Back to school: 15 fresh and healthy lunch ideas

Summer is a magical, laid back time when the rigid schedules and rules we live by during the school year can be relaxed and bedtime becomes a moving target. Meals and snacks might run together when the kids spend their days out in the sun, playing with friends, and grazing throughout the day. Poolside snack bars with their delicious nachos and soft pretzels and ice cream call out to us and we answer, yes!

Now that summer is over and kids are heading back to school, it’s time to get back into our regular routines, including curbing the junk and reestablishing healthy habits. Time to crack the whip! What you need are some fun, healthy and easy lunch ideas to kick the school year off right. And, because mornings are a zoo, many of these lunch ideas can be made ahead of time or prepped the night before to save time in the morning.

Of course not every lunch that leaves the house will hit the nutritional jackpot. Packing a healthy lunch is only half the battle — your kids have to eat what you pack, so try to include foods you know they like. In general, a good lunch should include protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and something that has some crunch to it. 

Here are some fresh and healthy school lunch ideas to keep you out of a lunchbox rut.

Bento box options

Like your own homemade Lunchable, but better, bento boxes have the feel of a snack but can serve the nutritional punch of a main meal. All of those little compartments make for easy lunch prep without wasting multiple baggies, and help remind us of correct portion sizes. 

Some fun options for your bento include:

  • Chinese takeout
    Rainbow carrots and edamame fried rice (recipe below), potstickers, pineapples and mangos, vanilla yogurt
  • Breakfast for lunch
    Pancakes, mini container of syrup, blueberries, chicken sausage, yogurt
  • Snack-time
    Cheese and crackers, whole-grain tortilla chips and guac, celery and carrot sticks with ranch dressing, grapes

See this video for more terrific bento box lunch ideas from Momma Cuisine. 

Spice up the sandwich

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The sandwich has been around for over 200 years for a reason, and that reason is that there is almost nothing easier than slapping some protein between two slices of bread, picking it up with your hands, and chowing down. 

Change things up from the standard deli turkey and use sandwich fillings like chicken salad, egg salad or pimento cheese. Using whole grain bread and adding sliced veggies kick the healthy quotient up a notch in any sandwich. 

Try these sandwich combos:

  • Cucumber + cream cheese
    Trim the crusts and cut into four quarters for fancy finger sandwiches.
  • Sunbutter + banana + a drizzle of honey
    Peanut Butter is delicious on this sandwich, too, but Sunbutter is more allergy-friendly.
  • Apple + swiss cheese + ham
    A sweet and salty combination that covers protein, dairy, fruit and crunch!
  • Hummus + feta cheese + sliced cucumber + romaine lettuce
    Vegetarian and delicious.
  • Banh mi
    This Vietnamese baguette with pork is a bit of work, but worth it! Make for dinner and serve leftovers for lunch.

Pita possibilities

A pita pocket is a little universe unto itself, just waiting to be filled with any number of delicious fillings.  Cut the pockets in half and fill with some of our favorites, or create your own tasty combinations:

  • BLT
    Include mixed greens, cherry tomatoes and crispy cooked bacon.
  • Grilled veggies
    Try zucchini, squash and eggplant with roasted red peppers and sliced mozzarella.
  • Greek pita
    Fill up the pita with grilled lamb and Tzatziki sauce; see the full recipe here

Wrap and roll(-up)

When sandwiches get boring, turn them into a wrap or roll-up. Ditch the bread and add your fillings to one of the many-flavored tortilla varieties; available in flour, herb, pesto, whole wheat, tomato, and more.  Or, try naan breads, flatbread, spring roll wrappers or even lettuce. Boston, Butter and Iceberg are good choices and can fold around fillings without breaking.  

Wraps are also a great way to use up leftovers.  Put those leftover bits of dinner into a tortilla and drizzle with a bit of barbecue sauce, salsa, or salad dressing and you’re in business!

Try these ideas:

  • Chicken Caesar salad wrap
    Keep it simple with a bag salad and rotisserie chicken.
  • Vegetarian Greek wrap
    Add feta cheese, salty black olives, sliced tomatoes and parsley.
  • Hummus and prosciutto wrap
    Wrap up crispy baked slices of prosciutto, hummus spread, mozzarella cheese, tomato and lettuce.
  • Leftover taco wrap
    Include ground beef, lettuce, chopped tomatoes, guacamole, cheddar cheese and salsa.
  • Vegetarian Tex-Mex wrap
    Try a vegetarian spin on tacos with a spinach wrap with black beans and salsa (recipe below).  

Hot lunch

Packing a thermos opens up a whole new frontier of lunchtime possibilities. Plus, it’s a great way to put dinner leftovers to good use. Rice and beans, soup, macaroni and cheese, or pasta can all be heated up in the microwave and added to the thermos before the kids head out the door in the morning.  We love this white bean chili recipe, especially once the weather begins to cool down.  

Super sides

Round out the mid-afternoon meal with a side from each category:

Dairy
Cheese sticks or chunks, yogurt, tzatziki dip with veggies, cottage cheese, dairy-based pudding, milk/chocolate milk, yogurt smoothie, and low-fat sour cream-based dips are all great choices.

Fruit
Whole fruit (apple, banana, pear, tangerine, etc.), fruit salad, sliced fruit, applesauce, mixed berries, mandarin orange sections, grapes, fruit smoothie or trail mix with dried fruit.

Veg 
Salad, sliced veggies with hummus or ranch dressing for dipping, blanched or raw green beans, cherry tomatoes, edamame, or baked tortilla chips with salsa.

Don’t forget to add a treat every once in a while. And one for yourself, while you’re at it!  

Visit Kenmore’s inspiration blog  for more fresh lunch ideas. 

Recipes

Rainbow Carrots and Edamame Fried Rice Recipe

(Recipe by Momma Cuisine)

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp. canola oil
3 eggs, scrambled
1/2 cup Spanish onion, small dice
1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic
3 cups white or brown rice, cooked
1 cup edamame, thawed
1 cup rainbow carrots, shredded or chopped in small pieces
2 Tbsp. low sodium soy sauce
1 tsp. kosher salt
Fresh cracked black pepper

Directions:

Heat a wok or large non-stick skillet on high with canola oil.

Take the onion and garlic and sauté for about 1 minute. Constantly stir the onions and garlic, being careful not to let them burn.

Add the rice, stir and heat through for about 5 minutes, making sure the heat is on high. Add the edamame and carrots and cook for another 5-8 minutes, until they have softened but still firm in texture. Then, add the scrambled eggs and lightly mix with all the ingredients.

Finally, add the soy sauce, salt and pepper. Mix together and taste for flavor.

Spinach Wrap with Black Beans and Salsa

(Recipe by Kenmore)

Ingredients:

4 12-inch spinach tortillas
1 can black beans, drained
1 can corn, drained
1 avocado, cut into half-inch cubes
1/4 cup mild tomato salsa, plus more for serving
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (optional)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese

Directions:

Combine black beans, corn, avocado, salsa, cilantro (optional) and salt.  Mix well.

Assemble wraps by placing tortilla on work surface and line the middle with a fourth of the bean mixture. Sprinkle with cheese.

If the circle were a clock, fold the sides at 3 and 9 o’clock towards the center. Then roll the wrap starting at 6 o’clock rolling to 12 o’clock. Serve at room temperature or wrap in foil, and heat at 300 degrees for 10 minutes. 

Serve with extra salsa.

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Kenmore

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