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Best Lunch Ideas for Back to School and Work
It’s back to school and work season, which also means back to packing lunches. Here are the top 5 lunch packing tips to make this year the best yet (at least when it comes to lunches).
1. Think balanced
Balanced meals consist of a combination of different foods and nutrients. Try to incorporate at least 3 of these options in each lunch.
• Healthy Fats (e.g., seeds, avocado)
• Grains (e.g., tortillas, rice, etc.)
• Protein (e.g., tuna, eggs, turkey, beans etc.)
• Dairy or dairy alternative (e.g., soy milk, yogurt, etc.)
• Fruits and vegetables
2. Get Creative
When we think about packing lunches we automatically think sandwiches or maybe even leftovers. I encourage you to think outside the box, lunch doesn’t need to be a ‘meal,’ it can actually be a combination of different foods that make up a meal. Children love routine, but having the same lunch gets boring for anyone. Switch it up, even if that means using a tortilla or crackers instead of bread or switching up the kind you buy.
3. Plan Ahead
Planning your child’s lunches ahead of time or at least having an idea of what you are going to pack will save you tons of time and ensure your child is getting a lunch packed with nutrients. Stocking your pantry, fridge, and freezer with some easily packable items like dried fruit, seeds, eggs, canned tuna, fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains pitas etc. will help reduce stress around meal prep and save you time.
4. Get Your Child Involved
When stocking your pantry or packing lunches, get your child involved. Have them pick some of their favourites and be sure to include those in their lunch. Tip for picking favourites: give your child 2-3 items to choose from, this way you are ultimately in control of what their options are (lets face it, if you let them pick anything their lunch might be filled with bear paws and fruit roll-ups). Perhaps sit down together before you go grocery shopping and ask what they’d like to try in their lunch this week and plan together.
5. Make Healthy Food Easy & Fun
Fruits and vegetables can be tricky, especially when you are packing for a fussy eater. Be sure to make the healthy choices the easy choices. Perhaps you slice the apple for them, peel the orange, or pick easy to eat veggies (e.g., cherry tomatoes, sliced celery, cucumber, or carrots). Make it fun by adding dip (if the dip will help your child eat it, include it). Perhaps put the fruit on a skewer, make a fruit salad, or make cream cheese sandwiches out of cucumber slices.
5 Healthy Lunch Ideas
1. Tortilla Roll Ups
Using a whole grain tortilla and load it with different ingredients. Roll up and slice into 1 inch pieces. Beware of soggy ingredients including tomato and sauces, especially if you pack them the night before. This might discourage your child from eating it.
Tortilla Roll-Up Favourites:
• Pizza style with lightly spread tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings of choice
• Turkey, cheese, and lettuce
• Hummus and veggies (e.g., shredded carrots, peppers etc.)
2. Lunch Kit
The lunch kit is a personal favourite of mine. Essentially it’s a bento box lunch, where you are offering your child a variety of foods that help create that balanced lunch discussed above.
Lunch kit #1: rice or whole grain crackers, hummus, favourite raw veggies, hard boiled egg or pieces of an omelette
Lunch kit #2: rice or whole grain crackers, guacamole, tuna salad, fruit
Lunch kit #3: edamame beans, pita pocket with sunflower seed butter, fruit, and cheese cubes (optional) or veggies and dip
3. English Muffin Pizzas
Use a whole grain English muffin as your pizza base. Pack topping for your child. It’s like a healthy version of a ‘lunch able’ because you are controlling what is offered. Perhaps even get your child to decide what toppings they’d like.
4. Pasta or Quinoa Salads
Pasta or quinoa salads are a great cold lunch option. You can mix in veggies, protein, and even some cheese. I often like to make Mediterranean styled pasta or quinoa salads with chickpeas, black olives, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and feta cheese. Salads of any like layered in jars make great lunches for you and offer options to tweens.
5. Breakfast for Lunch
Maybe your child has some breakfast favourites you can pack for lunch, this is part of thinking outside the box. I mean who wouldn’t love some pancakes for lunch?
• Whole grain pancakes
• Fruit and yogurt dip
• Fruit, yogurt, and granola
• Hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, or omelette
• Whole grain waffles
• Whole grain pita or cinnamon/apple pita with seed butter and no sugar added fruit jam
This fall have fun while packing lunches. Plan ahead, think balanced, and keep it simple and fun. Remember to involve your child, it’s a great opportunity to get them interested in their lunches and teach them about the importance of good nutrition.
Angela Wallace is a Registered Dietitian, Personal Trainer, and Family Food Expert. She runs a private practice (Eat Right Feel Right) that offers various nutrition and exercise programs. In addition, she works as a health educator and project coordinator with the Guelph Family Health Study, a family based health study at the University of Guelph. Website: www.eatrightfeelright.ca