach your children the difference between everyday foods and occasional foods. In time, they will start making healthy choices on their own.

Encourage children to bring home their lunch leftovers.

Looking at leftover lunches is a great way to get information about your children’s lunch preferences. Find out why certain foods have come back uneaten. Did your child not like it? Was she not hungry enough to eat everything in the lunchbox? Was there a birthday celebration at school that day? Did she share someone else’s lunch instead? Maintain a dialogue without criticizing. Consider making a list of foods that your child likes to eat for lunch and update it regularly with input from your child. You may find that she prefers romaine lettuce to red leaf lettuce. By making this simple change, she might start eating salads more regularly. Providing a dip for carrot and celery sticks might make eating them more fun.

Use the Star Incentive Chart

(see Appendix 2 in The Laptop Lunch User’s Guide that comes with the Laptop Lunch System.

If your child is resisting the change to a waste-free lunch program, try using the Star Incentive Program described in Appendix 2. Younger children may respond well to stickers, especially if they can help pick them out.

Use the HealthPoint System

(see Appendix 3 in The Laptop Lunch User’s Guide that comes with the Laptop Lunch System.

If your child is resisting the change to a healthier diet, try using the HealthPoint System. Allow your child to take one point for each healthy food eaten, four points for each day without junk food, and four points for each day that they exercise. If your child has received a certain agreed-upon number of points by the end of the week, do something special together.

Avoid food rewards. Neither dessert nor candy should be used as a punishment or enticement. Rather, you must establish and enforce rules for when and how many treats will be consumed.

Laptop Lunches are American-style bento boxes designed to help families pack nutritious, environment-friendly lunches for school, work, and travel. These sustainable lunch containers–which come with a book of healthy lunch ideas and lunch-making recipes–are reusable, recyclable, and dishwasher safe. And all of the lunchboxes are lead-free. The best part is that it’s easy to pack a variety of fun, creative lunch items in these colorful compartments. Kids love the design, and it helps them to become more adventurous in eating a variety of healthy foods. More info

Bored with lunch making?

Try some of these great menu ideas!

(reprinted with permission from www.laptoplunches.com)

#1 Double Salad Wrap

Roll-up sandwich
Pasta salad
Fruit salad

#2 See and Cee

Tuna sandwich
A cucumber chain
Sliced melon

#3 Mexican Mango Madness

Bean and cheese burrito
Sliced mango
Green salad with dressing on the side

#4 Hearty-Breaky

Whole-wheat fruit pancakes
A hard-boiled or poached egg
100% maple syrup
Steamed yams

#5 Pocket Power

Almond butter and honey pocket sandwich
Steamed carrots & asparagus
Sliced apples

#6 Bagel Deluxe

Half bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon, and a face made of raisin eyes, cashew nose, and an apple smile
Pan-fried potatoes & herbs
Applesauce

For additional menu ideas, see the Laptop Lunch User’s Guide: Fresh Ideas for Making Wholesome, Earth-friendly Lunches Your Kids Will Love, pages 56-59. (Included in the Laptop Lunch System.

Sneaking Healthy Ingredients

Here are a few suggestions for sneaking healthy ingredients into family meals.

Add finely chopped vegetables and herbs to chicken, tuna, scrambled eggs, omelets, and salmon salad.

Add parsley and other herbs whenever you can.

Instead of discarding the water left over from steamed vegetables, use it to cook rice and other grains. After you have steamed your vegetables, pour the liquid into an airtight container and store it in the freezer. When you’re ready to cook your grains, defrost and use.

Add sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, or flax seeds to vegetables, casseroles, pastas, and sandwiches.

Add nuts such as almonds, walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, and cashews to salads, relishes, pastas, and other foods. (Note: nuts can cause choking in children three years and younger. Use with caution.)

Add lettuce, cucumbers, shredded carrots, celery, or sprouts to sandwiches.

Add a teaspoon of flaxseed oil to salad dressings, yogurt, applesauce, and other foods to provide your child with the essential fatty acids necessary for healthy cell function and brain development.

Blend steamed vegetables in tomato sauce and pour over pasta.

Need Healthy Recipes?

See our Healthy Recipes for Kids page.

Laptop Lunches are American-style bento boxes designed to help families pack nutritious, environment-friendly lunches for school, work, and travel. These sustainable lunch containers–which come with a book of healthy lunch ideas and lunch-making recipes–are reusable, recyclable, and dishwasher safe. And all of the lunchboxes are lead-free. The best part is that it’s easy to pack a variety of fun, creative lunch items in these colorful compartments. Kids love the design, and it helps them to become more adventurous in eating a variety of healthy foods. More info

Use the information provided on this site as an educational resource for determining your options and making your own informed choices. It is not intended as medical advice or to diagnose, prescribe, or treat any specific illness.

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