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School Lunch Ideas and Recipes

Delicious, easy, and healthy ideas for school lunchboxes

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school lunch ideas

Easy and delicious school lunch ideas for back to school and beyond.

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What to put in a child’s school lunch? It’s one of those constant dilemmas parents face during the school year. But with a little pre-planning and some fun ideas, you’ll be able to make easy, delicious, and nutritious lunches for your child to take to school.

Tips and Menu Ideas for Healthy School Lunches:

  1. Balance the lunch. When packing your child’s school lunch, “think food groups,” says Sarah Krieger, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Consider what will be the whole grain, the dairy, and fruits and vegetables.”

  2. Mix it up. “When food sits in a container, the flavors rub off onto each other,” says Krieger. “Bitter vegetables can be sweetened with fruit.” Some examples:
    • Baby carrots with dried cherries
    • Grapes with sugar snap peas or cucumbers
    • Apple slices with carrots
    • Cucumber slices, pea pods with orange slices
  3. Be sure to add a protein source. Protein is an important part of a meal or snack because it provides a steady stream of energy. Plus, research has shown that balancing protein and complex carbohydrates is important for brain function -- a very important factor to consider for school lunches. Try:
    • Peanut butter on whole-grain bread with jam (If your child goes to a peanut-free school, opt for soy nut butter or other nut butters.)
    • Edamame
    • Lean turkey and cheese on whole grain pita or a mini bagel
  4. Boost those veggies. Most kids do not get enough servings of fruits and vegetables, says Krieger. Use lunchtime as an opportunity to get some vegetables into your child’s diet. Try:
    • Pasta salad (Use any shape pasta your child likes; add cherry tomatoes, olive oil, cubed or shredded cheese, spinach, and any other veggie your child will eat.)
    • Pita pizzas (Take whole-grain pita bread, add sauce and broccoli, mushrooms, eggplant, and/or peppers. Top with shredded cheese. Bake in the oven the nite before and warm it up in the morning before packing it into your child’s lunchbox.)
    • Whole-grain hotdog or hamburger bun with peanut butter and banana slices
    • Lean, cooked chicken breast with steamed broccoli and baby carrots

More Ideas and Recipes

Try these other school lunch ideas from Amy Jamieson-Petonic, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Recipes are included.

  1. Happy face pita
    • 1 6-inch 100 percent whole grain pita
    • 1 ounce of lean, low-salt real turkey breast
    • 1 slice of low-fat mozzarella cheese
    • 4 to 5 cherry tomatoes
    • 1 8-inch banana cut in half lengthwise
    • 2 green olives stuffed with pimiento

    For packed school lunches, you can stuff the turkey and cheese into the pita bread and pack the tomatoes and olives separately on the side. Add a cup of fat-free or 1 percent milk.

    At home, you can arrange the vegetables into a happy face on the pita using the banana sliced in half lengthwise as the eyebrows, the cherry tomatoes for the nose, and the olives for the eyes.

  2. Whole grain pasta salad
    • 1/2 cup of cooked, 100 percent whole-grain pasta
    • 1 small chopped red bell pepper
    • 6 baby carrots, shredded
    • 1 ounce of cooked, lean chicken breast pieces (75 calories)
    • 1 tablespoon of light Italian dressing (50 calories) OR 1/2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar

    Cook the pasta and drain. Add the red bell pepper and shredded carrots. Stir in the chicken pieces. Then, mix in the Italian dressing or olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

    Add a small apple and one cup of fat-free or 1 percent milk.

  3. Hummus and Veggie Wrap
    • 1 6-inch, 100 percent whole-grain tortilla
    • 1 teaspoon of mustard
    • 1 cup of raw spinach
    • Pack with:
    • 1 small orange bell pepper, sliced
    • 2 tablespoons of hummus
    • Also pack:
    • 1 cup of fresh pineapple
    • 1 cup of 1 percent soymilk, fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D

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