Easy School (and Work) Lunch Ideas

By , SparkPeople Blogger
What kid or adult for that matter doesn't want to be the envy of the cafeteria, thanks to their delicious packed lunch?  In my family, when the kids hop into the car after school the first question or comment of the day usually pertains to the mid-day meal.
Most days I hear: "It was great, everyone wanted to trade with me!"  Of course, I also hear that lunch wasn't so good some days, too.
What does make a great lunch?  Is it something new, colorful, warm, hot, or one that comes in a packaged compartment tray?  As a Chef and mother of three boys the answer is yes to all of the above.  The chef in me thinks back to simple culinary training and passion for the seasons.  Warm soups, stews, or savory dishes are perfect for lunch on cool days whereas cold salads or sandwiches with fruit hit the spot of the hot days.  Just mix it up!  Check out these fun and easy ideas for you and your family to pack or even eat in for lunch meals.
Nut Butter Banana Wrap:  Spread nut butter on a whole wheat tortilla, along with all-fruit jam or sliced strawberries. Place a whole banana on top and roll it up. Add strawberries if desired. Secure with plastic wrap and tie the ends with kitchen string.  Avoid rubber bands--they are a guaranteed detention for teenage boys.  Trust me, I know.
Vegetarian Bean Chili:  Warm up prepared chili and pack in a thermos, along with shredded cheese, hot sauce, Greek yogurt, and whole wheat crackers in a tiny divided plastic container. Don’t forget the ice pack.
Turkey Sloppy Joes:  Over a weekend or night before, cook 1 pound extra lean ground turkey breast to 165 degrees then add in 8 ounces no salt added tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 tablespoon barbeque sauce. Simmer for 5 minutes.  Divide into 4 equal portions. Morning of school reheat and pack in a thermos.  Pack 1 whole wheat sandwich thin, tomato slices, and lettuce leaves.
Ricotta and Strawberries Whole Wheat Wraps:  Combine 1 cup sliced strawberries with 1/2 cup ricotta cheese.  Spread onto whole wheat wrap, top with 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds and 1/2 teaspoon honey.  Roll or fold wrap in half, then cover with plastic wrap. This is also delicious with other kinds of fruit, such as kiwi and raspberries.
Turkey Meat Pie: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll out a single serving of whole wheat pizza dough.   Fill one half with sliced roasted turkey, grilled onions, spinach, Swiss cheese, and sun dried tomato paste.  Wet edges of dough, fold over sides to make a meat pie. Stamp edges with the tines of a fork.  Mist the pie with cooking spray.  Bake 10-12 minutes until dough is firm and lightly browned.
Salad in a Jar:  Use old plastic or glass mason jars to house your lunch salad.  Pour a tablespoon of your favorite salad dressing into the bottom of a large jar. Layer vegetables (cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes hold up well), chicken or canned beans, and salad greens. You will be the envy of the work or school lunchroom. By keeping the dressing on bottom your lettuce, which is on top, will stay crisp until lunchtime. Just shake and eat.

Thermos Smoothies:  Smoothies are great for lunch, especially when kids are short on time and easily distracted by recess. Add nonfat dry milk, protein powder or peanut butter for extra protein, and use milk or yogurt as the base. If you don't have a thermos, wash and reuse a bottle.
Breakfast Flip-Flop:  Pack hot oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts in a thermos. Or send whole wheat pancakes with lean maple sausage.  Add fruity Greek yogurt or low fat cheeses.
Whole Wheat Bagel Pizza Lunch:  Spread half a whole wheat bagel with reduced-fat cream cheese mixed with 1/4 teaspoon Italian herbs, chopped peppers and diced tomatoes for a quick no-bake pizza.
Don't forget the sides:
Vegetable Baked Potato Chips:  These almost fat-free microwave chips are perfect as a side dish to a sandwich or soup.

Microwave Herb Potato Chips

Sweet Potato Chili Chips

Zucchini Chips


Pizza Popcorn
: Toss pinches of dried oregano, basil, cayenne pepper and grated parmesan cheese into 2 cups popped popcorn for a fun side.
Any simple meal becomes a star with creative presentation.  Purchase lunch boxes with separate containers or several small sealable jars.  Cut and slice vegetables with a creative flare.  Use julienne peelers to make vegetables into spaghetti or a plain "Y" peeler to makes thick wide strips.  Kids will love sandwiches stamped into animal shapes or decorated into faces using dried fruit.  Adults can turn a packed lunched into a real meal experiences by adding "real" silverware and a cloth napkin.  Give some of these meal ideas a try, and you may find that the old standby PBJ won't look or taste as exciting.

Want to get kids off to a healthy start this school year? So does SparkPeople! With "A Month of Fun and Healthy School Lunches," you'll end the food fight and get kids excited about packing lunch--with fun yet simple meals they'll actually eat. Written by a mother of three, with 50 easy and healthy recipes plus plenty of ideas tested by real moms in real life, this e-book turns lunchtime into fun time! Bonus: You'll also get 25 healthy, kid-friendly after-school snack ideas!

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