School starts this week and there’s a sense of dread that’s been building in my stomach for days now. No, I’m not worried about sending my baby back to school or any of that nonsense. (I’m one of the celebratory moms, and frankly, the kid’s pretty excited, too.) School hasn’t even started yet, and I’m already feeling defeated by packing lunches. Every. Day. For the whole. year. Now, lunch at school is 100% free in our district, which would save me time, stress, and money, but my daughter isn’t interested in that at all.
Honestly, I can’t figure out why. I’ve seen her menus and most days, I’d like to have lunch at her school. But anyway, here we are, needing to pack lunches and wanting to provide something with more variety and nutritional value than sunbutter-and-jelly sandwiches with carrot sticks every day. So everybody take a deep breath with me. I’ve done some poking around the internet for inspiration and here are some ideas for nutritious, tasty, and fun school lunches.
Oh! Before I get into the food, here are some of my favorite lunch time products: I’ve talked about my daughter’s Yumbox lunchboxes before here and here. She’s had them for going on five years now and I love them. She also uses a S’ip by S’well kids’ water bottle, IKEA KALAS tableware (because it’s reusable but I don’t care if it gets lost because it’s cheap), and an L.L. Bean flip-top lunch box. For snacks I love Itzy Ritzy and LunchSkins bags. Okay. On to the food.
Lunchbox Pasta: This is a simple recipe to make and one that can you mix up with different spices and seasonings. I also like it because if you use something like penne it can be a finger food, making it easier for younger kids to eat quickly—a sadly important consideration for many students with short lunch and recess times. To round this meal out, add a side of your child’s favorite veggie (that would be yellow pepper strips here), and a serving of cheese, with a small treat. You could even serve it with mini pepperonis!
Pita and Hummus: It’s funny that, as I was trying to figure out what to feed my daughter her first week back, this idea literally did not cross my mind until I came across this post from Modern Honey. Which is ridiculous because we ate it for lunch twice last week because my daughter and I both enjoy it so much. Let’s blame it on the stress. So, yeah: pita, hummus (plain, or pick a fun flavor like roasted red pepper or my current favorite: Mediterranean), cucumber slices, and grape tomatoes—remember to cut them up for young children. Modern Honey adds orange slices; I’d go with peeled and sectioned Cuties or clementines because my kid thinks regular oranges are weird. Be sure to check out Modern Honey’s post for a week’s worth of lunches plus a shopping list!
Pizza Bagels: Towards the end of last school year, I found pizza-flavored bagels while grocery shopping and my husband just about died. He immediately decided that we absolutely had to make pizza bagels with them for dinner and after that my daughter was completely hooked. She insisted on pizza bagels every day in her lunch until we ran out of bagels and then requested more the next time she was at the grocery store with me. I really love this as a lunch idea because it gets her involved in making her lunch, as she’s responsible for preparing her little pizzas for baking: sauce, cheese, toppings of choice. I send half a bagel to school, along with a fruit side, a veggie side, and a small treat.
Egg Muffins: For school lunch, I love things that are tasty at room temperature. When hunting down recipes for this post, I read something about a “microwave line” at one school. I have no idea if there’s a way my daughter can heat her lunch up, although having been in the cafeteria multiple times, I’m pretty sure there’s not. However, I wouldn’t want my kid to spend precious lunch minutes waiting to heat something up. And I don’t want to worry about purchasing the proper equipment (thermoses, insulated containers, ice packs) to keep the food a particular temperature. So things like these egg muffins are totally my jam. In my house, our veggies of choice would be mushrooms and very finely chopped spinach. Tip: buy it frozen. That way, it’s already very finely chopped and it’s super-easy to throw right in from the freezer; you can’t taste the small bits, but you get all the benefits. Serve the egg muffin with fruit, and a mini-muffin or mini-bagel.
Banana Dog: You’re going to be the most awesome parent around when they unpack their lunch. The recipe calls for peanut butter, so you’re probably better off subbing it out for sunbutter. (And honestly, have you tried sunbutter with bananas? The combination is ah-mazing. Like, given the choice, I would choose to put sunbutter on my banana over peanut butter it’s that good.) Serve with some cheddar slices and another serving of fruits or veggies, or even some breakfast sausage links or crispy bacon.
Veggie and Black Bean Burrito: I love this idea! Burritos are one of my family’s go-tos for dinner, so why not lunch? It’s a great recipe to have your child help make, or at least help pick out the ingredients for as you prepare lunch, to increase the chance they’ll actually eat it come lunch time. Kid not a salsa fan? Go for plain diced tomatoes. And if you’re worried about your kid’s ability to keep the burrito together, serve the tortilla on the side and mix the ingredients up to create a burrito bowl. I also love the suggestion of watermelon, while it’s still available. I serve cubes rather than wedges; they’re easier to fit in our container.
Sandwiches on a Stick: Yeah, this recipe has a fancy name, but let’s be real: it’s sandwiches on a stick. And you (or your kids) can customize them however you like, so you know they’ll get the nutrition they need (proteins, veggies) in a form they’ll actually eat. Serve with a side of pretzels, chips, or goldfish crackers, and some fresh berries. Tip: Buy wooden skewers so you can trim them to fit your container. Alternatively, try appetizer-sized sandwich bites and buy shorter reusable picks.
Baked Ravioli: What a fun twist on pasta for lunch! (Plus, you can add this meal into a regular rotation by varying the type of ravioli you serve—veggie, meat, cheese, butternut squash, mushroom, lemon ricotta (just found that one at Trader Joe’s!)—and the dipping sauce. The serving recommendation shows peas, but fresh green beans would be fun, too, and then everything in the meal will be finger foods. Not having to pack silverware means there’s one less thing for your child to worry about losing. Oh, and by the way, there’s even a gluten-free recipe provided!
You can find ten more yummy meals here. What are your family’s favorite school lunch ideas? Share them with us in the comments!