Back to School – or BTS, as all the cool kids say these days – is an emotional time for just about everyone.
Kids are excited and nervous and curious and bitter and confused at the overwhelming bundle of feelings bubbling up inside of them. Parents are exhausted, relieved, heartbroken and confused at the overwhelming bundle of feelings simmering inside of them. Teachers are full of ambition and motivation and positive and dread.
Anyone who isn’t a teacher but who has friends who are teachers are snickering. Anyone who isn’t a parent doens’t really “get it” but enjoys the sales on fun office suppies, DIY vidoes, and rush of adrenaline that is nothing but a vicarious byproduct of being in a world obsessed with BTS.
With all of those “feels” happening, who has time to figure out lunch? More importantly, who has time to plan healthy back to school lunches?
My sister sent me a snapshot of what passes for “Healthy Lunches” through her kids school.
I suppose it could be worse, but a “healthy” menu to me generally does not include pepperoni pizza, hot dogs, chicken bites, chicken strips, ravioli and chocolate milk all the time. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I 100% believe that you can make a fantastic and totally healthy pizza but, for the most part, all the other options I think most of us know are not healthy. They are as processed as can be, especially knowing the low-quality items that schools have access to. And each meal costs families $4.
Do you know how much food you can send your child for $4!? All you need is a little bit of thought, planning, and creativity! I am so happy to report that my sister does not rely on these menus to feed her children, but instead she sends her own packed lunches that are much healthier…like, actually healthy…and less expensive!
If you’re in need of some inspiration for what to send with your children for lunch, I’ve asked some of the best and brightest recipe developers for their favorites to share.
Healthy Back To School Lunches – Recipes
I told you I believed in healthy pizzas! I wanted to kick off this list of ideas with two of the most fun options for young kids or fun-lovin’ individuals of all ages. These no-bake “pizza” options are a fantastic alternative to lunchables, and can be super simple to create, incredibly healthy, and loads of fun for your children to take for lunch. You choose what goes on each “pizza”, allowing you to cater to your family’s dietary preferences and also to switch up the ingredients regularly for never boring lunching!
“When the kids head back to school, packing lunches often becomes the most dreaded part of the day (even worse than that early alarm!). You can no longer fly by the seat of your pants. This, my friends, requires planning.
The kids quickly tire of the same old things, and before too long, you may be out of creative ideas. Plus, it often results in a battle. The kids want “fun” stuff. You want to provide healthy food that will fuel them through the day. They … want fun stuff.” (Two Healthy Kitchens)
Another way to switch up the flavors and textures on a regular basis while sticking to a standard go-to lunch idea is to take hold of the mason jar salad idea and run like wild. There are salad ingredients for everyone, and a never ending combination that can keep lunch interesting for the entire school year. PhruitfulDish has a recipe that is power packed and sure to keep your children energized and learning at their highest capacity all day long!
“These small but mighty mason jar salads are an easy lunch or snack idea you can prepare at home before your busy week begins. Each jar packs in 13 grams of protein, 13 grams of fibre and 450 calories (of high nutritional quality).” (Phruitful Dish)
Wraps are absolutely fantastic because they are super quick, super portable, super easy, super inexpensive and, the best part – they don’t get soggy like sandwiches do! You can do just about anything with a wrap, but this Hummus Veggie Wrap is a healthy back to school lunch go-to.
“This is a super simple and quick way to achieve your daily vegetable intake! I mean 4 ingredients here. Kids have fun getting involved too – mine enjoyed shredding the carrots and folding up the wrap…and of course, eating!” (Gingham Apron)
Salads are very healthy, pretty and convenient on their own, but I really enjoy how they can also be quite versatile – chop and mix up a batch of this Chicken Salad with Grapes and Walnuts and you can eat as is, use to fill up a wrap or sandwich, or even layer on top of pita bread or use as dip for tortilla chips. How fun are all those options!?
