“Why are the hot lunch foods always so full of garbage,” Erica says as she looks at the hot lunch calendar and shakes her head. Unfortunately, when it comes to a healthy school lunch the only option is a healthy lunch from home- unless you are at one of those schools that are doing Farm-to-Table but unfortunately most of America is stuck in junk lunch land. For most of us sending our kids with a healthy lunch is how you get an “A” for school lunch and not just a “C” for “Chemical-laden Creation.” With these healthy lunch ideas, you can do it even when time is tight, and you have picky eaters.
A real lunch doesn’t mean a Lunchable from the grocery store. Between hot lunches and Lunchables you will find lots of undesirable ingredients including:
- refined flours
- refined sugars
- artificial flavors
- artificial colors
- high fructose corn syrup
- soy lecithin
- hydrogenated oils
- mechanically separated meats
Uh.. what’s mechanically separated meat? It’s not good table talk. Let’s talk about that another day. Really, none of those are good table talk so let’s keep them off our kids’ lunch tables.
We have some tips to help you get started in making sure your kids are getting a healthy lunch. Some of our tips and suggestions might not be traditional but you aren’t the traditional parent, are you? Who wants to be traditional in a country where our children have high obesity rates and are predicted to have a shorter life span than their parents?
No thanks! Let’s set our kids up for health and get an “A” in packing a school lunch! Here are 7 easy healthy lunch ideas to make packing simple.
1. Empower your Kids
Offer healthy choices and let your children pack their lunch. This is a great way to make it easier for you and having your kids be a part of the process empowers them. They have choices plus they are learning how to make the right choices later on. That’s what being a parent is about – teaching them to be adults who make good choices.
2. Use this FREE, Printable List
Below is a list of healthy suggestions you can use. Add your own based on your child’s allergies and tastes. Our suggestions will include lots of whole, real foods loaded with nutrients to keep your family healthy.
Print the list off and post on your refrigerator or in your pantry to make it easy for your kids to know what the healthy choices are. This makes it easy for you, or your kids, to make the healthy choices when it’s time to pack the lunch.
3. Important to Have Healthy Protein and Healthy Fats
Include healthy proteins and healthy fats to help your children get through the day and learn lots of new things. Healthy protein choices are not deli meats with lots of additives or meats raised with antibiotics and hormones. Look for grass fed, organic, free range, wild caught for the appropriate meat choices. Good choices are turkey, chicken, beef, raw seeds, salmon, beans, lentils, eggs and nuts.
Healthy fat choices are nuts, seeds, olives, cheese (from grass fed, organic milk), raw cacao butter and eggs. Healthy oils used in salad dressings are also a good way to include healthy fats.
4. Keep the Lunch Box Colorful
Colorful fruits and veggies have tons of nutrients, minerals and antioxidants which are perfect for a healthy diet. Keep the variety up by having lots of different fruits and vegetables on hand. It might be easy for your kids to reach for the same options every time so make it a game to mix it up. Tell them to look for a certain color or a vegetable that starts with the first letter of their name. Change it up by suggesting they look for a food that matches their shirt or starts with the same letter as a cartoon character’s first name.
5. Include Healthy Treats
You can’t be there to give them support to make a good choice. So, make their treat a healthy one like this cookie dough hummus. Make it fun. They don’t even have to know it’s healthy!
6. Prepare and Portion
Preparation is key to making those mornings go smoother. Not everyone was made for mornings and anything we can do to make it less hectic is welcome. Prepare in advance by cutting up fruits and veggies, portioning out snacks and making main dishes. Freeze pre-portioned soups so they can be heated up in the morning and thrown in the thermos easily. A little preparation will make your morning easier and your kids healthier!
7. Mix It Up and Keep It Fun
If you stick to the same foods day after day your kids are going to get bored. Don’t get in a rut of eating the same things. Mix it up! Find different foods to add to the list- that’s why it’s customizable. Encourage your kids to try one new food a week to get them in the habit of trying new things and experimenting.
Use different ways of cutting and packaging the foods to keep them fun. A crinkle cutter and different cookie cutters can change the look of your foods. Have you seen these fun egg molds? If you keep up the variety, your kids will be excited for their lunch and you’ll be excited its healthy!
Benefits of an “A” for School Lunch
There are short term benefits of packing a healthy lunch which include improved mood, great energy, fewer headaches and positivity. These are all important for your kids to keep up the grades and energy for after school activities. The long-term impacts of getting all the sugars, refined flours and additives out of your kids’ food are reduced inflammation, lower obesity rates and better health. Choosing the health route to packing a school lunch seems like an easy choice and it just got easier with these ideas. You don’t need to shake your head at the school lunch calendar now that you have these easy ideas and your printable list.
**Bonus** Healthy Lunch Ideas: Recipes for snacks and lunch:
- Cookie Dough Hummus Recipe This cookie dough hummus recipe is perfect for school lunch and has healthy chickpeas to replace the flour and egg you won’t miss!
- Ranch Dressing They will be asking for more veggies with this creamy Ranch Dressing Recipe. It is healthy, egg free, dairy free and gluten free. Put it on salads or use less milk, or milk alternative, for a dip. Try it with organic, heirloom carrots and and heirloom organic tomatoes.
- Guacamole There are lots of great healthy fats in avocados and they are a nutritional powerhouse full of vitamins and minerals. Make sure to put in an airtight container to keep it fresh until lunchtime.
- Sweet Potato Chips Kids love this sweet potato chips recipe. This healthy snack will add a happy crunch to their lunch box when you know its made with vitamin-rich sweet potatoes and coconut oil.
- Glazed Nuts Another sweet treat that they won’t know is healthy. We like pecans, cashews and almonds!
- Quinoa Non-pasta Salad Quinoa is pretty amazing and makes the Quinoa Non-Pasta Salad Recipe pretty great. Quinoa is gluten free while being full of protein, iron, nutrients and fiber!
- Honey Apple Chicken Salad This delicious Honey Apple Chicken Salad recipe is great for healthy lunches on a gluten free wrap or bread. It’s also a great snack on celery or gluten free crackers.
- Butternut Squash Soup A thermos adds so many options to the lunch menu. All your favorite soups and creamy dishes make a great option. This Butternut Squash Soup recipe is a good one.