Busy Moms often ask us, “What are some easy and nutritious lunches for kids?” Fortunately, we have some Moms on our team of Registered Dietitians who know the struggle all too well. They’ve compiled lots of great suggestions and ideas, which we share with you here!
Our dietitian Moms agree that when it comes to making nutritious lunches for kids, there are some basic requirements. First, we need lunch prep to be quick and easy. Second, we want to avoid items that make a mess or require help from an adult. Lastly, we want to provide a healthy dose of midday nutrition!
Here are some resources, ideas and tips that will make providing nutritious lunches for kids simple and manageable.
Getting the Right Gear
Whether your child is off to school, camp, or daycare, they are going to need the right gear. Even if your kiddos eat lunch at home, it’s a great idea to prep and pack their lunch at a time that works best for you. Then when lunchtime hits, they can help themselves. You’ll be providing a nutritious lunch for your kids even in the midst of a busy day.
Let’s start by talking about the gear that works best, like these tried-and-true favorite items that members of our team use for their own kids. They are safe, simple and (best of all) fun!
Cold Lunches for Kids
When we think about packing lunches, we often think of cold lunches that are filled with sandwich-like items and sides of various foods. Our favorite gear for a nutritious cold lunch for kids is a bento box.
Bento boxes keep lunch items organized. They are easy to eat from, whether your child eats lunch in the school cafeteria or at your own kitchen table. Using a bento box also helps decrease your carbon footprint by minimizing baggies and other disposable products.
When selecting a bento box, find one that is leak-proof and that has components that are dishwasher safe. (Often times the lids themselves are hand wash only). The best part about a bento box? It allows you to pack a nutritious lunch for your kids while keeping things FUN!
For younger kids, check out our recommended bento box by clicking here. It comes in tons of fun colors and patterns. Older kids will prefer this grown up bento box, which is also a great choice for adults.
How will your kiddo carry their bento box to school? In a lunch bag of course! It must be large enough to hold the bento box, an ice pack and maybe a milk carton or other beverage. Check out our favorite lunch bag for younger kids, which is roomie enough to hold everything your child needs for a nutritious lunch! It even has an outside pocket for silverware, hand sanitizer, and maybe even a little happy note. Older kids will want to check out this lunch bag that comes in basic black and some other fashion-forward colors. It’s large enough to hold a bento box, drink, and other tween/teen must-haves.
NOTE: Keeping food cold is very important to prevent food-borne illness. It’s not a nutritious lunch if it makes kids sick! That’s why we love these thin, space-saving ice packs, which slip easily into a lunch bag and keep everything chilly for at least four hours. Buy these by clicking here.
Hot Lunches for Kids
Getting variety in lunches is always a challenge, especially when you are focused on providing food for your kids that is both tasty AND nutritious. Therefore, including a hot option is a great way to break up the monotony! So pack a thermos filled with a hot entree of choice, and add a side of fruit and veggies.
Keep it mess-free! Consider the age of your child and what would work best for them. For example, sending soup for your kindergarten kid is a recipe for spills. Something like mac and cheese would be a better option, with a much lower chance of mess.
Sold on the idea of packing a hot, nutritious lunch for your kids? It’s time to pick a container that will keep food hot for at least four hours. We’ve got some favorites to share. We love this classic Thermos and your child will too. It comes in tons of fun colors and patterns, and even features some favorite characters. Another go-to for hot foods is this container from Simply Modern, which is a hit with older kids. It comes in a wide variety of colors and finishes.
Once again, it’s not really a nutritious lunch if it makes kids sick. It is therefore important that food stays hot (above 140 degrees) until lunchtime to prevent foodborne illness. Pro tip: Heat up the entrée to above 200 degrees in the microwave. Place it in the thermos immediately and seal it up. Since you are cooking it to a high temperature, add more liquid than normal to keep the texture right. For example, use more sauce on the pasta than normal.
Making Lunch Nutritious for kids
The easiest way to think about making healthy lunches is by including each key food group:
- Grains (or a complex carbohydrate)
When it comes to providing a nutritious lunch for your kids, having a variety of food brings in all the different nutrients and keeps taste buds happy. It also teaches kids about eating balanced meals, which sets them up for success later in life.
Got a picky eater? Every child has different taste buds, tolerance to textures, and relationship with foods, which can be challenging. If you are struggling to make nutritious lunches that your kid will actually eat, consider working with one of our Registered Dietitians. You can schedule an appointment by clicking here.
Let your child explore and try new foods at home. When you are packing a nutritious lunch for kids to eat at school, camp, or somewhere else, stick with foods you know they’ll eat. This prevents stress and ensures your child doesn’t go through their day hungry.
There are some great ways that you can introduce new foods at home. Find a few tips on our blog about feeding a family when everyone wants something different. Our picky eating blog may also be helpful if you have young ones with more selective eating habits!
And now a note about treats. Let’s face it: Treats are yummy! Teach kids that treats are for every once in a while, and not daily. Teach your child about moderation and that every food has a place. A cookie, chocolate milk, or chips are great examples of “every once in a while” foods.
Download our FREE 3-week Lunch Menu
Need more ideas? You can download a free copy of a 3-week lunch menu we’ve created that you can cycle through! It’s got plenty of nutritious lunch ideas for kids (and adults!) Click here to get your copy, or click the green button below.
Other Lunch Ideas
When it comes to providing a nutritious lunch for kids, you can go traditional with sandwich-like items or do a cold bean or pasta salad. There are so many different options to choose from. Here are some COLD ENTREE ideas:
- Turkey, cheese and veggie roll-up
- Can cut into small rolls for young kids
- Whole wheat pasta salad
- Add colorful veggies and other favorite fixins.
With cooler weather or for added variety, simple leftovers from a warm dinner make a nutritious lunch for your kids the following day! Or meal prep a few of these easy ideas on the weekend. Here are some HOT ENTREE ideas:
- Mac n Cheese
- Pasta with meatballs/spaghetti sauce
- Use macaroni, fusilli, penne, or bowtie pasta since spaghetti noodles can be messy
- Taco meat for build your own taco/burrito (cold fixins on the side)
- This is a better option for older kids
Always incorporate some color! If meals don’t already include a veggie, add some on the side. Also, don’t forget to pack some fruit like whole apples, mandarin oranges (AKA “cuties”), or grapes. Using whole fruit minimizes prep time and mess.
Get Guidance from an Expert
Need assistance feeding kids? Have picky eaters? Not confident about your child’s habits around food?
Book an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians. We can share plenty of great ideas for optimizing your child’s nutrition, while navigating picky eating and other challenges. We also have plenty of other great ideas for packing nutritious lunch for your kids! Here’s the best part: We take most major insurance, and your sessions may be covered at 100%!
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