It’s often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. During the school year, however, lunch might be just as crucial - when lunchtime rolls around, kids have been in class for a few hours, and their bodies and minds need refueling.
Making healthy lunches for kids can be a struggle. The preponderance of processed and packaged meals and snacks might save you a few minutes of prep time on busy mornings, but aren’t necessarily the best choices for growing kids.
Preparing tasty, nutritious lunches doesn’t have to be difficult, and best of all it’s easy to enlist your kids’ help in packing their own. Here are some easy healthy lunch ideas for kids.
Sandwiches for Kids
For generations, the sandwich has been the go-to main course for kids’ lunches for a good reason: it’s easy to make. But let’s not kid ourselves - children love the classic PB & J because it’s basically a dessert.
In our previous installment, we mentioned peanut butter and bananas on toast as a great breakfast - a peanut butter and banana sandwich makes for a great lunch. It cuts out the sugar found in jellies and jams, is full of protein, and the potassium in bananas helps prevent muscle cramps from a morning PE session or an after-school sports practice.
For many kids, classic deli meats like turkey and ham are a sandwich staple. Parents who don’t want to eliminate those can look for healthier options. Look for brands that don’t use chemical preservatives like sodium nitrate, as well as lunch meats that are low in saturated fat (less than 2 grams per serving) and sodium.
Of course, there are great plant-based sandwich options that still provide the protein kids need. If your kids like hummus, have them use it as a substitute, with lettuce or spinach and sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.
Wraps for Kids
Wraps are versatile - you can put just about anything in a tortilla and wrap it up - and they’re fun for kids to make.
Whole wheat/whole grain soft tortillas can serve as the starting point for a wrap, but they can also get creative. Some fun alternative wraps and containers include romaine leaves, a hollowed cucumber and so on.
Healthy Sides and Snacks
Most packaged snacks are loaded with additives and sodium - a typical serving can include as much as a quarter of the U.S. daily recommended amount of sodium.
Kids do like some crunch with their lunch, though. Let them swap out chips and pretzels for things like home-popped popcorn, trail mix that they’ve assembled themselves (using low-salt nuts and unsweetened dried fruits), and of course carrot and celery sticks (which along with nutrients contain fiber).
For the daring, try making homemade kale chips with the kids:
- simply tear the long leaves from the ribs of a kale bunch
- rip the leaves into one-inch pieces
- toss them with 1-2 tablespoons of walnut or avocado oil, a bit of sea salt, and a dash of your favorite seasoning
- put the batch on a baking sheet and bake at 275 degrees until they’re crispy
It goes without saying that fresh fruit is a great addition to any lunch. Rather than the usual apple, give the kids some different options.
Berries are often overlooked. They’re sweet, are great sources of vitamins and antioxidants, and pack very well in small plastic containers.
During the winter months, clementines - miniature seedless oranges - are in season, and are generally cheaper than during spring and summer. Little kids especially like them, as they’re easier to peel than regular oranges. Fall and winter are also great times to try tropical fruits - fresh cut pineapple chunks and mango slices taste great and add a bit of sunshine to chilly school days.