Going back to school is a life event that brings a mixture of emotions for parents: relief that the erratic summer schedule is done, sadness at seeing their little ones start school for the first time or enter a new grade level, or pride in seeing their student reach milestones like high school or their first year of college.
My Facebook feed gets filled with school registration photos at this time of year, along with posts from parents stating how proud they are for beating the store rush and buying all of their school supplies a month ago. I was one of them, too. I also stocked up on healthy food items in preparation for packing my daughter’s lunch.
As you’re planning your student’s lunches, consider what would make for nutritious choices that she or he could consume in about 20 minutes that would also keep them full for a while. Below are my go-to choices for my daughter’s lunches this school year:
- Nuts. Grocery stores sell a variety of individual packets of assorted nuts. You can also save money by simply buying nuts in bulk and packing them in snack-size sandwich bags or little plastic containers.
- Trail mix. These vary in their ingredients, so try to choose ones that have more dried fruit, oats and nuts instead of chocolate. You can make your own for a fraction of the cost of store-bought mixes.
- Chocolate nut spread and breadsticks. This is considered a treat in our household and goes in her lunch only once in a while. Stores sell individually packed chocolate nut spreads that come with a handful of bread sticks for dipping.
- Oat bars and other granola bars. Make sure you are not choosing ones that are frosted or covered with chocolate, as these are more of a dessert than a healthy treat. Better yet, make your own!
- Cheese. Low-fat cheese sticks or small round cheeses make a refreshing lunchbox addition.
- Little boxes of raisins. A sweet treat, these are the perfect size for little fingers.
- Oat-based biscuits or cookies. These are another sweet treat that appear in my daughter’s lunchbox once in a while.
- Mini bagels. These are the perfect size for little kids. We often make little sandwiches with them—my daughter’s favorite is a simple cream cheese sandwich.
- Lefse. Maybe it’s because of the brief time we lived in a town of Norwegian descent; my daughter loves lefse, a potato-based flat bread. We like to make lefse roll-ups with cream cheese and homemade jam.
- Tortillas. Choose corn or whole wheat tortillas to make different kinds of wraps.
- Rice cakes. My daughter loves these with cream cheese, peanut butter or chocolate nut spread. Check the label; low-salt rice cakes are best.
My daughter’s lunch always includes a portion of vegetables such as baby carrots, green beans, and cucumbers with her favorite dressing or soybeans. Her lunch also always includes a fruit, her favorite being a green apple—stores now carry little apples, which are perfect for little hands. She also enjoys fresh tangerines or the tangerine slices sold packaged in their own juice. Although she likes bananas, these are hard to pack without bruising.
Homemade lunches don’t have to be cold; sometimes my daughter takes a thermos with homemade chicken soup or something else leftover from dinner. A hot lunch from home and a small carton of milk makes for a great nutritious lunch!
What are your ideas for healthy school lunches? Share them in the comments section, and don’t forget that sometimes the best part of a homemade lunch is a handwritten note from the one who packed it!