5 Tips for a Healthy Lunch Kids Will Love

In just a few weeks my son will embark on his first day of school. While you are probably picturing me walking him to the school bus, he’s really only two and he’ll be starting a twice-a-week preschool this September. I am really excited for him! I hope he will enjoy learning new things, playing with new friends and delicious lunch box meals as much as I did.

Remember Jem and the Holograms?

I remember my first lunch box – my first day of kindergarten my mom sent me with a bright yellow Jem box. Remember Jem? The punk rocker from the 80s? I actually still have the lunch box and use it around our house to hide surprises at my son’s naptime! I don’t remember too much about what my mom packed in my lunch box, but I’m sure it was delish.

Of course we moms want our kids to eat as nutritiously as possible. Here are five tips for packing a healthy lunch box that kids will hopefully find to be as delicious as a lunch at home.

1. Think outside of the {lunch} box. Rather than your typical peanut butter and jelly sandwich, bag of chips and carrot sticks, ask yourself how you can re-imagine old favorites into new surprises. Slather a whole wheat tortilla with some nut butter (or sunflower butter if your school is nut-free), add a sprinkle of granola and roll up a banana inside. For a finger-friendly dish, try packing a container of whole wheat pasta in a fun shape (like bowties, wagon wheels or spirals) and stir in a little pesto. Lastly, smoothies make great “soups” when served in a thermos and add a good dose of antioxidants when made with fresh berries or fresh greens for an extra veggie punch!

2. Get creative with spices. A pinch of this and a dash of that will help keep lunch from tasting too bland. A vitamin-C packed orange, peeled, chopped and tossed with lime juice and raisins, turns simple whole fruit into a tasty fruit salad. Baby carrots steamed with cinnamon will upgrade plain raw ones and make them easier to chomp.

3. Take advantage of clever pre-packaged foods. Yogurt pouches are less messy to eat and kids love to slurp them down. They can even be frozen to serve as an ice pack to keep everything else cold. By lunchtime they are ready to eat! Plus they double up on nutrition with both calcium and protein for growing bodies. Vegetable-based pouches, mini boxes of raisins, and string cheese are all easy to grab-and-go to fill up a lunch box.

Apples and peanut butter are a great, healthy lunch combo of protein and vitamins.

4. Add in some delicious dips. Kids love to dip and dunk their food, so dips help them get those nutritious fruits and veggies down. Try a pumpkin dip in the fall, an herby yogurt dip in the summer, and thin out some sunflower butter with a little milk for a warming dip in the winter. . Instead of typical savory hummus (that might be too garlicky or beany for your child) make a sweeter bean dip with natural ingredients like navy beans, banana, coconut milk and cinnamon for dipping fruit. The beans pack a good bit of protein into a busy day. For dippers, choose raw fruit and veggie strips, whole wheat crackers, or pita triangles.

5. Keep things interesting and creative. Cut cheese into shapes with cookie cutters, dice fruit in new ways, slice sandwiches into triangles one day and square bites the next. Think inside the box – a bento box! Bento boxes keep little bits of food separate in neat containers that fit together. They also make it easy to keep dip and dippers separate.

One thing I do remember about my mom’s lunch boxes – every now and then (but not every day!) she surprised me with a happy note or trinket. My son should keep his eyes out for some of his own!