School Lunch and Snack Ideas

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As one PSP Member writes: "my son is starting Kindergarten this fall after having been in a preschool / day care that took care of all of his meals every day. He's used to having hot, healthy meals which basically consist of rice / noodles and a protein and a vegetable (like a stir fry type of thing). Now I have to start making him lunch and I'm not sure where to start..." 

packedlunch

 

Ideas from PSP Members:

 

Sandwiches:

- Deconstructed sandwiches: crackers/pretzels, cheese, rolled-up turkey slices

- Sunflower seed butter & jelly (nut allergy friendly)

- Raisin bread with cream cheese, sandwich style cut into strips

- Cold cuts

- Simple cheese sandwiches

- Grilled cheese and ham

- Grilled cheese (cut in strips) to dip in tomato soup

- Turkey sandwich on a Hawaiian sweet roll

- Pita filled with hummus and something crunchy (cucumbers or peppers)

- "One whole pita stuffed with cheese or hummus etc., tzatziki has been a recent passion. For some reason pita pockets are more appealing to my son and definitely are less messy when cut a little at the top and filled. Maybe it feels like he’s eating a really big sandwich. When we are at home, we put lox, tuna fish etc in - the pita seems to be able to filled with anything and be acceptable (for now)"

 

Wraps & Quesadillas:

- Quesadillas: "I use a small soft taco tortilla & Monterrey Jack with whatever fillings are 'acceptable' that year (chicken, steak, etc). I cook it to melt the cheese, but then serve it cold."

- Cheese, spinach, or sweet potato quesadillas

 

 

Pastas & Pizza:

- Cold pizza: make with bagels, flatbread, or pita for variety

- Pizza english muffins with pepperoni and mushrooms

- "Pizza toast" (toast with tomato sauce, cheese melted, and herbs)

- Toaster oven mini-pizzas on pita bread

- Cauliflower pizza

- "Lunch menu items include tortellini with cheese, spinach ravioli, fish sticks or chicken/turkey meatballs. All easy to fork or pick up with fingers."

- "Tortellini stuffed with something (mushrooms is a big hit here)"

 

Meats & More:

- Chicken nuggets: "365 or Trader Joe's are better tasting than kid marketed nuggets and mostly equal level of sodium"

- Fish sticks

- Hot dogs

- "Chicken or other sausage with a little ketchup and some green peas etc mixed together. Green peas are a surprising hit."

- Dumplings: "Sometimes, not always a hit, have to be crispy"

- Apple turkey sausage: "Saltier but always paired with raw or simple fruits and veggies"

- Homemade sushi roll with rice and avocado: "I make them kind of thick because I’m terrible at making sushi"

- Rice and beans or rice and dal and yogurt

 

Sweet Snacks:

- Fruits: clementines (my kids ask for pre-peeled); small apples or apple slices (Trader Joes are pre-cut and don't brown); cubed melon; blueberries; strawberries; raspberries; plums; orange slices; grapes; pineapple; pomegranate seeds

- Bananas with peanut butter

- Plain Greek yogurt with fruit, jam, or honey

- "'Honey bear yogurt' (plain yogurt with honey—the novelty of the bear container is fun! and my daughter enjoys stirring it in herself)."

- Squeeze yogurts: "Siggi's yogurt tubes are good and have very little sugar. You can also buy silicon tubes and fill them with whatever."

- Kefir pouches

- Yogurt mixed with fruit and granola

- Make yogurt into a dip with honey and cinnamon and pair with cut apples or bananas

- Smoothies: "I use yogurt, milk and banana as the base and throw in frozen berries, spinach and ground flaxseed."

"For smoothies it’s usually just frozen berries, spinach and a spoonful of yogurt."

"'Banana swirl' (via Daniel Tiger), which is just frozen bananas in the blender."

- belVita biscuits

- Dried fruits (raisins, apricots, prunes, banana chips)

- Freeze-dried fruits (strawberries) or frozen fruits/veggies (blueberries, mango chunks, baby peas)

- Clif Z fruit-puree sticks

- Nature Made fig bars

- Small juice box (I like vegetable juice ones)

- Applesauce (tub or squeeze container)

- Oatmeal with bananas, blueberries, or strawberries

- MadeGood granola bars and minis

Kind granola bars

Larabars

Bunny Grahams (honey, chocolate)

- Annie's fruit bunnies: "Sometimes. More of a treat and also not the most filling!"

- Rice cakes: "We get the cinnamon kind"

- Apples and peanut butter: "Right now the most beloved snack in our home is apple slices and peanut butter. I serve it with peanut butter on the side, drizzled like nacho cheese, or I core a whole apple with a paring knife and smoosh the peanut butter down in the hole to make it more of an on-the-go snack."

- "For a nut-free option, my son really likes sun butter with honey and sometimes fruit inside, like sliced bananas (for nature school and others, we just have to label that it’s sun butter)"

- Pretzels with Nutella: "When we’re feeling indulgent"

 

Savory Snacks:

- Veggies: cucumber slices or spears with a pinch of salt; baby carrots or carrot matchsticks; raw green beans; dried seaweed/nori; raw snap peas; Snapea Crisps; sliced bell pepper; cherry tomatoes; broccoli; sliced cucumbers; tomatoes; buttered string beans. You can also give them something to dip the veggies in.

