By Talene Derbabian, RD, LDN, clinical nutrition manager for Metz Culinary Management at Crozer-Keystone Health System
Other than struggling to get kids out of bed early and to the bus stop on time, one of a parent’s least favorite aspects of sending their kids back to school is packing lunches. The idea of packing your kids’ lunches everyday can be daunting, especially when you factor in everything else you have to do to get the whole family ready in the morning. But remember: giving your children healthy lunches each day can help boost health, immunity, concentration, and even calm back-to-school jitters by boosting your child’s mood.
Eating healthy during lunch period is really important for children. By packing them a healthy lunch, we are encouraging lifelong healthy habits. Your child having a full stomach after lunch also helps them pay attention in the classroom, reducing behavior issues.
Here are some healthy lunch and snack ideas to help make the lunch packing process easier. Make this activity even easier by preparing everything ahead of time.
- Egg or Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps: Spoon homemade egg salad or chicken salad into an iceberg lettuce “bowl.” Alternatively, let your child have some fun at lunch by giving them a spoon to make the lettuce wrap themselves.
- Strawberry and Cream Cheese Sandwich: Mix together reduced-fat cream cheese, honey and orange zest and then spread this mixture onto one slice of whole-wheat bread. Place two sliced strawberries on top of the cream cheese mixture and top the sandwich with a second slice of whole- wheat bread.
- Pizza Roll-Ups: Spread pizza sauce onto a whole-wheat flour tortilla. Top the sauce with a layer of baby spinach and shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese. Microwave the tortilla until the cheese melts and roll it up. You can slice up the roll-up and place it in a travel container.
- BBQ Chicken Sandwich: If you make chicken for dinner one night, save some of the leftovers to put in your kids’ lunches. Shred the cooked chicken and mix it in a bowl with shredded carrots and barbecue sauce. Take a whole-wheat sandwich bun and swipe a thin layer of ranch dressing on one side. Spoon the barbecue chicken mixture on top with a slice of romaine lettuce.
- Pretzel Kabobs: Roll up ham, turkey and cheese. Skewer the roll ups with pretzel sticks.
- Hole-y Peanut Butter and Jelly: Spread creamy peanut butter and grape or strawberry jam on a mini whole-wheat bagel.
- Powerful Pitas: Stuff two mini whole-wheat pitas with grilled chicken sliced into strips. Add some sliced veggies into the pita, such as cucumbers, carrots, yellow or red bell peppers. You can even spread some hummus in the pita for an extra kick of flavor and protein.
- Fish Food: In between two slices of whole-wheat bread, spread tuna salad and place a slice of romaine lettuce. Make the sandwich fun for your child by using a cookie cutter to cut the sandwich into the shape of a fish.
- Cottage Cheese Veggie Dip Snack: Mix low-fat cottage cheese with some lemon pepper for a quick and healthy dip. Send baby carrots, sliced cucumber, celery, snow peas or any other crunchy vegetable you have in the house to dip in it.
- Bean Dip and Chips: Stir salsa into fat-free refried beans and serve with baked tortilla chips. You can also use the bean dip as a spread on a sandwich.
- Chocolate-Banana Grahams: Satisfy your child’s sweet tooth by spreading Nutella or another chocolate-hazelnut spread onto one graham cracker square, broken into two rectangles. Place a banana slice on top and sprinkle sweetened shredded coconut if they like it.
- Banana Sushi: Spread a thin layer of creamy peanut butter, apple butter or Nutella onto an 8-inch whole-wheat flour tortilla. Peel a banana, place it on top of the spread and roll up the tortilla. Slice the rolled up tortilla into six to eight pieces.
- Ants on a Log: Cut celery stalks into four pieces. Spread creamy peanut butter onto each piece of celery and top with raisins.
- Frogs on a Log: For a savory version of ants on a log, swap peanut butter for reduced-fat cream cheese. Top off the cream cheese with slices of pimento stuffed green olives.
- Pretzel Mix: Combine mini pretzel twists with cashews and dried cranberries for an amped up snack.
- Yogurt and Berries: Vanilla flavored Greek yogurt pairs really well with strawberry slices and/or blueberries. Send the berries separate to give your child the fun of mixing them into the yogurt themselves.
- Cheese and Crackers: Make this snack healthy by packing reduced-fat cheese slices or string cheese with whole-grain crackers.
- Hummus and Dippers: Pack hummus in the flavor your child likes best with cucumber slices, baby carrots, yellow or red pepper slices or pita chips to dip.