Back to school is upon is– for some of you, you might already be a week or two in, by now. For us in the Northeast, we’re starting bright and early next week, just following labor day. But wherever you’re at in the back to school transition, we can all use a little inspiration, right? It’s my big kiddo’s first year going four days in a row, so lunch time just got REAL. This mama’s got to plan for nourishing lunches, and so many of you requested lunchbox inspiration after I posted her lunchboxes on the regular to my instagram stories. So I got to work in creating over a dozen real food lunch boxes (stay tuned for Pt 2!) for inspiration outside the usual PB&J (SFB&J is the new PB&J now, right?!). My kiddo’s been testing them all week long and so far, she’s a fan.
If you didn’t catch my post last year on the Healthy Mama Lunchbox Formula, here’s how I pack her lunches:
1. Fruit– what kid doesn’t love a nice piece of fruit? Fruit add micronutrients like vitamins and minerals and fiber-rich carbohydrates that help to mitigate that late-afternoon crash.
Add some: sliced apples or pears, mango or pineapple spears, berries, grapes, pressed fruit bars, freeze-dried fruit or mini bananas.
2. Protein. Protein is crucial for growing kids– it doesn’t provide energy like fruit, veggies and fat do, but it is necessary for building strong muscles and most importantly in the school lunch- keeping kids full and helping avoiding that blood sugar crash. Don’t be afraid to mix up the protein- whether it’s a sandwich or wrap with deli meat, meat and cheese roll-ups, cottage cheese, hard cooked egg, or leftovers- just make sure it’s included! Healthy fats usually go along with protein- but if you’re only focusing on lean protein (like turkey), make sure you have some healthy fats in their snack, as well.
Add some: deli meat and/or cheese, hard cooked eggs, cottage cheese, leftover meat, egg cups
3. Veggies- raw or cooked, whatever your kids prefer– make sure there is at least one veggie in their box!
Add some: cucumber, baby carrots, sliced bell peppers, steamed asparagus, raw or cooked broccoli or cauliflower, kale chips, homemade zucchini bites (the list is endless!) Dips are a fun addition too- try hummus, homemade mayo or ranch, salsa or nut butters.
4. No-sugar liquids. By no sugar liquids, I mean WATER, mama! Kiddos need water just as much as adults do (though yes, in slightly lesser quantities). Avoid fruit juice and sugary sports drinks. Some kids like milk with lunch, that’s fine too– but make sure they’re staying hydrated with good old fashioned water, too.
Add some: water or milk
5. Healthy snacks. Here is where the healthy fats come in- healthy fats keep kids fueled and satiated, so snacks like full-fat yogurt, string cheese, nuts or trail mix are a great choice. (Notice most of these contain some protein to keep them full, as well!) Carbohydrate-rich snacks are fine, too- just be mindful of balancing them with those fat-and-protein rich snacks, too.
Add some: full-fat yogurt, string or sliced cheese, olives, almonds, cashews or walnuts; meat sticks, trail mix; homemade granola; snap pea crisps, plantain chips, smashed fruit bars, Larabars, RX bars or other clean ingredient granola bars; homemade energy bites, mini muffins, Jilz or Simple Mills Crackers, Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies
Now let’s be clear here: just like when it comes to eating any meal, there is NO right or wrong way to pack a lunch box. But sometimes a little guidance is nice, no? Similar to my super smoothie formula, or my balanced plate formula- the healthy lunch box formula simply helps myself (and my clients) pack a healthy, balanced lunch to keep kids full and fueled for their school day.
A few tips on packing simple, healthy lunches:
1. Find out what your kid likes!
Ask your kids, or the teachers, if your kiddo is still young, to not throw out leftovers- but keep them in the box so you see what they actually eat!
2. Think outside the box.
Utilize leftovers in a thermos, or pack something that doesn’t necessarily need refrigeration like quinoa salad. It doesn’t need to be a sandwich to be lunchbox food!
3. Mix it up.
Some kids like the comfort of having the same lunch over and over again. Some, like my kiddo, thrive on variety. I like to choose two veggies and two fruits and two protein (main) options for the week so she’s not getting the same thing every day, but I’m also not spending an arm and a leg on lunchbox supplies.
So let’s dig into some inspiration, shall we?
(F) grapes (P): cassava flour chicken tenders (coming soon) (V) carrot chips with primal kitchen ranch (S) plantain chips + a couple Field Day animal cookies
(F) Clementine (P + V) Quinoa salad (with grape tomatoes, basil, spinach, EVOO, s+p + cheddar) (S) Vermont Stick + RX bar (not nut-free, for those of you in nut-free schools)
(F) Dried Apricots (P) Broccoli Cheddar Egg Cups (V) Tomatoes (yes, technically a fruit) (S) pretzel sticks + Made Good bar (nut-free)
(F) Grapes (P) Siete Foods Quesadilla (cassava is nut-free, almond is not) with mild salsa (V) carrot sticks (S) power balls
(F) strawberries (P) honey ham + provolone roll-ups (V) cucumber slices (S) Larabar (not nut-free) and cassava flour cranberry orange muffins
(F) raspberries (P) crispy chia chicken tenders with ketchup (V) cucumber slices (S) cheese stick
(F) apple slices (P) ham + cream cheese pinwheels on sprouted wrap (V) carrot + celery sticks with hummus (S) Stretch Island fruit leather + Field Day animal cookies
Do you have lunchbox favorites?? Share with me over on Instagram!