In my previous post, I shared some ideas about making the process of preparing lunch a little easier. Today, I’m back with fifteen reasonably healthful and inexpensive menu suggestions, seven of which require little or no cooking.
The definition of a ‘healthful lunch’ varies between individuals and cultures. We are neither a vegan nor vegetarian family, and while I do cook ethnic food at home, those dishes rarely make an appearance in the next day’s lunch kit. Even if the following menu suggestions veer from your family’s way of eating, I hope that you will find that my approach to lunches can be easily applied to the foods your children already enjoy.
When planning for and packing lunches, my goal is to make them as healthful and colorful as I can, including a protein source, complex carbohydrates, and a minimum of one fruit and one vegetable, with everything as fresh or freshly prepared as possible. I pay attention to sodium content in foods that I didn’t make from scratch. I avoid high fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring altogether by choice, as well as skipping anything with chocolate or caffeine per our school’s dietary guidelines. I choose packaged foods made with as few ingredients as possible. I watch out for added sugar when choosing items like dried fruit at the grocery store. All of this is not to say that I meet my goals with each and every lunch that I pack, either for my kid or myself, but I do keep these guidelines in mind and know that I’m on target the majority of the time.
15 Lunchbox Menus
- ‡All Green: Spinach pasta, English peas, simple salad, sliced kiwi and green grapes
- Breakfast for Lunch: Tiny pancakes with a small container of maple syrup, sausage/bacon/etc., hard-boiled eggs, berries, granola with a side of plain yogurt
- Comfort Food: Mac and cheese, English peas, baked fish or chicken, baked sweet potato or baked sweet potato fries
- †Crunchy Meets Creamy: Raw nuts, pretzels, peaches, cottage cheese, orange slices, cream cheese and jelly sandwich
- †Fruit and Cheese Tray: Raw nuts (if allowed at school), cheeses, toasted bread or crackers, fruit, spreads (jam, jelly, preserves)
- Hors d’Oeuvres: Smoked salmon and cream cheese on Melba toast or crackers; mini Quiche; olives, pickles, or pickled veggies; matchstick carrots and a yogurt-based dip like tzatziki; grapes, slices of apple, or other complementary fresh fruit
- Italianish: Pizza, Parmesan pasta (tricolor pasta tossed with a little Parmesan and butter or olive oil), simple salad (salad greens, croutons, dressing in a separate lidded cup); berries or other fresh fruit
- †Orangey: Cheese slices with crackers, cantaloupe, baby carrots or carrot slices, orange slices, dried papaya spears or dried mango
- ‡Summery: Hot dog in a bun, watermelon, corn on the cob, simple salad, dried fruit mixed with pretzels
- ‡Sunset Lunch: Tortellini; pineapple, peach, and/or orange slices; raspberries, strawberries, and/or cherries
- Sweet and Savory: Handheld pot pie, pretzels, mixed dried fruit, Mexican rice, applesauce
- Tapas-esque: Meatballs with sauce; olives, pickles, and/or pickled vegetables; vegetable empanadas; cottage fries
- Tex-Mex: Quesadilla, rice, beans, and berries
- †The Easy Standby: Cream cheese and jelly sandwich, banana, pineapple, and berries
- Wheels: Grilled cheese sandwiches cut into round shapes with a biscuit cutter; slices of carrots, cucumbers, and radishes; corn on the cob cut into 2” round sections (thin enough for a child to get their thumb and forefinger around the kernels to the center of the cob); pickles or sliced olives
† May require cutting and washing, but requires no cooking
‡ Requires boiling water to cook or heat an item but no further cooking
There are some great lunch items that aren’t listed here because I wanted to include only foods that I could say have been repeatedly well-received by my test subject. You can’t attend a school potluck around here without tripping over hummus, tabouli, and pitas, and while I know several kids who love those things for lunch, my kid is not one of them (yet). I also didn’t mention drinks because we don’t send anything but water to school with our son. His school does not have a cafeteria, so other drinks are not available. While his lack of at-school access to chocolate milk may inspire some angsty haikus in a couple of years, so far he doesn’t seem any worse for the wear.