As the leaves turn from green to shades of red, orange, and brown and the humidity in the air releases to a cool crispness, many of us are hit with a wave of nostalgia for our youth. Our senses initiate memories of back-to-school shopping, trick-or-treating, and cheering at the homecoming football game.
A not so pleasant memory are those school lunches. Sloppy Joe’s, anyone? I don’t know about you, but the quality of ingredients and nutrients from the cafeteria always left a lot to be desired in my school. Most days, my parents packed our lunches, and while they gave it their best shot trying to fill our brown bags with delicious and healthy ingredients, there were always those few kids with the lunches that left us green with envy. A pail filled to the brim with fresh, shining ingredients that we could taste with our eyes.
Finding ingredients and grocery shopping for an entire family is not an easy feat. Not to mention packing those hard to find ingredients into school lunches that are friendly for the whole family.
Fortunately, a little creativity can go a long way, and there are options that will leave your child nourished and satisfied that you can enjoy too. Think of how much free time you’ll have not having to worry about your lunch.
Use Bento Boxes to Pack School Lunches
The first step is to find bento boxes that will separate ingredients from one another. This will allow you to create a ‘main dish’ and portioned, diverse sides. Here are a few that I love:
Add Healthy Sides
Once you have your bento boxes, you can start thinking about the sides. Homemade is always best when you’re trying to stay health conscious, but a few little treats here and there are okay too. Just look for high quality, low sugar, sustainably produced when you’re purchasing packaged.
Here are a few simple sides that you and your children will love equally:
- Hummus and veggies
- Fresh fruit
- Trail mix
- Hardboiled egg
- High-quality dark chocolate
- GMO-free, organic popcorn
- Homemade date bars
- Organic yogurt
- Cottage Cheese
- Cheese & crackers
- Apple & nut butter
- Pita & hummus
Use a Variety of High-Quality Ingredients
Now for the main event! Get ready because your school lunches are about to get a serious upgrade. Of course, a PB&J or turkey sandwich on whole grain or sourdough bread will do the trick, but can get boring day in and day out. I like to make school lunches that can be eaten as a packed lunch or for a family dinner to allow for flexibility and spontaneity throughout the week.
I always recommend that you eat a healthy combination of fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains each meal for your child. It’s also important to ensure you’re purchasing the highest quality ingredients possible. What we eat and what our children eat enable them to be smart, successful, productive, and happy, and let’s be honest, happy kids equal happy parents!
Here are 3 easy to prepare mains that will be the star of your kids’ school lunches and your own!
Broccoli Pesto Pasta by Bon Appetit
This is perfect to prep ahead of time and would even be tasty for dinner. If your kids need a bit of added protein, throw some grilled or rotisserie chicken in.
- Red grapes
- Dark chocolate
- Cherry tomatoes
Turkey Meatballs by Giada via Food Network
Meatballs are the ultimate comfort food, and what a treat to have them as lunch! This version is healthy and delicious. These meatballs will taste good at room temperature or heated up.
- Steamed broccoli
- Dark chocolate
- Cherry tomatoes
This combo of sweet potatoes, chicken, and avocado is the perfect nutrient-dense lunch to keep your kids going right until their afternoon snacks. It’s so good, they won’t even realize how healthy they’re eating!
- Date bars
- Carrot sticks
- Non-GMO, organic tortilla chips
- Sliced strawberries
Sweet Treat Bonus!
If you’re like most parents, your kids come home from school hungry and are looking for a treat to keep them going until dinner. I’ve been loving Chloe’s Fruit Bars. They’re made from just three ingredients and are so tasty, your kids won’t even realize they’re basically just eating fruit!