Healthy Cook: 5 school lunch ideas to satisfy kids’ hunger

School lunches have come a long way since I was a boy.If you didn’t go home for lunch, you brought a brown bag with a peanut butter and jam sandwich on white bread. Milk was in a jar that often leaked. The apple was bruised by the jar and the sandwich was squishy from the milk—which was warm by lunch time.

If you did get a cookie, it suffered the same fate as the sandwich.  No wonder we walked home for lunch—two miles, uphill, both ways.

Times have changed. Thanks to more choices and appropriate containers, students can set out a smorgasbord of healthy foods. Older students can even put together their own good-for-them lunches in a few minutes.

It’s up to the grocery shopper in the family to get with the youngsters and find out what they would like to have—within reason—and buy what works.  Four versions of chocolate chip cookies do not a lunch make.

The other thing to keep in mind is what foods will stay safe by lunch time.  Cold fried chicken is good for two hours out of the fridge . . . max . . . unless it’s packed in an insulated container with a frozen juice box to keep it cold. Thermal lunch kits with space for an ice pack are a super invention.

Idea #1: Keep it Interesting

A bunch of things are more fun than a boring old sandwich. Little hands will make quick work of a few cherries or grapes, a little container of hummus, small whole wheat crackers, one string cheese, and fruit juice. Older students can expand that with larger quantities, plus some black olives, sharp cheese instead of strings, and money for a drink.

Idea #2: Not Leftovers!

Planned-overs (not leftovers) work well. Show me a teenager who doesn’t like cold pizza and I’ll show you a teenager who hasn’t tried it.

If the cook is making small pasta shapes for dinner—farfalle, elbows, rotini, etc.—cook some extra. Add slices of string cheese, olives, carrot slices, cubes of leftover meat or cold cuts, and mix with mayonnaise or Italian salad dressing with a sprinkling of Italian herbs for a quick salad. Send a whole wheat burger bun in a bag. At lunch time the salad goes on the bun. Quick. Easy and nutritious.

Like cold pizza, planned-over tacos are just as good the next day, though the corn shell might be a bit soft. Make extras at dinner and wrap them as soon as they are cool. Fill a container with salsa and keep them together in the fridge with fruit and a drink for a grab-and-go lunch.

For the young ladies in the family who might fret about calories, fill a container with salad fixings and put the pre-mixed taco ingredients in a smaller container for a quickie taco salad.

Idea #3: More Veggies, Please

No one wrote it in stone that chicken wings have to be served hot.  A container of blue cheese or ranch dip with cold wings is a great excuse to get more veggies in the mix. Instead of just celery sticks, send zucchini slices, red and green peppers, carrot coins, cauliflower florets . . . anything in the fridge that goes well with a tasty dunk.

Idea #4: For a Twist on a Classic

Finicky eater in your family? Get rid of boring old bread and try a sandwich round cut into quarters.  These are often on BOGO. Each has about 100 calories compared to some breads that are 100 calories per slice, so it’s easy to keep calories down if you need to. The more pieces something is cut into the more satisfying it is.

Ideas #5: Filled-Up on Protein

If your student isn’t fussy about what goes down the hatch as long as it’s filling, then try rice and beans.  Or wheat berries and beans. Or barley and beans. Or quinoa and beans. Each makes a complete protein. Swap out the grain and the beans. A small bottle of hot sauce can stay in a school locker to be taken to the cafeteria or outside under a tree.

To take the pressure off the cook, make a list of what’s in the fridge and cupboard that works for lunches. On one side write “We Have” and on the other side write “We Need.”

Whoever makes lunch can change the supplies side and add the item to the needs list. Anybody big enough to eat a meal at school should be part of the lunch process.But please, no leaky jar of warm milk.



story by TRENT ROWE, Food Editor



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