“This chicken salad with grapes and walnuts is a remake of restaurant chicken salad that was one of my favorites before I went paleo. The original was loaded with commercial mayonnaise and served on a croissant. This version is pure paleo — organic chicken, fruit and vegetables, with healthy fats from the walnuts and olive oil. No mayo in sight, and it’s gluten, grain, and dairy-free.” (Cook Eat Paleo)
One of my favorite things in the world is finding a great meal that whips up quickly for dinner, and works great as leftovers for lunch the next day! These Caprese Quesadillas use simple ingredients and would, I imagine, be just as good cold for tomorrow’s lunch as they were first freshly grilled up. If you’re like me and Mozza isn’t a part of your eating plan, a simple cashew cream cheese would be a perfect substitute to make this dairy-free!
“These caprese quesadillas were one way to sneak in the veggies [to my kids food]. They didn’t realize that the tomatoes and basil weren’t pizza sauce, and the cheese, well that was a no brainier. The quesadillas reminded them of pizza so they would eagerly gobble them down for lunch. They called them pizza quesadillas. I grill them when the weather is warm, but they can easily be made on top of the stove.” (Simple and Savory)
Next to leftovers, having cold pasta salad is probably tied with wraps for being my favorite lunch items of all time. I love a creamy, flavor packed cold, instantly ready, conveniently portable, always delicious, nutritious and filling, cold pasta! It works as a quick, weeknight dinner, but will also pack up well for an alternative to the PB & J sandwiches that were a staple in my lunchbox growing up!
“I served this Chickpea Fusilli in Hemp Tahini Sauce to my family on the dinner table. The delight and satisfaction that I saw on their faces encouraged me to share this recipe here.
It’s a great Labor Day recipe or for any potluck event or a wonderful week night dinner. It’s versatile, super easy and takes only about 20 minutes to cook and less than 5 minutes to satisfy the bellies” (Kiipfit)
Yes, kids like cookies and muffins and may complain about getting stuck with bruised bananas every day in their lunch box, but that doesn’t mean you can’t send them to school with THE cookie that every one of their friends is going to be begging to trade all of their everything for. I’m talking about a Healthy Chocolate Orange Oatmeal Cookie. Don’t even pretend like you don’t want one yourself. Like…right now! And they’re NO BAKE. Thank you Vegan Chickpea…you have rocked many worlds.
“No bake cookies, snacks and treats make my world a better place. When I want something sweet and yummy but don’t feel like doing the whole baking thing, a no bake snack is the perfect answer. Just combine the ingredients and let them set… that’s it! Doesn’t get much easier than that.” (VeganChickpea)
Kids also like yoghurt, as do moms and dads, because it is traditionally a very handy treat to pass on to your children…or to snack on yourself! The problem with many yogurts is that in order to get the flavor that everyone loves, the sugar content skyrockets. This DIY version of a favorite treat uses healthier, natural alternatives to straight up sucrose. If you opt for “light” or “sugar-free” versions of your store-bought favorites, please know that the fat and sugar is generally replaced with a varied concoction of chemicals and fillers. With the help of RecipeThis, you can whip up a batch of deliciousness and know exactly what you’re including.
“…since being against low fat eating and wanting to follow a more natural way of life without anything artificial in my diet I have quit the Muller Light yoghurts and instead prefer to make my own with some Greek Yoghurt and not only do I enjoy them made from scratch but so do the kids.” (RecipeThis)
If you take the time to go through these options, I think you will find that most of them are quite easy to make, very fun and versatile to meet the demands of almost any child, and will be infinitely better for you family than the sadly not-so-healthy meals offered at most schools. A lovely friend of mine who goes by the brand The Food Cop has written a fantastic post on the topic of Smart Nutrition for Back To School, if you’d like some additional reading!
What are your favorite Healthy Back To School Lunches? Share in the comments below and let us know which of these options were the biggest hit in your household!