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It’s not always easy to come up with creative lunch ideas for kids. Too often, we fall back on the time-honored PB&J or mystery-meat nuggets. So if you’re looking to spice up your children’s noontime nosh, check out this selection of good—and good-for-you—recipes. Whether they’re headed back to school or just into the next room, your kids will thank you!
Kids’ Lunch Bento Box Ideas
Japanese-style bento lunchbox containers are all the rage. They’re perfect for whatever type of eater you have. Say the kid who wants his or her food in separate containers (let’s call them the food no-touchers) or the more adventurous ones who like to try lots of new foods at the same time. Here are a few ideas to inspire.
The Lunchtime Dragon Slayer: Use a cocktail stirrer or Popsicle stick as a skewer (bamboo skewers and long toothpicks are frowned upon at school) and fill with squares of whole grain bread, turkey, pickles, cherry tomatoes, and cheese.
Loco for Tacos: Whole grain tortilla chips or tiny street taco tortillas, black beans, shredded lettuce, cheese, and salsa.
The Veg-Head: Hummus, pretzels, and dehydrated sugar snap pea snacks.
World Traveler: Asian dumplings, Onigiri (see recipe below), and snow peas with soy sauce and sweet red chili sauce for dipping.
The Traditionalist: Cut 2 pieces of white whole-wheat bread into rounds, spread with Tutti-Frutti Veggie Dippy (see recipe below), and add tops for tasty tea sandwiches.
Southern Gourmet: Cut whole wheat waffles into quarters and spread with maple butter (soft butter sweetened with a little maple syrup). Add shredded chicken and lettuce to make a chicken waffle sandwich.
Mama Mia: Macaroni Pizza (see recipe below) and cocktail stirrer-skewered pearl mozzarella balls with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella sticks.
Get the Ho-Hum Out of Kids’ Lunches
We checked in with Rhian Allen, CEO/Founder of The Healthy Mommy, a healthy living program designed to show busy moms that eating healthy can be easy and inexpensive. As a busy mom of two, she shares her school lunch ideas and her thoughts on why what you put in that lunchbox is important to your child’s nutrition. “A school lunchbox that is packed with snacks, lunch, and an after-school nutrient boost can potentially make up to 30–50 percent of your child’s daily food intake, so we want to make them count,” she says.
Meal Plan for Healthy Lunches
Allen suggests making lunchbox planning a part of your weekly meal planning. And if you’ve made something for dinner that your kids love, consider packing it in their lunch. “Make a little extra of certain meals you know your kids love, and then use it as part of their lunch that week.”
Also, ask your kids what they want in their lunch and for snacks. Within reason work with them on the purchasing and preparation. “Getting your kids to help put it all together is not just a helpful timesaver. If they’re involved, they will get excited about eating their lunch,” Allen says. “Your kids may also surprise you. They may prefer sandwiches over that stir fry or salad you were planning to pack.”
Fun Finger Foods
Kids love anything they can eat with their hands. Forgo the forks and spoons for small edibles that give kids the look and feel of a special treat. Allen’s kids go for Lemon Coconut Bliss Balls, a healthy concoction of almonds, coconut, and lemon rolled into bite-sized morsels. On the savory side, cheesy broccoli bites are a great way for your kids to get some vegetables and protein in their lunch (see recipe below).
Lastly, don’t forget to pack water along with other healthy beverages. “If your kids don’t like to drink water, try adding berries or other fruit in it to infuse it with added flavor and natural sweetness,” Allen says.