8 Easy Lunch Ideas Nutritionists Pack for Their Own Kids
Already out of ideas for packing in your kids' lunchboxes? Check out these super healthy kid lunches to inspire you.
Nutritionist Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, created two packing stations for her easy lunch ideas: In the fridge, there's a bin full of healthy choices like fruit and veggies—Clementines, apples, and carrot sticks, along with cheese sticks and yogurt. (If you're looking for healthy snack ideas for your kids, here are 15.) And in the nonperishable bin, she stocks things like energy bars, nuts, seeds, jerky, and trail mix. By creating packing stations with healthy foods, not only is her job easier, she can easily involve the kids in making healthy decisions and lunch prep. "My kids can (and do) choose other things to pack, but these are good starting points," she says. "They're also a way for me to make packing healthy choices a little bit easier."
Yogurt and granola parfait
Not all kids love sandwiches, and if yours don't, give one of these sandwich alternatives a try. And lunch doesn't have to be savory, by the way: Nutritionist Sarah Remmer makes a sweet and healthy parfait the main course of a cool breakfast-for-lunch meal. "I always make sure to include at least five items in my kids' lunches, for balance and variety—kids tend to eat more when there's more to choose from, and it means that there's a nice balance of nutrients too!" Here's what she packs: Build-your-own Greek yogurt parfait (Greek yogurt, whole grain granola, sunflower or pumpkin seeds and berries), with an organic fruit and veggie pouch and a homemade granola bar.
Tortellini lunchbox salad
Teach your kids to be adventurous with their meals for some easy lunch ideas: Here's some global inspiration for your kids' lunch box. And consider a little Italian sojourn: "Why pack a sandwich when you can pack pasta salad instead?" suggests Liz Weiss, nutritionist, and host of Liz's Healthy Table podcast and blog. "Cute tortellini get tossed with edamame, almonds, dried cranberries, and Italian salad dressing. Colorful, crunchy, and fun to eat."
Everybody loves a great superfood smoothie recipe—here are 13—and kids are no exception. "I like to pack smoothies once a week or so," says Maggie Savage, nutritionist and blogger at She Let Them Eat Cake. "I make them in the morning and send them in a Thermos with a stainless steel straw in their lunch bags. This way I know my kids are getting good protein and fiber during the school day, essential nutrients for learning. Skip the juice boxes as there's no nutritional value in juice boxes. Sugars in juice boxes actually take nutrients from our kids and do not provide the kind of hydration they need." Her go-to is a kid-friendly green smoothie with green grapes, mango, and avocado.
Apples and school go together like America and baseball—but if you're puzzled by the link between apples and teachers, here's an explanation. Apples are also a healthy addition to chicken salad: "Add a fun twist by tossing crunchy apples and celery into the chicken mixture," Weiss suggests. "Make it more kid friendly by dicing each into tiny bites. Use light mayonnaise to bring it all together. And instead of a sandwich, place chicken salad in a fun container with dippers like whole grain crackers and carrot sticks."
Have a kid who likes to graze? Skip the big dish and give your kid several different items to snack on. (This is a great way to use up little bits of leftovers that can't make a whole meal.) Sarah Remmer suggests whole grain crackers with cheddar cheese cubes, length-wise sliced grapes and raspberries, snap peas with dip, roasted chickpeas, and protein/energy balls.
A healthier sweet treat
A great lunch can be undone by an overly sweet desert—make sure you avoid these lunchbox mistakes. Maggie Savage makes the treats she gives her kids healthy—like vegan chocolate cookies. "I try to bake a batch of yummy but nutritious cookies or muffins for my kids once a week so I can send them in their lunchboxes," she says. "I freeze leftovers so I can pop them in each morning and they're thawed by lunch. I add things like chia seeds, flax seeds, and use unrefined sugars to sweeten. My kids are happy and so am I."
A sandwich tweak
You don't have to stick with plain old whole wheat bread. Consider wheat wraps, whole-grain waffles, or multigrain crackers instead. Sarah Remmer makes a lunch with a sandwich of seed butter and banana slices on whole grain waffles, then pairs it with veggie soup, melon cubes, and cottage cheese or yogurt. Get more ideas to kick your sandwich game up a notch.