Thinking Outside the Lunchbox
Creative & Healthy Non-Sandwich Recipes Your Kids Will Love
Steve Silvestro, MD, is a pediatrician & host of The Child Repair Guide Podcast; Monica Silvestro, CHHC, is a certified health coach & preschool teacher.
The start of the schoolyear brings the return of an age-old parenting challenge: How to pack a school lunch that your kid will actually eat?
If you make lunches for your kids, you know that it can be hard to balance your children’s food preferences with the need to get some vital nutrition into their active bodies. You want protein-heavy foods that will help keep them satisfied until the end of the long school day, but also need some tasty variety so that they’re not bored with the same food day after day, week after week.
And if your house is like mine, then your mornings are often a hurricane of getting the kids brushed, dressed, packed, and out the door on time—leaving little room for gourmet cooking. After all, it’s much easier to throw less healthy, pre-packaged foods or a boring sandwich into their lunch boxes and save everyone’s sanity.
But using high quality, nutritious foods is important for your child’s health in the short term (think: better focus in class) as well as the long term (maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding chronic diseases).
So below are a few tips and recipes that can make packing creative, healthy, tasty lunches less stressful.
Many of these will take a little bit of prep ahead of time. But before you shake your head and say, “I thought you told me this was going to be easy,” know that I’m not talking about ‘cutting artistic shapes & dioramas for kid-sized bento boxes on Pinterest’ prep.
No, the tips and recipes below can take as little as a few minutes to an hour that you can do once on the weekend and end up with healthy, tasty lunches for your kids for the whole week. Plus, if you have your kids help you cook, then they have some ownership & more interest in what they’re eating (not to mention that cooking is a great way to teach math skills!).
Take a look:
Tasty Non-Sandwich Tip #1: Use a Thermos
To get out of the sandwich rut, consider utilizing a thermos for warm meals. The Thermos Funtainer is a #1 Bestseller on Amazon & comes in 33 different color & character designs (get one here). Better still, the kid lunch possibilities are endless with a thermos!
The thermos should keep the food warm, but you can help it out with this simple trick: While you’re making your morning coffee, set a small pot of water to boil and pour the boiling water into the thermos to pre-heat the thermos. Dump the water and add the heated food. The pre-heating will help keep their food warm until lunchtime.
So what to put into the Thermos?
- Leftovers from your dinner – About as easy as it can get!
- Bean or Beef Chili (serve with a mini cornbread muffin) — A favorite in my family!
- Chicken Nuggets – Get the best quality brand you can or make your own with this recipe. Place a small square of paper towel on the bottom of the thermos to keep the nuggets from getting soggy.
- Chicken Sausage Coins — We love Trader Joe’s Chicken Apple Sausage in my house. Cook ’em up, cut into coin-shaped pieces, and toss them into the thermos.
- Meatballs – Store-bought or make your own Meat-based Meatballs or Vegetarian Meatballs and make school lunch really feel like a home-cooked meal.
- Lunchbox Tacos –This is another favorite in my house! Fill the thermos with taco meat, then add a tortilla and a small serving of shredded cheese and lettuce in a Ziploc container or baggie & your kids can assemble a little burrito!
- Your child’s favorite soup – Or try these and add some crackers in a container or baggie for an extra crunch:
Tasty Non-Sandwich Tip #2: “Muffin Meals”
You may have heard of the book Dragons Love Tacos. Well, Kids Love Muffins!
Better still, parents love muffins if they’re hearty & nutritious, and the muffins in the recipes below are exactly that. They’re easy to prepare & can be easily thrown into your child’s lunchbox with some fruit, cheese, veggies, or other sides.
Some even freeze well, so make a double batch and throw them in frozen—they’ll defrost by lunchtime & you’ll have a supply that will last you days!
These are some of my kids’ favorite Muffin Meals:
- Protein Muffins with Almond Butter
- Corn Dog Muffins from Scratch (Or, use a cornbread mix & simply follow the baking instructions on the package)
- Pancake Muffins
- Egg Frittatas
- Gluten Free Carrot Cake Muffins
Over a Dozen Easy Kid Lunches!
When it comes to healthy & creative lunches your kids will love, this is only the tip of the iceberg. But use the above recipes and your kids will have tasty meals that they can enjoy at school for weeks!
What are your kids’ favorite non-sandwich lunches? Comment in the section below and let us know!