Now that it’s officially back-to-school season (and has been for a few weeks already in some parts of the country), it’s time to return to packing lunches daily for the kids. As a mom of three teenage boys, I’ve been doing this for years now, and I find that it can be a drag, especially if you have picky, or fickle, eaters. Doesn’t it get boring for them to eat the same old sandwich every day? And then, just when you buy a jumbo pack of their favorite granola bars, they declare they don’t like them anymore.
As a way to help other moms in the kitchen, I researched a bunch of healthy lunch ideas and recipes, with the goal of keeping things simple, kid-friendly and relatively quick. Depending on your kids’ ages, they can make some of these themselves, or at least help you with assembling and packing.
Certainly, mix and match, or make substitutions or eliminations based on your child’s preferences, and what you have on hand. (My kids won’t touch cucumbers!) Adjust portion sizes as necessary to minimize waste. And, although not necessarily classified as “healthy,” and not included here, I definitely toss in some treats now and then. But that’s your call.
To help prevent potential shock (or protests) in the cafeteria, you may want to run through a few of these lunch ideas with your child at home, and let him/her pick a few that sound good to start off.
Here’s to a wonderful year, with lots of fun, learning and growing, fueled by these healthy back-to-school lunches!
Healthy Back-to-School Lunches:
10 Healthy Lunch Options (Modern Honey)
- Turkey + Cheddar Roll-up
- Pita Bread
- Cheese Quesadilla
- Deli Meat + Cheese Kabobs
Red Pepper Slices
Fruit Leather or Snacks
- Hard Boiled Eggs
Baby Carrots + Ranch
Peaches or Applesauce
- Pasta Salad
- Almond Butter + Jelly (or PB +J)
Cheddar Cheese Cubes
LaraBar or Cliff Bar
- Bagel + Cream Cheese
- Veggie Wrap with Hummus
Edamame or Snap Peas
- Water Bottle
- 100% Juice Boxes
- Capri Suns
- Bolthouse Smoothies
- Milk — Strawberry or Chocolate
Sides and Snack Options:
- Trail Mix
- Pudding Cup
- Graham Crackers
- Rice Krispies Treats
- Jell-O Cup
8 More Healthy Lunches (Parents Magazine)
- Tuna sandwich with lettuce on whole wheat bread
10 baby carrots with 2 tablespoons low-fat ranch dip
1/4 cup whole-grain Goldfish crackers
- Ham, turkey, and cheese rolled up together, sliced, and skewered with large pretzel stick
1/2 cup mandarin oranges
1/2 cup shelled edamame
1 container (4 ounces) fat-free chocolate pudding
- Sliced hard-boiled egg and 2 mini whole-grain waffles
1 sliced kiwi fruit mixed with a few blackberries
Mini corn muffin
- 1 cup bean salad
1/2 cup melon wedges
Handful of whole-grain tortilla chips with 2 tablespoons salsa
8 cubes of reduced-fat cheddar cheese
- Peanut butter and jelly on a whole wheat mini bagel
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes with 2 tablespoons low-fat Caesar dressing
1/2 cup pineapple chunks
4 mini oatmeal cookies
- 1 slice leftover cold veggie pizza cut into squares
3/4 cup cucumber moons with 2 tablespoons hummus
1/2 cup purple grapes
1/2 cup popcorn
- 2 mini whole wheat pita pockets with grilled-chicken strips and veggies
3/4 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt with sliced strawberries
1/2 cup sugar snap peas
8 animal crackers
- 1 cup bow-tie pasta salad with veggies
1 cup baby greens salad with 2 tablespoons low-fat dressing
3/4 cup watermelon
2 fig cookies
Healthy Back-to-School Lunches: Bonus Recipes
Light and Easy Chicken Salad (Joyful Healthy Eats)
- 2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
- 1 1/2 cups halved red grapes
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 1/3 cup diced green onions
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup mayo
- 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1-2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
- salt & pepper to taste
To a large bowl, add shredded chicken, red grapes, pecans, and green onions.
In a small bowl, add yogurt, mayo, mustard, sage, smoked paprika, garlic powder, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Whisk together.
Add the liquid mixture to the chicken dish. Stir everything together until it is completely combined. Serve on a slice of bread or in a cup of Bibb lettuce.
Chicken Caesar Pita Pockets (The Foodie and the Fix)
- 1/3 cup cooked and chopped chicken breast
- 1/2 cup cleaned and chopped romaine lettuce
- 2 1/2 tbs shredded parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbs Best-Ever Healthy Caesar Dressing (see recipe below)
- additional black pepper (optional)
- 1/2 of a whole wheat pita pocket
Best-Ever Healthy Caesar Dressing
- 1/4 cup cottage cheese (1% or 2%)
- 1 Tbs plain Greek yogurt (1% or non-fat)
- 1/4 tsp minced garlic
- 1 1/2 tbs lemon juice
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2-3 anchovy filets (3 if they’re small), use a paper towel to try to pat most of the oil off
- 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
- some cracked black pepper if you like (I put about two cranks from my peppermill in)
To make Caesar Dressing:
- Put all ingredients into a blender and buzz away for a couple of minutes or until it’s super-smooth.
To make the pita pocket:
- In a bowl, mix together the chicken, romaine, parmesan, Caesar dressing and black pepper. Stuff it into a pita and enjoy!
Simple Macaroni Salad (Lauren’s Latest)
- 1/2 lb. elbow macaroni
- 3/4 cup diced carrot
- 3/4 cup diced celery
- 1/2 cup diced red onion (or yellow)
- 1/2 cup diced yellow pepper (optional)
- 1/3 cup diced dill pickle
- 1/4 cup diced black olives
- 1/2 cup real mayonnaise (heaping 1/2 cup)
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- salt & pepper, to taste
Bring large pot of water to boil. Salt water generously and pour in pasta. Stir and cook 7-10 minutes or until al dente.
While pasta is cooking, chop all veggies. Drain pasta and rinse under cold water until cold. Pour into large bowl and top with chopped veggies.
Stir in mayonnaise, vinegar and seasonings until everything is well coated. If it doesn’t seem like there’s enough mayonnaise to go around, add in a splash of water or a little more mayonnaise. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Homemade Spaghetti-Os (Chocolate Covered Katie)
- 15oz no-salt-added tomato sauce
- 2 tbsp milk
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 3/4 tsp to 1 tsp salt
- 2-3 tsp butter spread (or substitute oil)
- 3-4 tbsp nutritional yeast, or parmesan
- 2 tbsp any sweetener of choice
- 1 cup uncooked tiny pasta of choice (If using a larger pasta, such as elbows, increase to 2 cups)
In a small saucepan, stir together all ingredients except the pasta. Bring to a boil, then lower and cook on low until the butter spread melts completely.
Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, throw in the pasta and cook until desired texture is reached. Drain, then pat dry with a towel.
Pour the pasta into the sauce, and stir to combine. Serve. Before reheating leftovers, stir and add a little milk if needed.