As a Registered Dietitian and parent, I am a huge advocate for getting your kids involved in lunch packing. Provide your kids choice, but frame the choice to encourage variety and inclusion of favorites and some not-so-favorites.
Remember that kids often need to be exposed to something 10 to 20 times before they will accept it. Try different shapes, sizes, textures, and keep it positive. As my son often tells other kids, “one bite to be polite.”
Get kids excited about their lunch and start the school year off right with some of these nutrition packed ideas:
26 Fun Lunchbox Additions
1. Cold pizza quesadillas: Layer grated mozzarella, pizza sauce and thin red pepper slices on half a whole grain tortilla and pan-fry both sides until heated. Serve chilled.
2. Cold French toast fingers: Make a big batch of whole grain French toast on the weekend and refrigerate or freeze in strips. Serve with cream cheese or no-nuts pea butter (if your school is peanut free) and jam (or provide a small jar of maple syrup for dipping).
3. Mexican bento box: In divided containers place small corn tortillas/taco chips, refried beans/seasoned meat/cubes of cheese, salsa and guacamole.
4. Grilled cheese fingers: Make a few extra grilled cheese sandwiches or Panini’s on the weekend, cut into strips and chill.
5. Caprese salad skewers: Thread mini bocconcini cheese balls, fresh basil and grape or cherry tomatoes on toothpicks or bamboo skewers.
6. Asian bento box: In divided containers place edamame beans/strips of teriyaki salmon/chicken breast/cocktail shrimp, California rolls/cold rice (yes many kids will eat it cold) and raw snap peas with carrots.
7. Greek salad: Container of Greek salad with all or some of the following: red peppers, cucumbers, onion, olives, feta cheese and Greek salad dressing.
8. Thermos of smoothie: Some smoothies keep better than others – find one your kids like using frozen berries, mango, unsweetened juice and yogurt.
9. Raw veggies & dip: Try carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, grape/cherry tomatoes, snap/snow peas, cucumber, peppers and a creamy dip or hummus.
10. Homemade muffins: Make big batchers for the freezer with healthy ingredients such as whole wheat flour, barley flour, rolled oats, nuts and seeds (if permitted in your school) as well as banana, berries, canned unsweetened pumpkin, dried fruit, grated carrot or zucchini.
11. Thermos of pasta with sneaky sauce: Add ‘sneaky’ veggies (add sautéed and then puréed vegetables such as peppers, zucchini, spinach, kale and onion) to tomato sauce with Italian seasoning. For protein add lentils, ground meat/poultry or top with cheese.
12. Pinwheel sandwiches: Mix together cream cheese, grated cheese, fresh herbs/spices, finely diced red peppers and grated carrots. Spread over a tortilla and roll. Slice into small pinwheels and serve with a toothpick.
13. Pancake sandwiches: On the weekend make a big batch of whole-wheat pancakes and refrigerate or freeze. Spread two pancakes with nut/seed butter and honey or alternatively cream cheese and jam and stick together.
14. Chilled chicken fingers: Bake a big batch of homemade breaded chicken breast strips and serve chilled with plum sauce.
15. Pretzel dippers: Place small mini cheese cubes at the end of pretzel sticks and serve with a dipping sauce such as hummus, honey mustard or bottled balsamic reduction (sticky and sweet!).
16. Thermos full of goodness: Toss in leftover soup, chili, baked beans, pasta dishes, stir-fry’s or even oatmeal for a warm lunch addition.
17. Homemade energy bars: Look for recipes with wholesome ingredients such as rolled oats, whole grain flours, bran cereal, dried fruit, ground flax, hemp hearts and chia seeds.
18. Hawaiian pizza bagel: Spread tomato sauce over a whole grain bagel. Top with deli ham and unsweetened pineapple tidbits.
19. Snack attack bento box: In divided containers test out different ideas such as mini muffins, crackers, pretzels, popcorn, grapes, strawberries, cantaloupe cubes, cucumber rounds, red pepper wedges, carrot sticks, cheese wedges, pumpkin seeds, grilled chicken, meatballs, black bean salad, hard cooked eggs, rotini pasta or tortellini with pesto.
20. Handcrafted fruit cocktail: Add a splash of unsweetened juice to containers of fresh fruit salad made with mango, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries or blackberries.
21. Hummus pizza: Take regular pita bread or mini pita pockets and spread with hummus. Top or stuff with grated cheese, spinach, red pepper and cucumber.
22. Homemade snack mix: Air popped popcorn, dried cereal, pumpkin seeds, shelled sunflower seeds, nuts, pretzels, chocolate chips, dried fruit (dates, prunes, apricots, raisins, cranberries, cherries, blueberries and more).
23. Fruit kabobs: Wooden skewers of strawberries, grapes, cantaloupe, honeydew, kiwi and fresh pineapple. Build a caterpillar by using only grapes and making a face. Serve with “yo-nut” dip (yogurt mixed with nut butter).
24. Ants on a raft: Whole grain crackers spread with nut/seed butter or cream cheese and dried raisins/cranberries/blueberries/cherries.
25. Fish on a river: Celery sticks filled with cream cheese and topped with fish crackers.
26. Quinoa yogurt parfait: Cook quinoa according to directions using half milk and half water for liquid. Once cooked stir in nut butter and place in your container. Top with yogurt, fresh fruit (such as berries, pineapple, mango or kiwi) and top with crushed nuts or seeds and drizzle with maple syrup.