My Healthy Lunch Formula + 10 Lunch Ideas

August 13, 2015

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As school begins, lots of us are adding a new task to our morning checklist – packing healthy lunches (that our children will actually eat). I’m gearing up for the lunch-packing marathon in my own house, so I thought I’d dig back into my bag of tricks from my years at Nourish to share some ideas that can save you precious time and energy as you create healthy school lunches everyone will love. Pack one for yourself while you’re at it – sometimes we feed our children better than we feed ourselves!

healthy lunch ideas

In terms of equipment, you will want to have the following for each child:

  • A lunchbox
  • A thermos
  • A sectioned container like a Bento box or a set of small lidded containers
  • A reusable water bottle

Confession: I’m not so into the “food as art” movement because I just don’t have time for it, but if you want to add a little flair to your lunches, a set of cookie cutters in cute shapes seems to be the most important tool. Those cutters are what enable you to make flower shaped sandwiches, heart shaped cheese cutouts and the like. I mean how cute is THIS?

bento box art

Most importantly, you’ll want to follow this winning lunch formula:

High fiber carbohydrate + Lean protein + Vegetable and/or Fruit 

Why? Carbs provide energy and those with lots of fiber keep us full the longest. Read labels on bread, crackers, pasta, noodles, bagels, etc. to maximize the grams of fiber. Protein is for muscle building and satiety – good sources are chicken, turkey, ham, beans, hard boiled eggs, and beans. Vegetables and fruits add a bevy of important nutrients. Mix up your choices so the littles don’t get bored – try raw, cooked, and a rainbow of colors.

Here are some ideas that fit the formula:

1) Whole wheat noodles or pasta drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan cheese, edamame in the pods, apple slices

2) Whole wheat tortilla with melted cheese rolled up and cut, side of salsa for dipping, jicama or carrot sticks, banana

3) Vanilla Greek yogurt with sides of granola, nuts (if allowed), and berries, celery sticks

4) Whole wheat crackers with turkey and cheese, mango slices, salad greens with sliced veggies

5) Whole wheat mini bagel(s) with cream cheese, mixture of nuts and dried fruit, cucumber slices with cherry tomatoes

6) Chicken noodle soup (e.g. Healthy Choice) in a thermos, sugar snap peas, strawberries, Greek yogurt

7) Grilled chicken, chilled and sliced tossed with snap peas and sliced red peppers in a lemon juice and olive oil dressing, orange sections, whole wheat pita triangles

8) Fresh fruit salad (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, grapes, strawberries, pineapple), Cottage cheese or yogurt, graham crackers (hard to find high fiber – it’s not important to be perfect!)

9) Quinoa or whole wheat pasta or brown rice with cooked veggies and shredded cheese (keep warm in a thermos), a tangerine “cutie”, fresh blueberries and raspberries

10) Leftovers! If you’ve served a healthy dinner, let it do double duty. Heat up a portion of leftovers and put it in a thermos/hot food container then add a fruit or vegetable

As for beverages, I send a reusable water bottle every single day – for variety you can add a splash of juice or use sparkling water. Horizon makes shelf-stable organic milk in single serve containers that pack well and an Honest Tea juice bag makes a good special occasion choice.

By the way, I almost always add a small treat, too! A Hershey’s kiss, one or two Girl Scout Thin Mints, a Dove wrapped chocolate, or a 1″ square brownie. Nothing big and heavy, just a little bit of something sweet to end their meal.

Here’s to raising the next generation of healthy eaters and to making lunch something they can look forward to!

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