The school year is fast-approaching, which means school lunches are, too. I’m usually creative the first week or two, and then I start to run out of healthy school lunch ideas and just start sending the same thing day after day. Matthew usually doesn’t mind, but often, lunch is the biggest meal he eats on school days because he comes home so tired that he doesn’t want a big supper– just bed. As a result, I try to keep it a variety, as well as being as healthy and balanced as I can make it so that I know he’s getting some good nutrition on his busiest days.
I keep a list of ideas on my fridge so that I don’t even have to think about it the night I’m making lunches (since I make their lunches the night before during my nighttime routine, which saves me time during my morning routine). It has categories– main course, snacks, dairy, fruit/veggies, dips, treats, and drinks– and I choose something from at least 3 or 4 of them. We use Bentgo Boxes for his lunches because I can put dips or something like applesauce in them without it getting all over the rest of his food, but it’s easy enough for him to open and only one opening movement to access all the different foods which makes for a faster start to lunch (and less work for his preschool teacher).
As much as I love looking like the Pinterest mom, the ONLY reason his lunches look the way they do is because of this list. It keeps me from having to think too hard in the evening and keeps him going through a busy day of learning. He loves getting to open his lunchbox and see what surprises I’ve put in there as much as I love packing them, knowing he’s going to have a healthy lunch without realizing how good it really is for him! Scroll down for some of my suggestions for healthy school lunch ideas and what to put in YOUR child’s lunchbox.
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Healthy School Lunch Ideas
I make this one protein-heavy. Lunchmeat is an easy option– either rolled up, in a sandwich, or rolled in a tortilla– but so is tuna or chicken salad, pasta with meat sauce (Matthew doesn’t care at all whether it’s warm or not), potstickers, taquitos, or a quesadilla.
When it comes to fruit and veggies, I tend to pick things that are on sale, which works out nicely since those change every week and definitely by season. Apples, peaches, grapes, berries, or watermelon are favorites. When I’m choosing veggies for my healthy school lunch ideas list, I go for sticks of things like carrots, cucumber, or even bell pepper, and choose ones that are a different color than the fruit I’ve put into his lunchbox. More color means he’ll eat better!
Ranch, nut butter, yogurt, or hummus are great options. If I’ve put apples or celery in the lunchbox, vanilla yogurt or nut butter are yummy for him to dip in (and dipping is fun, which means he’s more likely to eat it). Ranch is obviously more for when I put veggies that are dip-able like bell pepper, carrots, or celery.
For my kiddos, this actually means substitute dairy. I slice up cheese, put coconut milk yogurt with cut up fruit in it, or even sticks of cheese (since they don’t actually make string cheese that doesn’t have dairy).
We have to send a snack for the morning, but I also use this category in his lunchbox sometimes. Pretzels, crackers, popcorn, or trail mix (sans peanuts) are delicious options that will give him some carbs to keep his energy up for the rest of the day.
I prefer not to fill this one with a bunch of sugar, so a juice box is a rare choice for me. I tend to go for his almond milk boxes or water instead. We send in a water bottle every day, but if I’ve run out of his “lunch milks,” as he calls them, I just add an extra water bottle in there with milk filling it.
Matthew gets one of these on Fridays, as a special “you survived the week!” treat. Even so, I keep them reasonably healthy by choosing fruit leather or “cookies” (Fig Newtons). Every now and then, he’ll get an Oreo, homemade brownie, or fruit snacks instead. Even a healthy school lunch ideas list needs a LITTLE fun sometimes!