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

4 Ways to Turn a Brown Bag into a Green Lunch

Green LunchI have been a blogging slouch, big time, this summer, as my kids have been in full vacation mode and we have taken several summer roadtrips. But this week, as kids everywhere head back to school, parents everywhere are thinking about how to pack healthy, safe lunches that their kids will actually eat. So these are my top four tips to make sure your kids a green lunch. Ones that are eco-friendly AND kid friendly when they head back to hit the books. .

The Norm: Plastic bags for sandwiches and snacks.

The Problem: More than 20 million sandwich bags from school lunches go into landfills every day.

The Swap: It's been estimated that on average, a school age child using a disposable lunch generates 67 pounds of trash a year. Save money and the planet with reusable bags, like these super chic and cute ones from Etsy or Lunchskins (thanks to 3 green moms to sending some my way!). Feeling crafty? Grab the kids and make a fun project out of it using directions like the ones found here so they can add their own personal sense of style and creativity.

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The Norm:Brown paper lunch bags.

The Problem: One reusable lunch container can take the place of more than 200 brown bags over the course of the school year.

The Swap: Hello, retro! Invest in a reusable lunchbox and recoup your money well before the holiday season. There are tons of great new products to help keep your kids' lunch (or even yours!) eco-friendly. Laptop Lunch Boxes are an eco-chic brown bag swap out that your kids will love – I know mine sure do! These colorful recycled, food-safe plastic containers were created by two eco-friendly moms looking for a way to cut down on waste while still keeping lunch convenient and fun. Planet Box also makes a great alternative to plastic lunchboxes, with separate containers for each food item, making clean up a snap.

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The Norm: 100 calorie snack packs for snack time.

The Problem: Convenience costs you. These snacks cost about 3x as much as buying the regular size and portioning out yourself. Plus, the amount of petroleum based packaging increases dramatically.

The Swap: It's tempting for busy moms to load up on these convenience foods, but meet snack attacks a smarter way; slash your grocery bill and the level of packaging waste by making your own snack packs. Set up a "Do-It-Yourself" bar for kids loaded with whole grain crackers, dried fruit, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, seeds, and even a few 70% cacao chocolate chips so they feel the splurge. Let them pre-portion snacks into reusable containers or reusable fabric bags on Sunday night, and your kids will have eco-friendly snacks ready to grab-and-go all week long.

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The Norm: Bologna sandwich.

The Problem: Processed meats are linked with higher rates of heart disease and cancer, and about 50% of our "foodprint" comes from the amount of animal products in our diet.

The Swap: Lunch like a flexitarian! Swap your typical deli meat sandwich for a roasted red pepper hummus and veggie sandwich, like cucumber, spinach, sprouts, or zucchini. Or try cooking up a Sunshine Veggie Burger in a wrap – talk about delicious meeting nutritious! Not only will you be saving on your carbon footprint, but you'll also be cutting back on sodium and artery clogging fat – a delicious win-win.

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Looking for more ideas? Waste Free Lunches is a superb, one-stop shopping website for information and resources to build waste free lunches from home or get your school going a deeper shade of green in the cafeteria. Or check out Sara Snow's article on "Picking Your Greener Lunch Box" for more tips and tricks to send your kids back to the school cafeteria packing green.

What green rules do you live by for your kids' school lunches? I would love to hear your ideas! In the meantime, I'll be busy on my next blog!