There is one thing that a lot of parents absolutely dread about September – packing school lunches. The thought of packing lunches can invoke stress and panic in even the most calm and serene mother.
What will I pack? How can I make sure it is healthy? Where will I find the time? My kids are soooo picky and won’t eat anything! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
Don’t panic mamas! I’m here to help with some inspiration in the healthy lunch making department.
But before I get to that, I thought I should answer the question that I get from most parents, which is “What IS a healthy lunch?” And I actually have a very simple answer to that question:
A healthy lunch is a lunch that is made up of a wide variety of Real Food.
Yes, it is that simple. Focus on feeding your kids Real Food (making sure to change it up with plenty of variety) and avoid as many of the processed and refined foods as you can, and I can guarantee that your lunches will be super healthy.
When it comes to raising a healthy eater (instead of a picky eater), it’s really important to focus on variety in their lunches, and to me it comes down to one simple rule:
Ditch the idea of lunch food!
Why is it that in North America everyone thinks a sandwich is lunch food, but chicken and broccoli are not?
Food is food is food, and your lunchtime repertoire is just about to get a whole lot larger when you start thinking outside the lunch box (he he). Using leftovers in school lunches is a great way to expand variety PLUS it’s a super easy way to make lunches quickly, meaning less stress for you. “Breakfast foods” (which for the record, I don’t like that term either) are also fair game – think eggs, oatmeal, pancakes etc. The possibilities are endless really.
So, without further ado, here is a list of Real Food snacks and lunches to get your creative juices flowing. My list is not exhaustive of course, so I’m also including some great links from around the web with even more ideas. Get ready for some inspiration!
Real Food Lunch Ideas
o Quinoa (or millet) salad with your favourite add-ins: vegetables (raw or cooked), fruit, beans, meat, seafood, cheese, nuts, seeds and the homemade dressing of your choice.
o Pasta Salad: Try brown rice noodles or soba noodles for a change with your favourite add-ins: vegetables (raw or cooked), fruit, beans, meat, seafood, cheese, nuts, seeds and the homemade dressing of your choice.
o Chicken, salmon or tuna salad made with avocado or greek yogurt (curry powder is a nice addition) served on a lettuce leaf, whole grain bread or with whole grain crackers. Try adding celery, grapes, raisins or other add-ins.
o Whole grain tortilla filled with hummus and lots of raw or cooked veggies
o Caprese Salad: mozzarella, tomato, fresh basil, drizzled with balsamic vinegar
o Fajita Salad: fresh greens, topped with grilled chicken (make extra!), grilled peppers and onions with a salsa dressing (and other fajita toppings they like)
o Salmon or Tuna Cakes
o Fruit and Vegetable Smoothie (making sure to include fat and protein)
o Eggs: hard-boiled, scrambled or a frittata
o Oatmeal (it doesn’t just have to be a breakfast food!)
o Pancakes (ditto!) Try using them as the “bread” for sandwiches
o Baked or sweet potato topped with cheese, beans and vegetables
o Soup or chili
o Mini pizzas: whole-grain tortillas with tomato sauce, cheese and toppings
o Sandwiches: Top unprocessed, whole grain bread with fresh meat (not processed), cheese, vegetables, spreads (hummus, sunbutter + jam or honey, pesto). Get creative with the filling – Google is a great resource for interesting sandwich ideas!
o Leftovers: The sky is the limit ☺
Real Food Snack Ideas
o Fresh fruit! Can serve plain or with sunflower butter, yogurt dip or make a fruit salad
o Fresh raw vegetables! Can serve plain or with hummus, bean dip, yogurt dip, pesto, or homemade salad dressing
o A half avocado: drizzle with balsamic, or fill with cheese, egg, yogurt, leftover veggies, or a mixtures of black beans, pineapple, cilantro and lime
o Dried fruit or raisins (make sure it is unsweetened)
o Applesauce (make sure it is unsweetened): serve with cinnamon
o Celery with sunflower butter and raisins or goji berries
o Air popped popcorn
o Organic edamame: can serve with soy sauce
o Mashed sweet potato: serve with apple butter and cinnamon
o Whole grain crackers: can top with sunflower butter, cheese, hummus, bean dip or pesto
o Brown rice cakes: can top with sunflower butter, cheese, hummus, bean dip or pesto AND fruit or veggies
o Small whole grain noodles (try brown rice or soba noodles) served with hummus, bean dip, tomato sauce dip or pesto
o Homemade granola bars made with Real Food ingredients (this recipe is a great one)
o Trail mix (homemade): nuts, seeds, dried fruit, toasted coconut
o Hard boiled eggs
o Fruit and vegetable smoothies
o Kale or other vegetable chips
o Homemade muffins, loaf or cookies (using natural sweeteners): limit to 2-3x per week
o Vegetable Fritters
o Roasted Chickpeas
o Guacamole; serve with fresh vegetables, organic baked corn chips or whole grain crackers or on rice cakes or leftover shrimp or chicken pieces
o Chia pudding
o Unsweetened yogurt + fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, coconut
o Mini chicken, egg or tuna salad wraps on lettuce
o Small portion of soup or chili
o Small portion of any salad
o Leftovers: a smaller portion, the sky is the limit ☺
Healthy After School Snack Ideas from The Humbled Homemaker (these are also good ideas for lunch snacks of course)
Healthy School Treat Ideas by Kitchen Stewardship
Paleo Lunchboxes by Nom Nom Paleo
14 Healthy After School Snacks by The Lean Green Bean
10 Bread-Free Alternative to Sandwiches by Kitchen Stewardship
School Lunch Roundup by 100 Days of Real Food
Healthy Real Food School Lunch Ideas by The Holistic Mama
Thermos Tips and Tricks by The Lunch Tray – important tips for packing leftovers
What French Kids Eat for School Lunch from MindBodyGreen – a real eye opener to the differences in cultures!
Annnnd…a reminder that we also need to just chill out:
Your Child’s Lunch Makes Me Feel Inferior by Real Mom Nutrition
Any other great lunch ideas? Feel free to leave them in the comments so we can all be inspired!