- Hummus & pita chips (or veggies or pretzels)

- Pita chip cracker “sandwiches” with whipped cream cheese

- "Healthy chips* with dollops of cream cheese on them (*we are currently in a beet chip phase, think she likes the bright red contrast with the white cream cheese). Similarly she's getting into "dips" as an eating activity.. likes dipping pretzels or chips into hummus or light cream cheese or other dips (she even *almost* likes baba ganoush!)"

- Kale chips

- Cheese sticks

- Babybel cheese

- Cheese: "She's become bored of mozzarella sticks, but will wolf down medium-sharp cheddar cubes and mexican/other cheeses with more flavor. LOVES little cubes of manchego, and it travels unusually well in warmish temps. Brooklyn tastes start young!"

- Edamame

- Roasted chickpeas with squeeze of lemon: "I try to get them extra crispy in the oven and add the lemon at the end. My son is obsessed with sour things."

- Hard-boiled eggs

Mini peanut butter crackers

- Veggie straws and veggie chips

- Annie's Cheddar Bunnies

- Snack Mates turkey jerky

- EPIC Meat Bites

- Nuts (peanuts, walnuts, pecans and cashews) and seeds (sunflower, pumpkin)

- Cottage cheese

- Guacamole or just plain avocado

 

Salads:

- Chicken salad (in or out of a sandwich)

- Pasta salad (with cut cooked or raw veggies, chicken, or cheese)

- Egg salad (alone or in a sandwich)

- Cous cous or quinoa

- Black bean, corn, and tomato salad

 

Thermos foods:

- "Get an appealing thermos and lunch box combo...have your child pick it out and be a "big kid" by using it. Have a lesson in how to eat lunch now that "you're a big kid and going to kindergarten."

- "We use the foogo thermos flasks for food."

- Thermos of pasta: "Amy's Organic & Trader Joe's make great frozen ones like pesto/cheese tortellini, ziti & ravioli. They both have great stir-fry, noodle/rice based meals that could go over well with your son too?"

- "Other mamas have suggested making zucchini muffins, corn muffins etc but with another little one I just haven't had the energy to on a Sunday evening. I boil the pasta at the beginning of the week (read Monday super AM) with a little bit of butter and it seems to keep well for a few days of the week. I Nuke the days warm item in the microwave 5 mins before stepping out, put it in the thermos and into the lunch bag. It seems to stay warm enough till noon. Some days it's all finished and some days it's untouched. But a combination of the above seems to do the trick.

- Thermos with chicken noodle soup

- "I frequently pack scrambled eggs for my daughter for school lunch. I put them in her thermos flask. A really good brand is the Thermos Funtainer Food Jar which can keep food hot and at safe levels for 4 hours."

 - "I would recommend buying a small Thermos container (Thermos brand, more expensive but worth it). You can easily still send noodle and rice dishes, and soups, and while the temperature won't be what your child is used to, my kids say the soups stay warm and generally it comes back empty. I heat the food as hot as possible (for example, boil the soup) and make it the last thing I pack before heading out the door."

 

Bento-style boxes:

- "There are many cool lunchbox sets like Yumbox leakproof Bento lunchbox container for cold lunches. Those can be fun, too, Have your child go to the store with you and pick out yogurts, vegies, dips, hummus, nut butters, fruits, fruit sticks, etc to fill up the compartments."

- "We usually do either a bento-type option with lots of options in small amounts, or a bigger 'entree' (pasta, sandwich) with a couple sides in small containers. I aim for a protein, veggie & fruit in each lunch with something starchy or whole grain to fill them up."

- "The thing that really helped us last year was lunchbots. Look them up on Amazon or diapers.com. It's a metal container somewhat like a bento box that has 3, 4, or 5 compartments that you can fill. I found that in k my
daughter never ate lunch, maybe one item out of the several I packed. Then I realized that they have like less than 20 minutes to eat and pretty much no adult help. She didn't have the time or ability to open up all of those ziplock and containers. Now she has the box - just had to open one thing and can pick and chose in the allotted time. We also got the lunchbots for our two preschoolers and they've been great."

- "He has a laptop lunchbox- we use that daily and I fill the other boxes with fruit, cheese, crackers, whatever makes sense."

 

Recipes:

 - "I sometimes make a batch of these egg frittata "muffins" for my daughter to eat during the week by itself or on bread with cheese." 

- "I often make double batches of porcupine meatballs in advance. I freeze them in small portions and send one portion as her lunch-- it's a hit. Here's the link. FWIW, I usually parboil the rice and add a healthy dose of umami paste to the meatballs. (Oh, and I use jarred tomato sauce, because I can't make better tomato sauce than Rao's.)"

