Packing a wholesome school lunch is every parent’s objective. A lunch that features nutritious grub will keep your munchkins energized and satisfied all day long — but only if they eat it.
Offering a wide variety of smaller items is often more desirable than simply sending them with a sandwich and an apple and it also increases the odds that at least some, if not all, will be eaten.
Thankfully, there are countless, quick-and-easy ways to fill their lunchboxes with a balanced combination of foods that deliver both protein and complex carbs. Great protein sources include eggs, poultry, beef, seafood, beans, cheese and nuts. Complex carbohydrate options include whole grain bread and tortillas, pasta, quinoa and other cooked grains, fruits and vegetables. Any protein and carb combination works. Here, I’ve put together some winning combinations to spark lunchbox inspiration.
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What to pack for school lunches
Burrito roll ups: Spread low-fat or vegetarian refried beans on a street taco size soft flour tortilla. Add a sprinkling of grated Mexican cheese, shredded lettuce and diced tomato and roll it all up. Serve with a little cup of salsa on the side. Feel free to add additional ingredients to the filling, including bell peppers, onions, sour cream, avocado and olives.
Hummus and veggie cups: Bake filo cups according to the package directions (you can do this the night before). Fill the cups with prepared hummus (any variety) and top with shredded or diced carrots, diced tomatoes and chopped bell peppers.
Deli charcuterie: Pretend you’re hosting a mini cocktail party (without the alcohol) and pack a variety of deli meats and cheeses. Great options include sliced turkey, chicken, ham, salami, pepperoni, Swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, provolone and mozzarella. Bonus points for prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella. Serve with rice cakes, crackers, olives, nuts, cherry tomatoes and pickled peppers. Mix and match these items to suit your needs.
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Ramen on the go: Break up the noodles from a 3-ounce packet of dry ramen and add them to a thermos. Add the seasoning packet. Pour over 1 ½ cups of boiling water. Place the lid on top and pack for school. The noodles will be plenty soft by lunchtime.
Pepperoni pizza: Spoon your favorite pizza sauce or marinara sauce onto street taco size flour tortillas. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese and mini pepperoni slices or regular sliced pepperoni. Pack these items separately so your child can assemble the pizzas at school. Way better than Lunchables!
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Yogurt smoothie. Use your blender or food processor to blend Greek yogurt and your favorite fresh or frozen fruit. Pour the mixture into a thermos or pack in a sealable plastic container. Remember to pack a spoon or straw.
Mini corn dog cups: Whisk together ¼ cup melted butter and ¼ cup granulated sugar in a large bowl. Whisk in ½ cup buttermilk or Greek yogurt and 1 egg. Add ½ cup cornmeal, ½ cup all-purpose flour, ¼ teaspoon baking soda and ¼ teaspoon salt and whisk to combine.
Coat a mini muffin pan with cooking spray. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the batter into each cup of the muffin pan, filling about 16 cups. Cut 2 all-beef hot dogs crosswise into 1-inch pieces and insert the pieces into the cornmeal batter, one piece per cup.
Bake at 375 F for 7 to 10 minutes, until the cornbread is golden brown, and a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Cool the corndog cups in the pan for 5 minutes before packing. Serve with ketchup on the side for dunking.
Note: The corndog cups can be prepared the day before and refrigerated until ready to pack. They’re delicious warm, room temperature and chilled.
Pepperoni and cheese waffle: Prepare your favorite waffle or pancake batter according to the package instructions. Fold in about 2 tablespoons mini pepperoni (or chopped pepperoni), 2 tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese and ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning. Coat your waffle iron with cooking spray and preheat. Pour the batter onto the hot waffle iron and cook until golden brown and cooked through.
Two-ingredient pasta salad: Cook your favorite pasta shape according to the package directions. I like medium shells, spirals, penne and elbows for pasta salad. While the pasta is still warm, toss with your favorite Italian dressing or vinaigrette-style dressing.
Custom tostadas: Top whole grain tostada shells with refried beans, shredded Mexican cheese or cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and canned or thawed frozen corn.
Note: If desired, pack each item separately so your child can assemble the tostadas at school.
The perfect egg: Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Gently lower 1 egg into the water and return to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Reduce the temperature to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer the egg to an ice water bath to cool. Peel the egg and place in a small sealable container (half the egg, if desired). Season the egg with salt and black pepper. You can adjust the quantity of eggs you prepare to suit your needs.