How to Pack Healthy Back to School Lunches
Welcome Fox5 More Viewers!
I was thrilled when I was asked to share my tips for packing back-to-school lunches because I really am passionate about the health and nutrition of our community! Many people feel packing lunches will be a strain on their budget or they don’t have enough time. As a work-at-home mother of three, I’m always looking for more hours in the day. When I began packing lunches for my kids, I felt the same way, but I know I wanted to send them to school with fresh healthy meals daily. If you’re new or just need a refresher course, I’ve put together my top tips for sending your kids back-to-school with healthy lunches.
Pack with a Purpose
That purpose being, sending the kids to school with a fresh, healthy meal, that they will actually eat, while keeping on budget. So the key here is to pack fresh, in-season fruits and veggies. We really want to avoid over-processed, prepackaged foods that contain a lot of undesirable ingredients and preservatives.
Set Yourself Up for Success
I suggest packing the night before. In most cases, this takes the pressure off during the busy morning hours. If you don’t already, I suggest start meal planning dinners. Not only is this great for the family budget, it lets you incorporate leftovers into lunches for little to no extra cost. Get creative with what you’ve got! If you make chicken fajitas one night, pack chicken quesadillas for lunches the next day. For my home, I pick three meals from Sunday-Thursday to reinvent the leftovers into lunches. Another tip: if your budget is a factor, meal plan with what’s on sale that week in the store ads. If I see tri-tip is half off, I buy extra and throw in my freezer. It’s an easy way to stretch your store dollars!
Have Fun & Use Variety
If you search “Bento” on Pinterest, you will be amazed by the creativity level of some moms! I personally don’t have the time to dedicate to creating a Mario Bros theme from rice balls, and that’s totally okay. Kids are easy; all you need to do if give them some fun for lunch! Use pops of color with seasonal fruit and vegetables, which by the way will almost always be the most inexpensive choices in the supermarkets. Cut fun shapes with cookie cutters. Add in whimsical accessories like food picks, fun printables (use these free ones!), and egg molds. You don’t have to be a professional “Bento mom” for your kids to want to eat lunch. These come at very little cost and you get a very high impact.
As far as the containers, I use a variety there too. It keeps the fun going. You don’t have to spend much; the most expensive lunch box I featured was $9.99. You can find items on Amazon.com or your local Target or Walmart. Again, you don’t have to shell out a ton on these. I also like the local Discount Tokyo store for fun Bento items.
What I Featured on Fox5 More Show
For the show, I packed some of my kids’ favorites. My “leftover” lunch featured baked chicken tenders with whole wheat pasta curls (more fun), carrots cut into flower shapes and a side of grapes.
I also showed a roll-up made from flat bread (you could also use whole wheat tortillas or pita), cream cheese, and deli meat. When purchasing deli meat opt for low sodium and no preservatives. This came with non-fat plain yogurt with fresh berries and a side of grapes.
One of my favorite things I presented was the hummus and dipping veggies. I used celery that I portioned myself (money saver!) and red bell pepper.
Another lunch idea I serve here and there is cheese and kosher hot dogs on fun food picks. I know it’s not terribly bad for the kids but they think they are getting a cheat day. I make sure to use real cheese with all-natural ingredients.
You’re really only limited by your imagination.
Below is my go-to list of lunch ideas for beginners. I’m always adding to it and watching it evolve; these are just the basics:
- Baby Bell Cheese Wheels: They keep well because of the wax coating and they are “real” cheese.
- Stuffed Pita Bread: I stuff with PB&J, Horizon Organic Cream Cheese and good quality salami, bananas, honey and nuts, salad greens with a side of Balsamic Vinaigrette.
- Homemade Zucchini or Banana Bread
- Homemade Muffins: I like Gluten Free Banana Muffins or any kind you can bake from home (ditch the box mixes that have a host of nasty ingredients; this is what you’re trying to avoid).
- Rice Crackers: Almond Breeze has a good selection of GF crackers.
- Nuts: Nuts are great (if your child is not allergic).
- Hard Boiled Egg: I boil a few farm fresh eggs a week for Bentos or after school snacks.
- Banana Hot Dogs: Created by Recess CEO, Toni Spilsbury, it’s a whole grain hot dog bun with PB&J then stuffed with a whole banana and topped with raw local honey (great for seasonal allergies) and shelled sunflower seeds.
- Fruits & Veggies: Organic & seasonal is what I use to avoid GMO’s and pesticide sprays: melon balls , cuties (mini tangerines), carrots, celery, cucumbers, peas, apples (dip in pineapple juice to keep fresh), blueberries, grapes, orange slices, pineapple or strawberries. I also cut bananas in half and leave the peel on. The list is endless.
- Rice: I make rice balls with a side of soy sauce. The days I do rice balls it is a leftover and I also include the chicken or meatballs I made with it.
- Turkey Meatballs: I also make eggplant meatballs and add them to lunches.
- Popcorn: I buy in bulk from WinCo Foods and then pop myself and add toppings such as lime and sea salt.
- Rice Noodles: There are a lot of unhealthy noodles out there, however, rice noodles seem to be the best choice I’ve come across.
- Hot Dogs: Hebrew National brand for instance.
- Hummus & Pita Chips: I make my own hummus or buy from my local farmers market.
- Baked Potato: My kids like salt & pepper and maybe some cheese on theirs, so this is an option.
- Tortillas Sands: I will make homemade tortillas and make sandwiches with them. PB&J and cream cheese with salami are the top runners around here.
- Quesadillas: I get asked for these every so often.
- Tortellini Noodles: These are good finer foods; pack a side of red sauce. I make all my sauces fresh so I use this as a leftover Bento idea.
- Homemade Pizza: I make flatbread pizza or homemade “chicken wing” pizza. Margherita pizza is also a big hit.
- Fried Rice: Spanish rice works also.
- Sausage: Link sausage (or sliced) works great with cheese and rice.
- Stuffed Tomato: I like to stuff large grilled tomatoes with tuna salad.
Last but not least is my all-time favorite after-school snack recipe! I make these, one for each school day, all at once at the beginning of the week. My kids drop their backpacks, grab a mason jelly jar and a pre-portioned healthy snack from my “snack drawer” and we’re off to baseball practice, dance class, or a blogger event I might have.
Mason Jar Fruit & Yogurt Parfaits
- 8-12 oz mason jar
- 1/2 cup of plain, non-fat yogurt (preferably organic; Vons has a great one)
- 1 Handful Fresh, In-season Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.)
- 1 Handful Granola (I like Bare Naked)
- 1 Packet of All-Natural Organic Stevia Sweetener (optional)
Add your yogurt to the bottom of your mason jar. Then layer on your fresh berries. Top with granola and sweetener (optional). Top with your lid and refrigerate.
This is a super easy, super yummy after-school snack kids go bananas over. I set a spot aside in my fridge, most often a drawer, and fill with cut veggies and fruits in baggies. My kids will take a baggie and parfait as soon as they make it in the door! I like the yogurts for breakfast and make them for myself for the uber busy morning time.
Having spent the past two years employed with two large national deal websites, Melly Allen knows how to save families’ time and money on much needed necessities. In addition to saving men and women money nationally, Melly is also the creator of Couponers of Las Vegas, a family-friendly local couponing community on Facebook. You can request to join for more deals and saving tips!
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