Deliciously Different Lunch Ideas Your Kids Will Love

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…That are Fast and Easy on a Budget!

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While parents may be looking forward to ushering their kids back into school routines, the thought of whipping up inspiring, nourishing, delicious lunches that will that let kids perform at their peak seems to strike fear into of nearly every parent I know.
While it’s tempting to load up on single serving, pre-packaged snacks and foods to make loading up a lunchbox a breeze, remember that to help your kids stay focused, energized and satisfied.

The best lunch ideas have a combo of:

  • Whole grains and complex carbs 
  • Lean Protein
  • Heart healthy fats
  • Fresh, minimally processed foods (lots of fruits and vegetables)
And yes, you can have fun with it! Think of back to school as a fun opportunity for you and your kids together to freshen up the lunchbox - here are 4 delicious ideas that we use in our home that are are fast, easy on a budget, yet loaded with good nutrition and taste.

 

Tip #1: Build a Pasta Pleaser from Leftovers

In my book, leftovers are a busy parents best friend; they not only tend to be better for you than a processed lunch alternative, but they help you save money and time (it’s already cooked!).. pasta is the winning ingredient kids love:
So suppose that dinner last night was chicken and broccoli. Here’s what you can whip up for school:
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Herbed Chicken Tortellini Salad:
Cheese tortellini, cooked (or your favorite whole wheat pasta or whole grain cous cous)
Cubed chicken  (leftover)
Chopped broccoli (leftover)
Sliced cherry tomatoes 
Your favorite bottled Italian dressing (or if you want to be fancier, your favorite pesto)
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Simply toss all these ingredients together and drizzle with a bit of your favorite italian dressing. You can also and add all sorts of other items to this such as : Frozen peas, chopped spinach, sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, even pesto or olive tapenade for more adventurous eaters.

 

Tip #2: Make Dipping Healthier with Tasty Guacamole 

Kids all ages love to dunk and dip...but the challenge is that oftentimes they are using a ranch, mayo, sour cream or cheesy dipping sauce, which is high in artery clogging saturated fat. Let your kids dip in guacamole instead! Bite for bite, avocados are one of the most nutrient rich foods your kids can eat-loaded with 20 vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals in each bite. And the rich, creamy taste of avocados gives kids that satisfying mouthfeel they love. Kids can use this simple guacamole recipe (below) to dip their favorite sandiwch, veggie sticks, or multigrain chip:
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Simple Hass Avocado Guacamole:
1 ripe Hass avocado
Juice of 1/2 lemon or lime  
pinch sea salt
in a small bowl, mash avocado with a fork, Add juice and salt and combine.
Serve with a whole grain or veggie based chip that has at least 3 grams fiber per serving for a nutrient rich snack kids will love!
(full disclosure, I work with the Hass Avocado Board because I LOVE avocados!)

Spinach Salad with Grilled Asparagus, Raspberry Vinaigrette, Fresh Cherries, Peach Bread

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Tip #3: Build a Bento Box: Hard Boiled Eggs and Simple Sushi Rolls

Hard boiled eggs are another place busy parents can find economical, fast, and kid approved protein. And kid's sushi and bento boxes are a fun trend right now. I love Laptop Lunchbox because they are BPA free and dishwasher safe Here’s a delicious, economical bento box idea loaded with nutrition:
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Sliced cucumber
Pumpkin seeds
Fresh fruit
1 or 2 hardboiled eggs, sliced in half
Sushi Rolls:
-Whole wheat tortilla
-Hass avocado
-Cream cheese
 

Tip #4: Custom Quick Fixes for Picky Eaters

Want something kids can easily do themselves, provide the right nutrition, and is economical? Instead of the same old granola or snack bar (which can be loaded with sugar and refined grains) try these nourishing and equally easy alternatives instead. Kids love to customize!
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Fruit Kebabs and Yogurt Dip:
Let kids select their favorite 3 fruits 
Build on kebab, serve with greek yogurt or nonfat cottage cheese (I love greek yogurt because it contains twice the protein and half the sugar of regular yogurt, with a rich creamy taste).
Tasty Trail Mix Bar: Set up a Trail Mix Bar in the morning and let your kids build a custom one just for them: if you put out different options each day, kids stay interested and adventurous:
Favorite whole grain cereal 
Sunflower seeds
Pumpkin Seeds
Hemp or Chia seeds (rich in Omega-3)
Banana chips
Dried veggies
Wasabi peas
Dried fruit: cherries, cranberries or raisins
Almonds
Walnuts
Pistachios
A few 70% dark chocolate chips
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What are your favorite fresh lunch ideas? I’d love to hear from you!
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Written with help from Lindsey Toth, MS, RD