Ah, another school year — the perfect time to pretend to be that mom who finds time to always give 100 percent. I know that mom, and I am not her. So I asked FirstHealth Fitness dietitian Ashley Carpenter for help in prepping easy school lunches.
Here’s what I would normally cram in my kid’s lunchbox:
So what if my 7yo eats pb&j every day for breakfast and gets it again for lunch? It’s her favorite food.
But, I could try harder — and trying harder would be a whole lot easier if I make my kid do the work. Ashley also believes in child labor, and told me my kid would be more excited about her recipes if I dragged her to the store with me and let her pick things out. Joy.
Lessons learned: I’m too cheap for regularly priced English muffins. And, you will pay almost double for cheese that’s already been cut into cubes. No thank you. That’s cheese hubris and I’m not having any of it. Anyway, I went by Ashley’s list and let the child pick some variations – type of cheese, pasta sauce, etc. And she did seem to be into it.
When we got home, I set her to work cutting the cheese. Her father took the opportunity to teach her the other meaning behind “cutting the cheese” which really made for a fun evening.
Ok, Here’s What You’ve Come Here For.
Here’s four of Ashley’s recipes for healthy and easy school lunches, all of which turned out to be kid-approved. We settled on a rating system with unicorn horns: 1 being worst, 5 being the best. Now, I should add a disclaimer: I have been blessed with a non-picky eater.
1. Easy School Lunch Nachos! In a freshly washed Ziploc container!
Yes, I’m an adult. No, I don’t like food to touch. The most work here was figuring out how to get all this stuff into one container that would fit in the kid’s lunchbox. I made the guac, because I’m no elitist but that pre-made grocery store stuff is trash. I had some grilled chicken and a jar of salsa lying around in the fridge. I bought a bag of shredded lettuce because that’s a convenience I’ll pay for. Not pictured: Ashley’s recommended “fun food,” which turned out to be three Twizzlers in a Ziploc bag.
Appearance: 5/5 unicorn horns
Taste: 4/5 unicorn horns
- My take: I wanted this for my own lunch. The child returned the container with only the lettuce untouched, so I’ll call it a win.
- Child take: I like how spicy your guac is. I like how there is a lot of little things in the container. *proceeds to tell me all the nacho combinations she made*
2. Easy School Lunch English Muffin Pizzas! With Heart-Shaped Salami!
Depending on who you are, a heart-shaped piece of deli meat is something you either laugh at or aspire to. I obviously fall into the latter category.
This recipe called for multigrain English muffins, topped with pizza sauce and cheese. The kid chose basil pesto and mozzarella at the store, and, after deciding the pizzas looked too plain, added some salami and sun-dried tomatoes from the fridge before we slid them under the broiler. In the top corner are carrots with hummus (recommended for extra protein) and a little forest of Twizzlers and grapes.
Appearance: 2/5 unicorn horns
Taste: 5/5 unicorn horns
- My take: I love that this is a recipe we can play with by adding different toppings. I thought the hummus would be the last to get eaten, but it was the grapes that survived.
- Child take: I like the crusty part of the pizza. The ham was shaped like a heart which was really cute. I love the tomato raisins.
3. Easy School Lunch Peanut Butter and Banana Sushi!
*Note: I know you might have concerns about peanut allergies, for your kid or others. If you do, substitute PB with sunflower butter.
Here we have it — the half-ass lunch for the extra mom. Bag thrown into a container? Check. Handful of blueberries and carrots, with a homemade “ranch dip” leftover from a weekend party? Check. Peanut butter and banana slices sprinkled with cinnamon, rolled up and cut into pieces? Still a few more steps than I would normally take, but check.
The kid really enjoyed helping with this one.
Appearance: 3/5 unicorn horns
Taste: 5/5 unicorn horns
- My take: Peanut butter is her favorite food, so I knew this was going to be a win. The “sushi” was super messy, tho, and I’m lucky my kid’s lunch goes in a fridge — if it or the dip had a chance to get warm, I’d be concerned. *Note from Ashley: Put the banana in whole and roll it up like a burrito before cutting. It’ll be less messy.
- Child take: I liked the sour cream in the dip and how it’s very sweet. I like the banana with the peanut butter, I like the mixture of them together. It’s very refreshing. For my teeth. (?)
4. Easy School Lunch Mini No-Cook Burritos!
When the recipe says mini, you accidentally buy full-size and cut them babies to fit the box. This recipe was among the easiest: Spread some bean dip on a whole-wheat tortilla, add some of the shredded lettuce you bought for recipe no. 1, plus some shredded cheese, and roll ‘er up. Since the recipe recommended salsa on the side, I added chips for the “fun food” and included blueberries and grapes for the fruit.
Appearance: 4/5 unicorn horns
Taste: 5/5 unicorn horns
- My take: Again, another lunch I would proudly take to work. This probably says something about me as a person.
- Child take: Aw, that’s so cute! This tastes just like that salad I order — what’s it called? Oh yeah, taco salad!
My Final Take:
These easy school lunches took a few more minutes to prepare, but it’s something I can see myself doing at least a few times a week — especially since I had enough leftover ingredients to make each lunch at least three times. I’m just happy I didn’t have to cut anything into the shape of a dolphin.
Is there something else we should make? Let us know at email@example.com.
If you’d like nutrition guidance for your family or yourself, call FirstHealth Fitness dietitian, Ashley Carpenter, RD at (910) 715-2674 to schedule an appointment.