6 Good School Lunches to Pack for Your Kids

6 Good School Lunches to Pack for SchoolAs 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!)

Entrée Ideas

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

  1. 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.
  2. Kale chips. You don’t think your child will eat a whole head of kale until you try these.
  3. 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.
  4. Fruit skewers. Slide a variety of fruit chunks onto skewers for a fun and delicious presentation.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!

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Carrie Adkins-Ali

Carrie Adkins-Ali is executive editor of the monthly publication Health News, produced by Belvoir Media Group with Duke Health. She's also a contributor to University Health News and former Daily … Read More

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  • I understand “mother love” and making children their favorite food on occasion, but when did their “favorite food” become a regulation? When I was growing up, you ate what was put in front of you and said “thank you” to the cook. If you didn’t like it, you went to bed hungry. I really don’t understand catering to everyone’s different whims at mealtime. I grew up in a family of ten people and we all took turns cooking and cleaning at meal times, from when we were very young. I can’t imagine in my wildest dreams refusing to eat something and expecting my own mother to cook something special. That just “weren’t happening.”

  • You poor woman and your poor family. Subjecting yourself and your kids to so much stress over food.

    All the kids will remember of you during their childhood is all the stress over food.

    Comments such as mercury in tuna so use salmon instead .. is crazy and over the top. Its lunch!. A small meal. At least its fish and not a bag of crisps.

    Instead of trying to win every battle, win the war. They have good stuff at home breakfast and dinner, plus the weekend ends…and they are getting fish for lunch some days.

    Ever see the TV program where the dogs are OK and Cesar Millan the dog trainer spends his time re-educating the owners.

    Do you really want to end up with food neurotic and paranoid off-spring?

    The path to hell is paved with best intentions. Relax a little , and enjoy the journey and you won’t need to make cries for help on random websites.

  • Hello Catherine Todd.

    Seems were typing our replies at excactly the same time, with exactly the same concerns for this well intentioned but mis- guided lady. I agree with you obviously.

    People tell me, yes but things are doifferent now than when we grew up. This is absolutely rubbish.
    We had DDT in everything, sprayed it around the house along with dozens of other insecticides, food was covered in Lindane – I worked in a ;lab in the 70’s and even breast milk contained Lindane.

    My kids are 80’s kids. Yhey loved their childhood..stress free but disciplined, they were taught right from wrong, and that includes looking after yourself, eat the right things. Sometimes their bodies craved the weirdest things in huge excess, but they are growing up.

    My point – its better they know something, and then left to make choices. I was told 40 years ago by an old man a quote from his mother (probably in the 1940’s )- “kids will throw what you teach them in your face but when they leave home, they take it with them.

    I hope our good intentions are accepted.

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