You’re all ready for back to school, right? In fact, school has already started for many of you. And I’ll bet you stocked up with an arsenal of writing supplies, fashionable school clothes, paper and paperLESS items. Whew! We’re set for the year or at least a good portion of it. But one thing that we are never really ready for is school lunch. For my family school lunch means homemade lunch items that must be healthy, have variety, and that will sit well in an insulated lunch tote until the school lunch hour. But it’s an ongoing, year-long challenge.
Well, to help you with that challenge, I’ll be sharing many school lunch recipes for you throughout the year. My goal will be healthy, easy recipes that won’t come back home with your kids but will actually get eaten and requested over and over again. Before we start cooking though, let’s get the kitchen organized because we have a marathon of lunch packing in the months to follow. This task can be stress-free, if we plan ahead. And if you’re new to packing your kids’ lunch for school, you might need a mind shift from the typical homemade lunch menu from when you were a kid. Remember these few points: 1. School lunch doesn’t have to be sandwiches or other predictable “lunch” ingredients (just wait and see!) 2. School lunch menus can be lunch ideas for the whole family, including how to use leftovers, and 3. Fresh ingredients always beat out pre-packaged “lunch” traps (i.e. yellow box-ables), so don’t even go there. Let’s get our school lunch education started:
Stock the fridge, freezer and pantry- I don’t want to give you a specific list of ingredients you should stock up on because everyone’s taste and need is different. But be creative when you go shopping for your family. Beware of packaged items, especially those with a long shelf life. This usually means they contain a lot of preservatives. I love the 365 Brand products at Whole Foods Markets. These items are reasonably priced but still maintain Whole Foods’ standard for excellent quality. Just look for the 365 Everyday Value label throughout the store.
As you start to create meals and find out what are favorites, you’ll know what to buy more often. I know, this is not an aha! moment. But a reminder to plan ahead.
Pick one night a week to prepare foods that can be made ahead- Many recipes I’ll be sharing will be freezer-friendly. Maybe prepare a couple of options weekly that can even overlap and before you know it you’ll have three or four healthy freezer meals to choose from every day. Make a big salad at the beginning of the week and divvy out individual servings as needed. Any non-perishables like popcorn, pretzels, etc. can be placed in snack-sized baggies and then in a food storage container for easy grab-and-pack-for-lunch that day. This is a great idea for perishable items as well if you have room in your refrigerator. This option also let’s your kids help what will be in the day’s lunch. Each morning, place the food containers out on the counter, even label the containers with 1s or 2s, letting them know how many they can choose from each container (so they don’t choose all desserts and leave out necessary protein and vegetables). Here’s a good example of this from Lovely Bella.
Containers for packing these great foods – You don’t need to break the bank here with the latest and greatest (expensive) metal bento box with the cute separators, though I admit I’ve been tempted because they look very cool. Just make sure you have containers that won’t leak and include small condiment and salad dressing containers. An insulated lunch bag, ice pack and mini thermos will help keep things hot or cold as needed. I do have a few favorite must-haves though. One I really like is EasyLunchBoxes.com. I love the separate compartments, BPA-free plastic and tight-fitting lids.
Open your mind!- Don’t pigeon hole your thinking that lunch needs to be made using traditional ingredients. We all love breakfast-dinners, and breakfast-lunch can be just as fun (hello, how about leftover waffles to replace sandwich bread!) Kids love great “snacky” lunches that are fun and colorful. Think of items like grapes or berries, cherry tomatoes or thawed frozen peas with cheese, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, cooked pasta… you get it.
Let’s do this lunch journey together. I’ll be featuring kid and husband tested and approved recipes that I hope you’ll find fun and nutritious as well as items that won’t be same ol same ol. Happy New School Year to you all, and here’s a homemade school lunch jump-start of recipes that we love and I think you will too:
PASTRY PUFF PINWHEELS
- 1 package puff pastry sheets, thawed
- 1 tablespoon mustard with whole mustard seeds, or spicy brown mustard
- ¾ cup sliced deli ham, finely chopped (try uncured ham)
- ½ cup crushed pineapple, well drained
- 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
- 2 scallions, sliced thin (optional)
- Dipping sauce options: Ranch dressing, honey mustard, or my son's favorite; Sriracha-ranch.
- Preheat oven to 375F degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- On a very lighty floured surface, unroll the pastry sheets. Spread the mustard sparingly but evenly over the pastry. Sprinkle the ham, pineapple and Cheddar cheese evenly over surface. If using the scallions, lightly sprinkle them over pastry as well.
- Starting with the long side of the puff pastry, carefully roll the dough until you end up with a long log. Cut the filled dough into 1-inch thick pieces, and place on the baking sheet.
- Bake for 15-25 minutes until the dough rises and is golden (start checking after about 12 minutes since all ovens are different).
- Remove from the oven and allow the wheels to cool for about 5 minutes.
- The puff pinwheels are ready to pack into lunches or can be stored in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to 3 days. The day you pack the wheels into the lunch, they'll warm to room temperature within a few hours, ready for lunchtime.
- Serve with favorite dipping sauces if desired.
- Cook's note: If interested in the Sriracha-ranch, it's just a combination of Sriracha sauce and ranch (we love vegan ranch) using more or less Sriracha to your liking.
Recipe adapted from The Best Homemade Kids School Lunches on the Planet.
HEALTHY COOKIE DOUGH DIP
- 1 6-ounce container vanilla yogurt (I love So Delicious brand of Coconut Yogurt)
- 1 tablespoon almond butter (do NOT use peanut butter, I tried...big mistake)
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons mini chocolate chips
- Apple slices
- Graham crackers
- In a small bowl, stir together yogurt, almond butter and maple syrup.
- Sprinkle with mini chocolate chips and serve.
Recipe adapted from The Best Homemade Kids School Lunches On the Planet.
TORTELLINI AND VEGETABLE SWORDS
- Use your own quantities here and save whatever you don't skewer for another day or different use:
- Cooked refrigerated tortellini
- Grape or cherry tomatoes
- Black olives
- Place cooked tortellini in a small bowl. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with oregano and/or seasoned salt.
- Alternate skewering black olives, tortellini and tomatoes.
- If you don't have skewers, mix ingredients in a bowl and serve as a little anti pasta type salad.
- Cook's note: If sending in a child's school lunch, take care to not use skewers unless for older children.
And if you’re looking for more options RIGHT NOW… check out some of these links to recipes from other food bloggers who know the importance of a healthy, portable meal.
MAIN DISH IDEAS
Pumpkin and Parmesan Muffins (gluten Free) from Plus Ate Six. Pepperoni Pizza Sticks from The Seasoned Mom. Maple Bacon and Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits from The Chunky Chef. Sesame Peanut Noodles from The Schizo Chef. Turkey Meatloaf Muffins from Everyday Sarah Jane. Cheesy Curried Cauliflower Pasta from Easy Cooking with Molly.
BAKED GOODS AND BREAKFAST ON THE GO
Banana Nut Bread Granola Bars from Athletic Avocado. Baked Apples from The Endless Meal. Quinoa Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies with Cranberries from The Gluten-Free Foodsmith. Healthy Granola on the Stove Top from Piece of Cerebrum. Blueberry Pecan Breakfast Bars from Curls n’ Chard. Blueberry Breakfast Bites from A Virtual Vegan.
And let’s not forget that yummy sweet treats are appreciated in any lunch. So, I’ll finish with this Healthier No-Bake Chocolate Cookie recipe from my blogging mentor and dear friend Mel, at Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. Her site is chockful of delicious recipes and ideas…plus she’s one of the nicest people on the planet.