Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids at School and Home

Coming up with healthy lunch ideas for my kids has gotten harder and harder. At first glance, it would seem that every healthy option in my grocery store has morphed into sugary imitations of its former self.

For instance, I recently spotted vanilla yogurt ‘infused’ with flavor from a well-known chocolate chip cookie brand, and most dried fruit snacks are now the gummy variety, sporting artificial colors. I’m all for kids having fun with their food, but lunch can include natural food choices that are healthy as well as appealing to kids.

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healthy lunch ideas

How to ensure healthy lunch ideas are kid-approved:

1. Let your kids see where their food comes from. I bring my kids to our local farmers’ market so they can peruse the food stalls with me, talking with the vendors about their farms and their passion for organic farming. Later, when they see carrot sticks in their lunch, they’re more inclined to eat them, remembering how they come from a local field.

2. Give your kids buying power. Few kids want to tag along on grocery shopping trips, but engaging them in the process can help them identify healthy and unhealthy foods. Plus, allowing them to pick out a few snacks guarantees they’ll be enthusiastic about eating them. I like to point out unhealthy options disguised as healthy (as in the above examples) by asking my kids, “Is this a snack or a dessert?” They look at the ingredient list and decide. I also allow them to pick their own healthy snacks within reason. Would they rather have organic fruit leather or fresh bananas? Granola or raisins as yogurt toppers? Or both?

Five healthy lunch ideas that are quick and easy to prepare:

It can be frustrating to make healthy lunches if it involves much additional expense or effort. Sure, you can buy all-natural, organic packaged snacks at your local health food or natural grocery, but there’s no need to spend extra money. The following healthy lunch ideas can be prepared quickly, from ingredients found in any grocery store (no specialty stores required). Either prepare them ahead of time and pack in your child’s lunch box or bento box, or eat at home:

1. Veggie or cold-cut wraps: For whatever reason, sandwiches are boring… unless they’re round. Make easy wraps for your child’s lunch with a whole wheat tortilla, a spread such as hummus or cream cheese, and a selection of veggies or organic cold cuts. We use our food processor to shred cucumbers and carrots, which we sprinkle on top of the hummus-spread tortilla. Simply roll and go!

2. Build your own yogurt bar: No, not a bar like a granola bar, a bar like a salad bar! We start with vanilla Greek yogurt in one compartment of a bento box. Then we add an array of toppings to the other compartments. My kids’ picks: organic granola, raisins, craisins, slivered almonds, and berries. Added all together, the ‘yogurt bar’ is a main course.

3. ‘Everything but the lettuce’ salad: Turns out, it’s the lettuce that makes salad uncool (and messy) to pack in my kids’ school lunches. It takes too long to eat, they complain, and sometimes they lose the fork. Instead, I make a salad that includes everything but the lettuce: diced carrots, cucumbers, raw bell peppers, and perhaps zucchini sticks. Then I add a dressing in a bento box for dipping, and make sure to add a second bento compartment of everyone’s favorite part of the salad: croutons.

4. Homemade ‘lunchables’: My kids love ‘Lunchables’ but they’ve become incredibly unhealthy, filled with processed snacks and excess packaging. Plus, they’re not getting any cheaper. Instead, I pack my kids’ favorite crackers and pair them with a stack of sliced cheeses (I slice mine off a larger block for cost-savings and less packaging) and folded cold-cuts. I add a to-go packet of mustard or mayonnaise picked up from one of our infrequent fast food visits. Paired with a less-sugary yogurt and perhaps a granola bar, a homemade lunchable is a complete meal.

5. ABC muffins: Don’t let the name fool you: ABC muffins are not just a snack, and not just for school. They are great for lunch or breakfast, at home or in the cafeteria. A, B, and C stand for apple, banana, and cashew. To make these quick and easy muffins, combine apple juice, diced apple, mashed banana, and chopped cashews for a naturally-sweetened muffin full of protein. Find the full recipe for ABC muffins in The Compassionate Cook. Best of all, ABC muffins freeze well, so you can make a double batch and pop a frozen muffin in a school lunch in less than 10 seconds! By lunchtime, it will be thawed and ready to eat.

Another tip: Before you travel, be sure to do a little research to learn which foods are native to the region you are visiting. Many foods, including the world’s healthiest foods, are more accessible and available than you might think.

Healthy lunch options don’t have to be time consuming or expensive. With just a little planning, you can pick up every ingredient  you need during your normal grocery shopping trip. And your kids may even surprise you by eating the healthy choices you pack them.