- Spinach nuggets (batch-make and freeze)

- Pea fritters (batch-make and freeze)

- Carrot soup: "Nothing fancy—sauteed some onion, chopped up carrots, potatoes, then throw in water and bouillon and puree."

- "I also bake batches of 'healthy' muffins (blueberry bran, morning glory, etc) and freeze. A full-sized muffin is pretty filling for a 3/4 yo,esp with bran or full of veggies and seeds. I pull one out of the freezer to defrost in the fridge overnight and it is good for the lunchbox the next day."

Chocolate Black Bean Blender Muffins and Healthy Blender Banana Muffins

Broc-Tots: "Mostly Goop makes me roll my eyes, but we've been making these since babyhood and they're always gobbled up."

- Sweet potato / PB / oat cookies: "Also have been a hit since babyhood"

- "Oat bars. I like that I can make a big batch, package them and freeze them. Then you just grab a bar from the freezer when you leave, it defrosts in half or so ready for snack time! I use this recipe (it also works if you sub in water instead of juice, and you can add in nut or sun butter for more protein)"

-"I've been making her these oatmeal bites since she was a baby and they’re still a hit. It’s a big batch so I freeze half.

Baby/Toddler oatmeal bites
2.5 cups quick oats
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ripe banana
1 cup sweet potato purée
1 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder

Mix wet and add dry ingredients. Mix well.
Form 1 teaspoon sized balls and bake 10 minutes at 350."

 

Breakfast for lunch!

- "If you'd rather pack, my sons both like having breakfast for lunch and I will often pack pancakes, cereal with milk(in a separate container), waffles etc."

- French toast/waffles/pancakes with dip (yogurt, syrup, jam) & turkey bacon

- Waffles with peanut butter

- "Breakfast" burrito lunch: egg, cheese and black beans beans wrapped up, tomatoes on the side

 

Back up ideas/emergencies:

- "As a back up, there is always school lunches or a quick trip to the bagel store for a sandwich. My son has eaten the school lunches at PS 321 and they are ok on occasion. Don't know about other schools."

- "This is an extremely lazy "throw money at the problem" suggestion but we signed up for a Little Spoons subscription, and have been really impressed with the meals overall. They are tasty and creative but not SO out there that the kids don't want to try them. (I would say my kids are middle-of-the-road picky, if that helps. Not adventurous at all but not the pickiest I've ever seen.) Most are microwaveable, some (like any of the poppers/tots) are much better in the toaster oven. It's been a huge weight off our shoulders to have these around because they're a really good option if we just can't think of anything else.

Also: the little quiches from French Tart are delicious and SERIOUS crowd pleasers."

 

Leftovers:

- "He's not really into sandwiches. He gets leftovers a lot - rice, broccoli, a bit of chicken. whatever we have left. I also make batches of things he likes and freeze in small ziplocs that I defrost the night before if we don't have leftovers. Mac and cheese, sloppy joe, veggie chili. If I don't have leftovers or need to stretch I throw one of those in. They last a long time, you can easily get away with making a batch of something every couple weeks to replenish."

- "Make enough dinner or order enough take out the night before and heat up and pack in a thermos the next day or make sandwiches out of the leftover meat (e.g. chicken slices or chicken salad sandwiches)."

 

The case for school lunches:

- "First, maybe just try buying lunch? Lots of kids do and he may like it better if that's what he's used to. PS 107 posts the menu online and it's actually catered by some outside somewhat healthy vendor. My 2nd grader hasn't tried it yet but told me she may be wiping to try pizza Friday this year."

- "My son is going into 1st at 107 and gets school lunch occasionally. The menu is posted online and we look at it once and month and he chooses what says he'll eat at school. The problem for K is I find that they are shy and don't ask for the food at the salad bar etc so it ends up being way less food than he would normally eat when I pack it."

 

The case against school lunches:

- "Avoid the school lunches for the most part (if your child attends a public school). As convenient as this might be for you, I saw many of these go straight in the trash and it was heartbreaking, both for the wasted food and for kids who didn't eat enough. At least with a packed lunch it's easier to tell how much your child is eating (or not)."

 

General tips and strategies:

- "On weekends or during the week, make crock pot soup or stew. Freeze extra, Pack in thermos for lunch."

- "Have your child help with getting the lunch together or with other meals."

- "In our school parents volunteer to help at lunch and help kids open up containers and such. You could perhaps do this and check out what other kids are having?"

- "Something that we've discovered is how influential PRESENTATION of the food is! Sometimes it makes or breaks the whole experience. It's much more fun when you arrange the food like a face, or a flower for example."

- "I have a set structure of items each day (protein, fruit, carb, treat, extra snack item) and then a rotation of what I do for each of those things each day so week-to-week I don't have to think too much about new options."

- "Our 3.5-year-old will eat anything if it’s crinkle cut with a little knife like this. Cheese, raw vegetables, apples and pears. I even crinkle cut pitted olives! It’s safe for little ones to do the chopping too, which helps. :)"

 

Related Reading:

Hiding Vegetables

Do You Eat Dinner as a Family? And How Do You Do It?

Non Sugary Foods Ideas for Breakfast