Most school-provided lunches are anything but healthy. Learn how to fuel those bellies and brains with these healthy school lunch ideas.
Guest post by Carrie Rashid of Witchy Kitchen
As mother, main food gatherer and cook of our home, I have a lot of say in what our daughter Zoeya eats. Providing good food for her is both a privilege and a responsibility. While I try to make our home a haven of veggies, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins, the outside world holds fast food chicken nuggets with Daddy, the candy land that is Grammy’s house, and something that has eluded me until now: school lunch.
Going back to work last fall was difficult, and knowing that our two-year-old was eating questionable school lunch didn’t make it any easier. I am thrilled that a few weeks ago, now that she’s almost three, I’ve been able to enroll her in a crunchy little school where she does lots of art projects and plays outside, and takes her own healthy school lunch. Their values about food are right in line with ours at home.
Their rules are: all food brought should be healthy food, no sweets. She gets goodies at home of course, but as an occasional treat, not as an end to every meal. This makes a lot of sense for school lunch because it’s not her teacher’s job to argue and bargain and make sure she eats something of substance along with the sugary crap. Also, they discourage single-serving packaged food because of the trash it creates, so I pack Zoeya’s healthy school lunch in reusable containers in her little doggie lunch bag, with her fork, spoon, and cloth napkin.
The Picky Challenge
So wonderful, lunch is healthy and green. There is one more challenge in packing for a toddler though, and that’s pickiness. I’ll admit to being one of those people who, before I had kids, adamantly did not believe in “kid food.” Nothing annoyed me more than those parents who fixed one meal for themselves and then made frozen chicken nuggets for the kids.
Now that I’m a mom, although I still don’t believe in “kid food,” my opinion has softened. Her little tastebuds are just more sensitive than ours. So although I absolutely don’t make her separate dinners and still introduce her to a variety of foods, I respect that she likes her meat unspiced, her salad undressed, her foods untouching. This is particularly important for lunches, where she’s on her own without her parents hovering over her, gently urging her to try the chicken curry.
Healthy Lunch Ideas
Here are some healthy and simple foods that have worked for us when preparing a healthy school lunch:
- Leftover chicken cut into pieces
- Tuna or salmon salad sandwiches on whole wheat
- Rice and lentils. I made a vat of this at least once a week.
- Roasted veggies (salt, pepper, olive oil) from the night before – broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, green beans, etc. She hates onions, squash, and other similarly textured vegetables, so while I will serve them at dinner I’m not going to waste them in her lunch box.
- Hummus with cucumber and cherry tomatoes. Dip in general she loves.
- Boiled egg, either cut up plain or mixed with mayo/pickle and made into an egg salad sandwich. (Sidenote: grate some lemon zest into your next egg salad, you will never go back).
- Fruit fruit fruit. Watermelon, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, banana, oranges, she has never met a fruit she didn’t like.
- Plain yogurt. We have never bought flavored yogurt, she laps it up just plain. Sometimes I stir in a little honey and top it with fresh fruit.
My rules of thumb are to keep it healthy, keep it balanced, keep it simple, and most of all to remember that packing a healthy school lunch that my daughter will enjoy is a way of showing her love. This is by no means a comprehensive list, just some things that have worked for us. I’d love to hear what’s worked for others for more lunch box ideas.
What are your favorite options when packing a healthy school lunch?
Carrie Rashid is a web designer, wife, and mom to an almost three year old little girl. She is passionate about creating a happy home for her family, and loves experiencing culture through language, music, dancing, and especially food. She posts recipes and other tasty tidbits at Witchy Kitchen.