Sunday, August 21, 2011

School Lunch Ideas 101

I'm fairly certain you are all seeing blog posts, online articles, emailed newsletters, Facebook links and tweets with school lunch ideas.  However, if you haven't yet, then read on.  Actually, read on anyway - you might find some ideas here that you haven't seen yet.  I do have three kids so that puts me at a level somewhere between expert and all-knowing.

Let's start with sandwiches.  Sandwiches are a staple in a majority of lunchboxes in schools across our nation.  I have a few ideas for making the sandwich healthier and more exciting for kiddos. 

Bread & bread alternatives
  • Whole wheat sandwich bread (look for no high fructose corn syrup)
  • Whole wheat sandwich wraps or flat breads
  • Flavored (and colorful) tortilla wraps - spinach, sun dried tomato
  • Whole wheat bagels or bagel thins
  • Whole wheat Goldfish brand sandwich breads - bread shaped like a fish, how fun - and no hfcs!
  • Whole wheat pita bread - Trader Joe's makes cute mini pitas
  • Whole wheat english muffins
  • Whole wheat potato rolls - Martin's makes fabulous, little whole wheat potato rolls
  • Whole wheat waffles or mini waffles
  • For kids with gluten sensitivities, there are wraps made with brown rice or teff
  • Lettuce leaves can make a great alternative for sandwich bread
 Sandwich stuffin' fun:
  • Natural, organic peanut butter (no sugar added)
  • Cashew or Almond butter (you can make it yourself in your blender!)
  • Fresh fruit as a jelly/jam alternative - mash the fruit with a fork and spread
  • Sliced strawberries or bananas
  • Cream cheese - mix it with a teaspoon or tablespoon of that mashed fruit, honey or maple syrup
  • Cheese - have you tried Laughing Cow Light spreadable cheese?
  • Hummus or mock tuna salad made with chick peas or mashed white beans
Super snackin' suggestions:
  • Make your own snack mix using organic, whole grain, low sugar cereal, unsalted pretzels, raisins or other no-sugar dried fruit, non-dairy or dark chocolate chips.  You can even dehydrate your own fruits to add into the mix.
  • Fruit kabobs with a honey yogurt dip
  • Veggie kabobs with hummus or salsa
  • Veggie slices (use a mandolin on the crinkle cut setting) with a mix of greek yogurt and fresh salsa for dipping
  • Mini muffins (sneak in canned pumpkin, applesauce, mashed banana, or pureed vegetables like zucchini, carrots or spinach for added fiber and nutrients)
  • Bars - my kids LOVE bars!  I give them Clif Kids' bars in Peanut Butter, S'Mores, Chocolate Chip, Honey Graham or Blueberry
  • Tortilla roll ups - add a nut butter or cream cheese, add sliced banana or strawberries and a drizzle of maple syrup; slice into pinwheels or leave as logs
  • Pasta salad - use mini cheese ravioli or tortellini with diced veggies and chick peas or beans
Other fun ideas to keep the kids happy:
  • Have a lunch theme one day per week.  For example - Lunch At Sea.  Pack the whole wheat Goldfish bread with tuna salad, green lettuce (as seaweed), whole grain gold fish crackers, celery with cream cheese and cucumber triangles (sail boats)
  • Choose a color theme.  Let's use red as our example.  Thinly spread cream cheese, nut butter or a spread of your choice with mashed raspberries and roll up, then slice into pinwheels so the read shows through.  Also offer sliced strawberries, watermelon and red pepper strips.
  • Have a dippin' day.  Provide several colorful sliced veggies with a dip or two (hummus, salsa, bean dip, yogurt based dressing) and a few sliced fruits with a yogurt/honey dip.  Throw in a few unsalted pretzel sticks too.
A few things to make the lunchbox more fun and eco-friendly:
  • Colorful reusable containers.  I have seen them pretty much everywhere this year.  Colorful containers with contrasting color lids - some with locking tabs for spill proof toting.
  • Sandwich and snack sack bags.  You can find these at some stores and online as well.  Some have a zip closure, some snap and some have velcro.  There are multitudes of patterns to choose from, and they're lined on the inside.  All are washable by hand or machine and can greatly reduce the need for plastic sandwich or snack baggies.
  • Aluminum water bottles - what better way to get kids to drink their water then by giving them a water bottle with a fun design; one that can be washed over and over again, and help eliminate plastic water bottles and juice boxes from piling up in the cafeteria trash cans.
  • Don't forget the note!  I always put some kind of note in my daughter's lunch box to let her know I love her and I want her to have a fantastic day.  I think this year I will get a mini dry erase board so we can write back and forth.  I'll write her a note in the morning and she can write one back at lunch time.  That'll save some note paper!
Share with us: What have you been planning or thinking about making for your kids' lunches?  We have a lot of school lunches to pack this year, so let's hear your suggestions! 

Packing lunch & snacks for three kids!

Whole wheat tortilla roll ups

Snacks: raw cashews, raisins, strawberries, grapes (all 3 like don't like the same things)

Our reusable goodies: lunch boxes, plastic containers, sandwich/snack pouches, SIGG aluminum water bottles


  1. Love it Debi!! Great post!


  2. Thanks, my friend. I have a feeling I'll have more forthcoming, but this was a general list of ideas. I have some healthier ideas to post soon! Now, to get my kids to EAT the healthier options!! ;o)

  3. thank you. id love some more ideas too. i have no idea what to include as a "sandwich-y" thing. macy loves turkey and cheese, but besides that i dont know what doesnt need to be heated.


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