**Special thanks to the moms who contributed ideas to this post.**
It happened again. It was June, and we were footloose and fancy free. I can’t tell you what my kids ate all summer long. Maybe it was something local, organic, and gourmet. Maybe it was a drive-thru. Maybe it was all of the scraps in the fridge. All I know was that my kids were full and happy. However, August managed to creep back into our lives and the countdown to the first day of school loomed on the horizon.
Other than waking up early and everyone having to wear pants on a daily basis, my kids also need a nutritious and delicious lunch ready to go when they walk out the door.
Lunches should not be hard, but for some reason, I get in a terrible rut and start sending the same thing over and over. It is almost always things that take zero prep. For instance, there was the peanut butter cracker, string cheese, baby carrot, and clementine binge of April 2016. The kids typically don’t care, but I do! The biggest point to get through my head is that I can make their lunches in minimal time and still include variety in their diets.
CHECK OUT CHRISTY’S FIRST POST IN THIS SERIES: “SCHOOL LUNCH 101: THE BASICS”
One of the best things for me to do is prep ahead of time. If I can get myself together enough to cut veggies, wash fruit, boil eggs, and separate portions at the beginning of the week, then throwing it together the night before is a lot easier. When you think about the basics of a lunch, you most likely want a protein, carbohydrate, fruit, and veggie. Sometimes I add a small sweet to the lunch but that is a rare occurrence. They have enough opportunities for sweets throughout the week that I don’t need to add to it at lunch.
So let’s get started on lunch planning.
1) Try a lunch chart.
A friend sent this to me, and I think it is a great way to have some easy options ready or even take the pressure off of yourself and let your children pick the lunch. If you do the prep over the weekend, you can create this chart on your own with your choices.
There are only two rules to this:
The first is that at least one item needs to be added from each category (minus the optional sweets).
The second is that you need to have the food on hand. Don’t pick the hard boiled eggs if you don’t have any eggs in your house!
2) Set the menu at the beginning of the week.
You can vary parts of the lunch by doing things like switching up the bread. Try sliced bread, ciabatta, croissants, crackers, a tortilla, or maybe even a lettuce wrap. You also can vary fruit and veggie presentation. Send a salad one day and a kebab the next. Also, consider throwing leftovers in there. When we have breakfast for dinner, I almost always make extra pancakes or waffles for lunches or a quick breakfast. My kids also LOVE it when I send leftover taco fixings. Even though my 6-year-old is the slowest eater on the planet, she loves to put together a hard shell taco at lunch. (Do you have an instant pot? This is our favorite taco recipe: Instant Pot Lentil Tacos).
Sticking with the set menu lunch options, here is a sample week:
Mini whole-wheat bagel with cream cheese
fresh pitted cherries
a hard boiled egg
celery sticks with ranch.
Banana burrito (Sunbutter on a whole wheat tortilla, plop half a banana in there, and roll it up like a burrito. Drizzle honey or add raisins, as well.)
sugar snap peas.
Build your own lunchable (sliced cheese, meat, and crackers of your choosing)
Caprese kabobs (cooked tortellini on sticks with fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes—fresh basil if your kid likes it)
Whole wheat mini blueberry pancakes
3) Consider sitting down with your child and asking for lunch ideas.
If you brainstorm together, you are more likely to come up with a list that pleases everyone. Here is an example that one friend and her children put together
- banana muffins (pre-make a couple batches and freeze)
- pumpkin muffins (same as above)
- homemade chicken nuggets
- cucumber slices and cheese
- apple and cheese
- meat and cheese roll-ups
- fruit kabobs
- BLT kabobs (fold greenleaf lettuce leaf over a couple times and use cherry tomatoes)
- meat and cheese pickle kabobs
- smoothie pops
- tacos with salsa for dipping sauce
- quesadillas (hot or cold), roll ups with meat and cheese, enchiladas
- baby carrots and hummus or palmetto cheese
- bean salad
- oranges, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.
- tuna melts (warm in thermos)
- chicken salad with grapes
- apple sauce
- plain yogurt with berries or honey
- frozen peas
- taco soup with cheese and sour cream (warm in thermos)
- tomato soup (warm in thermos)
- bean soup (warm in thermos)
- chili (warm in thermos)
- cherry tomatoes and mozzarella slices
- waffle sandwiches with cream cheese filling
- sliced mini bell peppers with cream cheese or hummus
- pulled pork
- sliced kielbasa sausage and mixed sauteed peppers and zucchini (warm in thermos or cold)
- cucumbers slices spread with cream cheese
- spaghetti squash with marinara sauce or cream and bacon sauce
- bell pepper nacho boats
Still looking for options? The best thing about the Internet is that there is a never ending supply of lunch ideas out there. Here are some of our favorites:
Keeley McGuire Lunch Made Easy
A House Full of Sunshine 100+ Easy Lunchbox Ideas
100 Days of Real Food School Lunches
The last site gives you the ability to pick and choose your dietary needs at the top of the page to filter the results.