School cafeteria food can be so ho-hum that it’s no wonder many kids just pick at their food.
While the staff do their best with a host of regulations and restrictions, a quick look at Knoxville’s school lunch menus reveals previously-frozen PB&Js (Uncrustables), the dreaded billion-ingredient chicken nuggets and far more starchy sides (corn, french fries, beans) than green vegetables.
Packing a lunch is the perfect way to ensure that your children have access to foods they like, while also monitoring their nutrition and cutting down on the high-sodium processed and frozen foods found in school cafeterias today.
Unfortunately, sandwiches can become ho-hum, too. How many times can your child realistically be expected to get excited about the same sandwich day after day?
Change up the lunchbox by rotating one or more of these healthy non-sandwich items into your child’s routine. They’ll thank you for it, and their bodies will too.
#1) Hummus Spread with Pita Wedges
Kids love to dunk and dip, so fulfill the urge with fiber and protein-filled hummus that’s easy to make yourself. Pack whole wheat pita wedges, whole-grain crackers, cut veggies or homemade baked pita chips . (You can also make a spread with canelinni beans or black beans, if your kids prefer.)
#2) Make-Your-Own Lunchables
For some reason, children are mad for the pre-packaged build-your-own lunch kits, even though they’re loaded with preservatives and devoid of nutrition. Fill small containers with lean meats and cheeses cut into fun shapes, and let kids pile them on whole grain crackers or bread. Include strips of zucchini, baby spinach or other produce for color and nutrients.
#3) Colorful Pasta Salad
The variety of shapes, colors and sizes can keep pasta fun, and most every child likes it to some degree. Toss tri-colored tortellini with low-fat Italian dressing and confetti vegetables to pack in an insulated lunchbag, or try this lowfat BLT pasta salad that the whole family will love.
#4) Nutrition-Packed Smoothies
If you’re the parent to one of those kids who seem to never eat enough, pack a smoothie in an insulated thermos. The protein and nutrients can power your child through a day of school, even if she picks at her lunch.
#5) Breakfast Cereal for Lunch
There’s no law that says it’s just for breakfast. Extra-picky eaters might respond well to a familiar whole-grain cereal. Paired with milk and fruit, it might seem odd, but it’s far better lunch than frozen patties and french fries for sustaining him through the school day.
#6) Fruit Salad Plus
A colorful fruit salad can serve as a healthy meal when you toss it with high-protein Greek yogurt and top it with nuts or granola. Choose contrasting fruits like mangoes, kiwis and berries for an extra-festive bowl.
#7) Quesadilla Wedges
Cheese is packed with protein, so take advantage of it by melting some onto whole wheat or spinach tortillas. Add nutrition with other fillings like beans or spinach leaves. Cut into triangles and wrap in foil for easy transport.
#8) Banana Dog
The old peanut butter and jelly standby gets a shake-up when you spread the duo on a wheat hot dog bun, then top with a banana “hot dog.” Small children will find it funny, but will still eat it up.
#9) Taco Time
Leftovers are usually anathema to children, but you can make them more fun by re-purposing them. Shred leftover chicken and beef and fill a blue corn taco shell (or a whole wheat soft tortilla). Pack toppings separately to keep the taco from getting soggy, and to allow kids the fun of adding their own.
#10) Kid-Friendly Kebabs
Small children shouldn’t be around skewers without supervision, but older kids will love having shish-kebabs in their lunchbox. Thread cubes of chicken, pineapple and vegetables in alternating patterns on skewers or toothpicks and pack a dipping sauce or two.
Do you have any lunchbox favorites that break the boring sandwich pattern? Leave your ideas in the comments section.