Back-to-school means back-to-school meals and snacks. However, not just any food should land in your kid's lunchbox...
Nutrient-dense foods can help shape any kids' academic years and nourish growing bodies. But nutritious does not have to mean boring!
Learn how to make a balanced back-to-school meal and get inspired with healthy back-to-school lunch and snack ideas. They are delicious for kids' taste buds and nutritious for your peace of mind!
How to Build a Healthy School Lunch
A healthy school lunch ideally contains protein, color, complex carbs, and healthy fat. The balance of components nourishes growing bodies, provides sustainable energy throughout the school day, and helps to keep hunger at bay.
Healthy school lunch ideas include:
• Tuna salad, bell peppers, and olives stuffed into a whole-grain pita
• Chickpea pasta layered with chicken, cherry tomatoes, and carrots and dressed with pesto
• Whole grain crackers accompanied with hummus, low-fat cheese, turkey pepperoni, broccoli, and cauliflower
• A hard-boiled egg or two paired with plain yogurt topped with mixed berries, low-fat granola, and slivered almonds
But that's not all... Use these additional healthy back-to-school lunch ideas (and snacks) to keep variety throughout the school week and year!
Healthy Back-to-School Lunch Ideas
Prepare and pack these healthy back-to-school lunches packed with protein, fiber, and other nutrients kids need to grow and learn their best.
Turkey & Cheese Pinwheels
Pinwheels are perfect to pack in a lunch box, as they are convenient and mess-free. To prepare, layer about 4 turkey slices onto a whole grain tortilla. Add favorite cheese, including part-skim cheddar or mozzarella, and veggies. Roll the tortilla tightly and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Another beauty of pinwheels is they are adaptable to personal preferences. Like ham over turkey? Simply swap it out! Really, the simple steps of pinwheels include layering with a protein source, dressing with veggies, and flavoring with dressing and sauces per liking.
Pizza Pita Pockets
Pizza for a healthy school lunch idea? What kid, or adult for that matter, could resist? Shake up lunchtime with a pizza pita pocket!
Simply slice a pita into two halves then stuff with mozzarella cheese and favorite pizza toppings. This may include pepperoni slices, bell peppers, and mushrooms. Sprinkle dried oregano and crushed red pepper as well. Pack with 1/4 cup of marinara sauce to dip.
To balance the lunch, pack with broccoli florets or a small side salad.
Kids will have fun showing these sushi rolls off in the cafeteria! They are also versatile to take on favorite sushi flavors, including this California roll inspiration.
• 1 cucumber
• 3 ounces crabmeat, real or imitation
• 1/4 cup of sushi rice, cooked
• 1/4 avocado, sliced
• 1/4 red pepper, sliced
1. Cut cucumber in half. Using a spoon, scrape out the seeds of each half so it forms a hollow tube.
2. Spoon in shrimp, sushi rice, avocado, and red pepper into each cucumber half until full.
3. Cut the filled cucumber into thick pieces, in which the toppings should be visible in the center.
4. Pack then dress with Sriracha and soy sauce as desired when ready to enjoy.
Gourmet PB & J
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a classic lunchbox staple. However, give it a gourmet makeover with a nutritional twist!
Smear peanut butter on whole-grain bread then add fresh strawberries or other berries. You can also make other peanut butter and fresh fruit combos, including apple slices and banana chunks. Drizzle with honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon for added oomph!
Pair sandwich with fresh grapes and carrot or celery sticks.
Asian-Style Chicken Bowls
This Asian-style chicken bowl is loaded with flavor and nutrients! It is simple to assemble as well.
To make, layer brown rice with grilled chicken, coleslaw, and shredded carrots. Drizzle soy sauce atop and green onions as desired.
Easy Back-to-School Snacks
Offering healthy snacks is an opportunity to offer nutrients into a kid’s diet. They can supply them with energy and tie over hunger until the next meal.
Ants on a Log
Bring back that childhood classic by smearing favorite nut butter into the hollow area of the celery stalk. Then, sprinkle on some raisin or craisin "ants".
For a nut-free option, swap out the peanut butter for hummus. Prepared with chickpeas, hummus supplies plant-based protein and fiber to keep appetite at ease.
Yogurt Ranch Dip & Sliced Veggies
Dips are a fun idea for kids, as they offer them the chance to ditch the utensils and eat with their hands. And unlike most ranch dips, this homemade recipe is packed with protein and devoid of unwanted ingredients. And not to mention, easy to make!
Mix plain Greek yogurt and a dry ranch packet. The dip will not only be packed with flavor, but packed with protein. Dip sliced bell peppers, cucumbers, and carrots.
Banana Split Parfaits
Banana splits may not seem like a healthy snack recipe. But with a few tweaks, they can be quite nutritious while still standing as a sweet treat. What’s more, they are fun to make!
Simply layer plain Greek yogurt with favorite banana split toppings. This namely includes banana, along with strawberry and pineapple chunks. Top with peanut butter or chopped peanuts for added crunch. And for the chocolate element, sprinkle on mini chocolate chips.
Stocking with granola bars may seem like a healthy, convenient option for kids. However, even claimed "natural" bars can be nutritionally comparable to a candy bar.
So to retain the convenience of granola bars without the worry of unwanted ingredients, prepare a batch of energy bites for an easy snack.
• 2 cups rolled oats
• 1/2 cup vanilla whey protein powder (about 2 scoops)
• 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
• 1/2 cup honey or agave
• 1/4 cup flax seeds
• 1 Tbsp chia seeds
• 1 tsp cinnamon
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 2 Tbsp mini dark chocolate chips
1. In a food processor, add rolled oats, vanilla protein powder, peanut butter, honey, flax and chia seeds, cinnamon, and vanilla extract.
2. Pulse until ingredients are well-incorporated.
3. Transfer mixture into a large bowl then gently fold in chocolate chips.
4. Roll mixture into 1-inch balls and place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
5. Place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and enjoy!
Like granola bars, trail mix may seem like a good choice but tend to be laden in sodium and sugar. Prepare a homemade trail mix for ingredient control. Besides, trail mixes have big potential to be filled with protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other admirable nutrients. Fill the bag with nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, and sunflower seeds along with dried fruits.
While trail mix is high in nutrients from healthy fats and protein, it can be high in calories. Aim for a 1/4 cup serving or a small handful for calorie and fat control. Portioning out into small bags or containers helps ensure portion control, too.
The Bottom Line on Back-to-School Lunch Ideas for Kids
With busy schedules only getting busier during the school year, resorting to less-than-nutritious lunches might be the quickest but not always the best. Using meal assembly tips and lunch ideas for kids can help bridge the gap between convenience and health.
Also, try getting your kiddo involved when grocery shopping and in the kitchen. Including them in meal selection and preparation helps introduce new foods and increases their desire to try them!