5 Easy and Healthy School Lunch Recipes
Before you know it the school bell will be ringing, and that means you’ll be sending your kids off with lunchbox in tow. If you’re looking for easy and healthy school lunch recipes, try these 5 kid-tested and mother-and-budget approved ideas. They can be made ahead of time, transport easily in your child’s lunchbox or bag, and won’t be traded for something “better” with the other kids at the table!
Good for the Body and Budget School Lunch Recipes
1. Pocket Pizzas
Kids love pizza and parents know it isn’t the healthiest food option available – even though surveys show they still agree it should sometimes be available in school lunches. But it is hard to pack a slice of pepperoni pizza and keep it hot! Try this recipe variation for pocket pizzas that are sure to please both kids and parents. Take a pita pocket (there are tons of flavors from which to choose – wheat, whole grain, etc.) and add any of the following ingredients based on your kids’ favorites.
- Shredded cheese (about 1 tablespoon per pita half)
- Chopped ham, turkey, or pepperoni (chopping even just a slice or two helps to spread it throughout the pita without adding a lot of extra calories)
- Chopped tomatoes
- Chopped peppers
- Diced onions
- Chopped black olives
- Chopped mushrooms
One you have the pizza “toppings” added to the pita pocket, drizzle a bit of olive oil over the ingredients. Try an Italian inspired olive oil that includes oregano, garlic, or other similar spices.
2. Smorgasbord Lunchbox Recipes
School lunch doesn’t have to look like school lunch – and sometimes packing a variety of small servings of finger foods helps picky eaters to eat even those healthy bites. There are great reusable plastic containers available that have several sections divided that work great for this lunch idea.
- Cut up chunks of bite-sized cheese.
- Slice cucumbers, carrots, and/or radishes and add some fresh peas in the pod.
- Add a serving of crackers.
- Include a serving of hummus. There are great varieties in the store or you can use easy recipes like this.
- Send along a couple of toothpicks instead of utensils, and throw in some apple wedges and a spoon of peanut butter for dessert.
3. Perfect Pasta Lunchbox Recipes
When you’re making your nightly meals, throw a little extra pasta in the pot to use in lunchboxes instead of sending sandwiches. In some studies, school lunches that served whole grain pasta dishes were some of the healthiest options for kids. Keep the pasta from sticking by adding a teaspoon of olive oil to the water when boiling. Add to the pasta your kid’s favorite toppings.
- Shredded cheese and diced ham
- Chopped peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers for a Mediterranean meal
- Chopped salami, black olives, and shredded mozzarella for a pizza pasta
- Tuna, chopped celery, peas, and shredded carrots
Any of the above pasta ingredients can be combined with Ranch, mayonnaise, Italian or other dressings.
4. Fruit Dip Favorites
Make your own fruit dip to encourage picky fruit eaters. These dips can be made in larger serving sizes ahead of time and refrigerated for the week. They can also be used as a spread on tortillas or graham crackers for an easy dessert snack.
- Combine peanut butter with fat free Greek yogurt at a ratio of 1:2 and send it with a banana or apple slices.
- Mix fat free whipped topping with fat free strawberry (or other flavored) yogurt and send with fresh fruit chunks.
- Combine 1 cup of plain fat free yogurt with 2 tablespoons of honey. Blend in ½-1 tsp. of cinnamon and a few drops of vanilla.
5. Simple Substitutions
There are lots of ways to make your child’s school lunch healthier, more budget friendly, and better for the environment.
- Swap out the sandwich bread for soft whole wheat tortillas.
- Invest in a few sturdy, small plastic containers for dips and dressings to go with fruits and veggies.
- Don’t buy individually pre-packaged foods. They usually have more preservatives, are more expensive, and come with a lot of package waste.
- Take 20 minutes on Sunday evening to wash and chop fruits and veggies for the week.
- Buy larger containers of things like yogurt and granola and package your own in reusable containers.
Sending a healthy lunch from home can also be a way to calm back to school anxiety for kids or even give them a boost if they are struggling with social issues like bullying. Personalize or decorate the lunchbox or bag with your child for added fun. Tuck a note in the lunchbox with a funny joke, an inspirational quote, or just something to say “Hey – love you!”. Kids who have extra nutritional needs, feeding or swallowing issues, or who are sensitive to the textures of foods often benefit from home packed school lunches as well. Whatever your reasons are for packing the lunchbox, try these easy school lunch recipes with your kids – and let us know your favorites!