Hi, my name is Angelina and I’m a Registered Holistic Nutritionist as well as a mother of two young boys. Right now a hot topic with kids is healthy lunch ideas for school. Whether your children are attending school or not, as a busy mom, I find having lunch prepared ahead of time can make the day go by much smoother and at my house we often pack lunch when we head out in the morning so we can enjoy it in the park or even in the car when travelling. I decided to put together a list of some simple lunch ideas that are toddler/child approved in my house and a little bit out of the box. I based it on my Effortless Additions series featured on my blog and picked out easy and simple recipes/ideas that incorporate tons of nutrients. In the spirit of back to school, I have made suggestions that are nut-free but if your child does well with nuts, raw nuts and nut butters are an excellent source of nutrition for growing children and can be added where applicable if using any of these ideas for breakfast, after school snack or dinner! I hope you enjoy these recipes and ideas as much as we do!!
Oatmeal can be enjoyed a variety of ways, from cold overnight oats that can prepared ahead of time to hot oats cooked on a stovetop or baked in the oven. We eat it all ways in our house and I like to add ground flax, chia seeds and cinnamon when it suits the flavour. We eat it anytime so I thought it would be a great food that could easily be missed on the lunch list for many.
Overnight Oats are quick to put together and lasts for days so you can make a bunch that are ready to grab out of the fridge anytime! They can be eaten cold or warm and are fun for kids to help assemble. Here’s a list from My Whole Food Life that we use often:
Our favourites are the Almond Butter Chocolate (substitute sunbutter for a nut free option) and Cookie Dough (try raisins or dried cranberries as an add ins). Also note that any kind of milk works.
Hot Cooked Oatmeal:
Cook oats according to directions on package, add your add-ins to get the flavour that you would like. I always add either chia or ground flax to the plain cooked oatmeal (1 -2 teaspoons per serving depending on child’s taste). This is a great way to make a couple of different varieties for the week or if you have kids with different preferences.
Any fruits – berries, strawberry banana, apples, etc.
Lemon juice and peel
Mini chocolate chips
Cocoa or Cacao powder (or nibs)
Vanilla Powder or extract
Nuts and nut butters
Real Maple Syrup
Coconut Palm Sugar
Experiment with different ideas and try to use fruit for the main sweetener and work up from there. Also try different oats such as quick, rolled, steel cut and even quinoa can make a good “oatmeal.”
You can also prepare you own “instant oatmeal” ahead of time and have it stored in your pantry for those mornings that you are rushing to pack lunch (or need a quick breakfast). You can find out how on this post by Super Healthy Kids.
Whole Wheat Pita’s and Hummus
This combination really compliments each other and provides a complete protein. Hummus is very simple and inexpensive to prepare at home or can be purchased at any grocery store. Look for pita or a bread that is whole grain – manufacturers have started to label white flour as “wheat flour” or “enriched wheat flour” to try and trick consumers to think it is whole wheat. Add some fresh veggies and this is a very quick and complete meal.
While I have your attention with hummus, I would also like to mention that it makes a great sandwich spread. Even if you don’t include meat (turkey with hummus is a favourite here), some thinly sliced veggies work just fine – cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce, etc. adding broccoli sprouts, alfalfa sprouts or pea tenders can really add a super amount of nutrition.
Don’t forget to explore other bean dips as well. I love dips that are nice and thick as they make less mess and are nice and hearty.
Soup is a great way to incorporate a lot of different vegetables into a meal that most kids will eat. For toddlers and young children, a thick soup or a soup with most of the broth removed is usually easier for them to eat.
For a thick soup we really enjoy this Leek, Potato and Lentil soup. It is quick and simple to make and can be frozen for other lunches. Please note that it calls for 1 litre (4 cups) water and a vegetable stock powder – I just use 4 cups of vegetable broth or chicken broth. Add some whole grain pita bread to dip and you should get back an empty thermos!
Chicken soup is normally a hit with kids, after making soup, remove noodles. Serve just the chicken, noodles and veggies as a very easy and less messy “soup” and freeze the broth for other uses. This can also work well with tomato based soups such as minestrone with beans, noodles and vegetables. The broth can be used in other recipes and would make a nice marinade for other dishes. My kids love a cup of broth, something nice and warm to sip on after school when the days get chillier!
Build Your Own
Most kids love “build your own” stuff. It gives them a sense of control and they are able to express their creativity. It’s also a good compromise for kids who don’t like to mix up their ingredients and eat everything separate. Some build your own suggestions include:
Mini Tacos – cut small circles out of whole wheat or corn tortilla shells, gently push into mini muffin pans and bake (350 for 8-10 minutes) to make mini taco shells. Include whatever taco toppings that your kids like. For wetter toppings, put them in a small container and your child can pour/scoop it into the the shells or use the shells to dip! Kids love choices.
Shredded Chicken (leftover from soup or dinner, add a touch of taco seasoning)
Shredded or ground beef (same as chicken)
Cooked lentils with taco seasoning
Any kind of beans
Cut circles out of whole grain pitas or use whole grain english muffins. Include sauce, shredded cheese, diced or shredded veg and beans or meat (leftover from dinner) – anything your child likes on pizza works! Alternatively you could put sauce on the mini pizzas and place them together like a sandwich cookie so you child just pulls it apart and dresses it from there. Ok, and one more…you could also put warm sauce, cheese and toppings in a thermos and cut the pizza shells into strips that can be dipped.
Salads can be another great way for kids to create their own lunch or they can be pre-made. Anything from a mixed green salad to a pasta, quinoa or rice salad can make a simple and healthy lunch. To make it even easier, I usually just make extra of something I am already preparing for dinner and make it into a salad. It’s important to ensure there is protein in the salad, some suggestions are rice and any bean, quinoa, hard boiled egg or meat. Try and stick with oil based dressings (olive or avocado are good choices) because oil (healthy fats) helps the body absorb the nutrients.
I hope that some of these ideas make it to your little’s lunches this school year..or even some of yours! For more ideas, check out my other Effortless Additions posts.
p.s. If you are looking for tips or suggestions regarding introducing new foods or meals to your family, please check out my Family Consultation package that I offer. I would love to help your family on their journey!