As the first day of school approaches, I am psychologically preparing myself for the drama of feeding my eldest child. She is an incredibly picky eater and coming up with good school lunches to pack for her is always a challenge. I want her to eat healthy, balanced meals. She wants chicken nuggets (and not the homemade ones I prepare with organic chicken and a little zucchini blended in), macaroni and cheese (but none of the dozens of recipes I have tried to replicate the Kraft experience), and makhani chicken, an Indian/Pakistani dish made with heavy cream and butter (and not the reduced calorie version I have tried to replicate.)
My other children love a variety of healthy foods, but packing for them is still a challenge: I need five lunch ideas a week for each one of them. I know I’m not alone in facing this daunting task, so I’d like to share my first-week-of-school plan with all of you. (And I hope you’ll share your ideas too!)
- Buffalo Chicken Wraps. Fill a tortilla (here’s a recipe to make them homemade) with shredded chicken, lettuce, buffalo sauce and ranch dressing (homemade recipe is right here.)
- Rice and Beans. Season black beans with cumin, garlic, and salt. Mix with brown rice and pack in a thermos for a hearty warm lunch.
- Honey-Lime Chicken Enchiladas. Cook shredded chicken with 1 teaspoon of cumin, a pinch of salt, and 1 T of honey. Spread on a tortilla with salsa verde and cheese and roll.
- Salmon Salad Sandwich. My one daughter loves tuna, but I don’t like the mercury content, so I make her salmon salad sandwiches instead. I suggest packing the salad in a container and the bread or wrap separately to avoid sogginess.
- Falafel. These chickpea patties are high in protein and easy to make. In a food processor, mix 4 cups (or 2 cans) of chickpeas, 4 garlic cloves, 2 t. cumin, 1 t. turmeric, 1 t salt, ½ cup minced onion, ¼ cup minced parsley, ¼ C water, 1 T lemon juice and 1/3 C flour of your choice. Process until smooth, form into patties, and pan fry until crispy. You can bake them too. Serve on a pita with yogurt and tahini.
- Quinoa. Satisfy carb cravings without the carbs! Mix cooked quinoa with orange slices, almonds, and dried cranberries for a sweet, high-protein lunch.
Sides that won’t make you cringe
- Baked zucchini chips. My air fryer is my best friend for kid-friendly crispy things. Whatever I put in there comes out delicious in 15 minutes. My current favorite is zucchini chips. I toss them in parmesan, salt, and olive oil. If you don’t have an air fryer, bake at 450 for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Kale chips. You don’t think your child will eat a whole head of kale until you try these.
- Baked root vegetable chips. Thinly slice sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, or any other root vegetables your kids like. Toss with olive oil and salt and bake, in a single layer, at 400 for 20 minutes or until crispy.
- Fruit skewers. Slide a variety of fruit chunks onto skewers for a fun and delicious presentation.
- Organic applesauce. There are plenty of recipes for homemade applesauce out there, but it’s also an easy item to find at the store. I like organic, unsweetened applesauce in glass jars that I can portion into smaller containers for school.
- Homemade tortilla crisps. Take some of your homemade or store-bought tortillas and slice them into wedges. Brush with olive oil and bake at 350 for 12 to 15 minutes.
Putting it all together
Once you have your menu, what are you going to put it all in? There are now many alternatives to BPA-laden plastics, but they may still pose some health risks. I’m a fan of reusing glass jars to send food to school. These are toxin free and don’t cost anything. Mason jars are another good alternative. But if you’re packing for smaller kids, you may want to avoid the dangers of broken glass. I use Lunchbots stainless steel containers for my littlest one. For sandwiches, try waxed paper bags or fabric wraps. Try this site to get an idea of the many non-plastic options out there.
If you try some of these recipes, let me know what you think. And if you have favorite school lunches that you pack for your kids, please share!