Back to School Lunch Ideas
It’s that time of year again, so we are here with some healthy back to school lunch ideas and tips for packing a healthy meal your child will look forward to.
It’s not easy feeding a child healthy all the time. As a very healthy eater and avid home-cook myself, I thought “training” my child to like this style of eating would be a walk in the park.
Boy, has my toddler taught me otherwise. Helping children develop healthy eating habits is more of a marathon than a sprint. It has to do with a lot more than offering avocado and sweet potato as “baby’s first foods.” It takes more determination than meal prepping boxes of pre-cut fruits and veggies at the start of each week. We’ve had lots of peaks and valleys in this journey, but I know my consistency will pay off in the end!
Packing school lunches and coming up with healthy school lunch ideas is a challenge all it’s own. Without you there to supervise, who is going to ask your child to eat “one more bite of vegetables” before he leaves the table?
Here are some tips to make packing your child’s lunchbox easier!
Chickapea Pasta and Nutrition for Kids
Chickapea pasta is the ideal food for helping kids eat a healthier diet. Kids are naturally inclined to prefer carbs – bread, pasta, rice, and crackers. These are all healthy foods, and kids need the carbs to grow, have energy, and for brain development.
However, most kids are getting plenty of carbs. It’s not difficult to get them to eat these foods. It’s a much bigger challenge to get children to eat foods that are rich in protein and fiber.
Chickapea pasta masquerades as one of those carb-laden foods kids crave, but actually is made from only 2 ingredients- organic chickapeas and lentils. It has 27 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber per serving– making preparing healthy vegetarian meals for kids is easier than ever!
Healthy School Lunch Ideas
Pack Favorite Healthy Foods:
Talk to your child regularly about his or her favorite healthy foods. The school lunch box isn’t the best place for new foods. If broccoli tops your child’s list of vegetables, make sure you have plenty of broccoli in the fridge at the start of each week! Children are still developing tastes and eating habits, so favorites change a lot. You can stay on top of this by seeing which foods are left in the lunchbox each day, but also by involving your child in planning meals. As long as it’s “real food”, I say go for it! If your child loves cheese, there is nothing wrong with including cheese every day. You can also read more about what kids report loving in their lunch box on 100 Days of Real Food.
Plan Routine Meals
Just like you have “go-to” meals at home that you make on repeat, knowing your child will eat it, the lunch-box game is the same. Having 2-3 healthy meal options you know your child loves will not only make planning and prepping a breeze, it will also up the chances your child eats a nutritious meal at school. The bonus: You aren’t left wracking your brain at the last minute for school lunch ideas!
Dips, Sauces, and Spreads
Most children love dips and sauces. Having healthy dips and sauces, and special small containers, can make lunches (and especially veggies) more fun! Try nut butters, hummus, salsa, or a homemade, greek yogurt ranch dressing. You can also switch it up by providing a fruit dip made with yogurt, nut butter and honey. For a special treat, you can combine coconut milk, cocoa powder, and honey for a special (but healthy) chocolate dip.
The Lunchbox Matters
Kids go crazy over dishes with compartments! Also, having the healthy stuff packed visibly is important. It’s easy for a child to leave the bag of carrots in the bottom of their lunch sack– but if the fruits and veggies are right next to the main entree, chances are he will start to nibble on them as he’s eating. (We love the OmieBox and the BentGo).
Start Planning Early
When I’m planning dinners for the week, I am also thinking about what lunches I need to prepare. Typically that means making larger portions for leftovers, or extra servings of veggies that can easily be incorporated into a meal. Both of the recipes here use foods commonly prepared for dinner, that can be reserved for school lunches the next day.
When creating this recipe, I knew it had to be delicious-- but also easy enough to prep in 10 minutes. The teriyaki sauce in this recipe is made with an unrefined sweetener, a perk of cooking at home. The veggies take a few minutes to chop, and I used leftover shredded chicken from dinner. This can easily be put together the night before, and the teriyaki sauce keeps the pasta fresh and flavorful. We like to drizzle on a little extra sauce right before eating!
- 1 box Chickapea Pasta shells, penne, or spirals
- 1 cup chicken (150 grams) shredded (optional)
- 1 cup carrots (150 grams) shredded
- 1 cup snap peas (150 grams) chopped
- 1/2 cup pineapple (75 grams) chopped
- 1/2 cup cashews (75 grams) roasted (double for vegan recipe)
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds (30 mL) toasted
- 1/4 cup water (60mL)
- 3 tablespoons tamari (45mL) (or sub soy sauce)
- 2 tablespoons date syrup (30mL) (or sub honey)
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (30mL)
- 2 teaspoons arrowroot powder (30mL)
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon ginger powder *ginger varies in heat, so start with 1/4
Cook the pasta by boiling for 6-8 minutes. Chickapea is great cooked al dente, and soaks in the sauce in this recipe well.
While the pasta is boiling, prepare carrots, peas and pineapple. If using chicken, add that to a bowl as well. When the pasta is done, rinse in cool water, drain well, and add to the bowl with veggies, pineapple and optional chicken.
Add all the ingredients for the teriyaki sauce to a small microwave safe bowl. Use a fork to whisk in the arrowroot powder. Microwave for 30 seconds, whisk again to smooth, then microwave for 30 seconds more.
The sauce is nice and thick after being refrigerated all night. I add half of the sauce to the pasta and mix well, and the other portion of sauce I add to small containers to add to lunches.
Cover the pasta, and refrigerate overnight.
When packing in the morning, top with roasted cashews and sesame seeds.
This doesn't have to be just for lunch! This recipe also makes a fantastic last-minute family dinner. My husband loves it as much as my son does.
I often make roasted veggies for dinner, and sweet squash is a very popular vegetable with kids. This pasta is super simple to make by throwing in roasted veggies, a few cherry tomatoes, and a light drizzle of olive oil and seasonings.
- 1 box Chickapea Pasta shells, penne, or spirals
- 1 cup butternut squash (150 grams) cubed
- 1 cup broccoli (150 grams) finely chopped
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes (75 grams) halved
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (30 mL)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice (30 mL)
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (25 mL)
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
Boil pasta for 6-8 minutes. Chickapea is great cooked al dente.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (240 degrees C). Add chopped butternut squash and broccoli to a cookie sheet. Feel free to use your child's favorite veggies in place of the squash and broccoli - such as cauliflower, sweet potato, or zucchini. Bake veggies for 20-30 minutes, until very tender.
Once pasta is cooked, drain, rinse with cool water, and then add to a container. Drizzle with olive oil. Add the roasted veggies, mix well, and refrigerate overnight.
In the morning when packing, add the lemon juice, parmesan, and season with salt and pepper. I've found that adding lemon juice and salt the night before dries out the pasta, but it's fine if you do this a few hours ahead of lunch.
Other Pasta Dishes for Healthy School Lunches: