Words by Kevin Gray.
As summer comes to a close, parents are busy securing new school supplies, backpacks and clothes for their kids. But there’s one more thing to consider: lunch. You want to send your kids off with healthy, well-balanced meals that they’ll enjoy. But just as important: meals that won’t take you an entire morning to prepare.
So to give you one less thing to worry about as school nears, we enlisted Louise Chen, a Dallas-based registered dietitian nutritionist, for help planning a week-long menu of healthy, delicious lunches.
This five-pack of expert-approved lunch ideas contains a balanced mix of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, calcium and lean protein to keep your child fueled throughout the day.
Day 1 – Back to Basics, With a Twist
Spruce up the traditional PB&J with this twist on the classic. Start with whole grain bread, and spread with allergy-safe sunflower butter and either honey or your kid’s favorite natural jam. Now for the twist: Chen recommends sprinkling one teaspoon of flaxseeds into the sandwich for a nutty crunch and a dose of healthy Omega 3s. (Your child doesn’t have to know what they are to benefit from them.) Serve with one cup of fresh grapes, a handful of baby carrots and one cup of low-fat milk.
Day 2 – It’s a Wrap
Switch up the sandwich routine with a whole wheat wrap. Fill that wrap with two ounces of low-sodium turkey, one slice of Swiss cheese, and sliced cucumbers or spinach leaves. For a fun side, try fruit kabobs. Chen suggests loading up a few toothpicks with alternating banana slices and strawberry halves. For more protein and some calcium, throw in one Greek yogurt tube or one box of low-fat milk.
Day 3 – Chicken Salad
Whip up a batch of chicken salad, and you can steal some away in your own lunch, too. It takes a bit more prep, but the results are worth it. Combine diced chicken breast with light mayo (or substitute plain Greek yogurt), red onion, diced celery, raisins or cranberries, chopped walnuts, a dash of fresh lemon juice and some Dijon mustard. Season with pepper. It makes for a great sandwich, but to mix things up, try serving your chicken salad on cucumber slices or whole grain crackers.
Day 4 – Quesadilla Fiesta
Two six-inch whole wheat tortillas or pieces of pita bread act as the backbone for this easy-to-make quesadilla. Spread on some guacamole, and fill with black beans, shredded cheese, diced tomatoes and cooked chicken. Then slice into triangles for a mini geometry lesson. Serve with green apple slices and sunflower butter, and four ounces of 100% fruit juice.
Day 5 – Lunchables 2.0
Rethink this unhealthy, preservative-laced lunchtime classic. Instead, create your own! Pack a bento box or other divided tray with one cup of plain air-popped popcorn sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese; one cup of watermelon or cantaloupe; one half cup of hummus dip and your child’s favorite veggie–baby carrots, cucumber slices or bell peppers are all good choices; and four whole wheat crackers topped with low-sodium turkey. Serve with low-fat milk or 100% fruit juice.
As a bonus, Chen suggests making a healthy dip a staple lunch item, as it will help to increase your kid’s vegetable intake. Simply mix together six ounces of plain Greek yogurt, the juice of one half lime and one teaspoon paprika, then season with a pinch of salt, pepper and cumin. That’s all it takes to create this protein-packed vegetable dip, which can double as a topping for black beans or brown rice.