Article and recipes by Registered Dietitian Andrea Holwegner and the team of Dietitians at Health Stand Nutrition.
Back-to-school season is officially upon us, and families everywhere are settling back into busier and more structured routines. Let us help you make the transition a little easier with these 15 quick and easy lunch ideas your child can bring to school.
Get kids excited about their lunches and start the school year off right with some of these nutrition-packed lunch ideas that you can easily prep ahead of time. You can even get your kids involved in the process by having them help pack their lunch the night before!
Pro Tip: Provide your children with options but frame the choices in a way that encourages variety and inclusion of favourites and some not-so-favourites. For example, allow them to choose one main, one fruit, one vegetable, and a few snacks from a select few you’ve already approved.
1. Quinoa Yogurt Parfait
Start by cooking the quinoa according to the directions, using half milk and half water for the liquid. Once cooked, stir in your nut butter of choice and place the mixture in a container. Top with yogurt, fresh fruit (such as berries, pineapple, mango, or kiwi), and crushed nuts or seeds. Top it off with a drizzle of maple syrup.
2. Vegetarian Pizza Quesadillas
Layer pizza sauce, grated mozzarella, and your favourite thinly sliced veggie pizza toppings (such as red or green pepper, mushrooms, onion, or diced tomatoes) between two wholegrain tortillas (or one folded in half for a smaller portion size) and pan-fry both sides until heated. Serve chilled.
3. Cold French Toast Fingers
Meal prep a large batch of wholegrain French toast over the weekend, cut into strips and refrigerate or freeze for the week ahead. Serve with cream cheese or no-nuts pea butter (if your school is peanut-free) and jam (or provide a small jar of maple syrup for dipping).
4. Homemade Muffins
Muffins keep wonderfully in the freezer! Make ahead big batches of homemade muffins to freeze and pull out when needed. Try using healthy ingredients like wholewheat flour, barley flour, rolled oats, seeds, and nuts (if permitted in your child’s school), as well as banana, berries, canned unsweetened pumpkin, dried fruit, and grated carrot or zucchini.
5. Mexican Bento Box
In a bento box or divided containers, arrange an assortment of mini tortillas or taco chips, refried beans, seasoned meat, and cubes of cheese. Add a side of salsa and guacamole for spreading or dipping as well.
6. Hummus Pizza
Start by taking regular pita bread or mini pita pockets and spreading it with hummus. Top or stuff with toppings like grated cheese, spinach, red pepper, and cucumber.
7. Grilled Cheese Strips
Make ahead grilled cheese sandwiches or Paninis over the weekend, cut them into strips and store them in the fridge for weekday lunches. Pack a little container of ketchup for dipping. Serve chilled.
8. Caprese Salad Skewers
Thread mini bocconcini cheese balls, fresh basil, and grape or cherry tomatoes on toothpicks or bamboo skewers. Before serving, make sure your child is at an appropriate age to be handling toothpicks.
9. Thermos of Pasta with Sneaky Sauce
Encourage your little one to eat more vegetables with this delicious recipe! First, make a batch of ‘sneaky’ veggies (sautéed and puréed vegetables such as peppers, zucchini, spinach, kale, and onion). Then, combine the sneaky veggies sauce with tomato sauce and Italian seasoning. For protein, add lentils, ground beef or poultry and top with cheese. Serve warm in a Thermos.
10. Snack Attack Bento Box
In a bento box or divided containers, test out different snack combinations like mini muffins, crackers, pretzels, popcorn, grapes, strawberries, cantaloupe cubes, cucumber rounds, red pepper wedges, carrot sticks, cheese wedges, pumpkin seeds, grilled chicken, meatballs, black bean salad, hard-boiled eggs, rotini pasta, or tortellini with pesto.
11. Energy Bars and Bites
Spend some time the night before or over the weekend making energy bites for a nutrient-packed lunchtime snack. Aim to use wholesome ingredients like rolled oats, whole grain flours, bran cereal, dried fruit, ground flax, hemp hearts, and chia seeds. Try this school-friendly Nut-Free Energy Bites recipe.
12. Pinwheel Sandwiches
Mix together cream cheese, grated cheese, fresh herbs and spices, finely diced red peppers, and grated carrots. Spread over a wholegrain tortilla and roll. Slice into small pinwheels and serve with a toothpick.
13. Pretzel Dippers
Using pretzel sticks as skewers, place mini cheese cubes or other snacks at the end of each pretzel stick. Serve with a dipping sauce such as hummus, honey mustard, or bottled balsamic reduction.
14. Homemade Snack Mix
In a resealable bag or container, mix and match air-popped popcorn, dried cereal, pumpkin seeds, shelled sunflower seeds, nuts (if permitted), pretzels, chocolate chips, and dried fruits like dates, prunes, apricots, raisins, cranberries, cherries, blueberries. Don’t be afraid to get creative!
15. Fruit Kabobs
Thread your favourite fruits onto wooden or bamboo skewers. Experiment with combinations of seasonal fruits like strawberries, blueberries, grapes, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, kiwi, and fresh pineapple. You could even build a caterpillar by using only grapes and making a face. Serve your fruit kabobs with “yo-nut” dip by combining yogurt and nut butter.
Visit Health Stand Nutrition for the full article and more healthy back-to-school lunch ideas.
Bonus Recipe: Hawaiian Pizza Muffins
This healthy recipe for Hawaiian Pizza Muffins is a great make-ahead option you can bake in bulk and then add to the freezer for busy school days.
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup 1 % milk (or whatever milk you have)
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 cups spelt flour (or whole wheat flour)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp dried Italian seasoning
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups diced ham
- 3 cups grated mozzarella cheese (divided into 2 cups for the recipe and 1 cup for the top)
- 1 can (398 ml or 14 fl. oz.) canned pineapple tidbits, drained
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce or pizza sauce
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners.
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, oil, and sugar until smooth. Add flour, baking powder, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and salt. Stir just until combined. Stir in the ham, 2 cups of the cheese, and pineapple just until combined (do not over-mix).
- Spoon half of the batter into the muffin liners. Top the batter with half the tomato sauce (about a teaspoon of tomato sauce per muffin). Top with the remaining half of the batter, and then top with the remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of grated cheese on top.
- Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.
- Enjoy fresh or toss in the freezer. Kids and teens (and adults!) can enjoy these cold or pre-heat a thermos with boiling water and place these warmed Hawaiian Pizza Muffins in the thermos for their lunch.
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