Needing inspiration for school lunches? These healthy, non-packaged ideas may help.

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Now that I have a school-aged child, I’ve discovered the joys of having to pack a daily lunch for him. (There is insinuated sarcasm in that sentence, in case you missed it.) At first, I was excited. I bought some cute stainless steel containers with colourful lids, a little reusable water bottle, and stuck them in his adorable red fox lunch bag. After four months of doing this, however, “cute” and “adorable” are no longer adjectives I’d use to describe the lunch-making process. “Frustrating” and “annoying” are more like it.

I could go on and on about how I wish Canadian schools would implement high-quality lunch programs featuring fresh, local produce and multiple hot courses, with an emphasis on table etiquette, but that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. So here’s a list of healthy, non-packaged lunch and snack ideas that will, hopefully, take some of the drudgery out of the routine, while teaching your child to enjoy eating his or her food at school.

– Hummus or baba ghanouj (roasted eggplant spread) with vegetable sticks or pita wedges
– Pita pinwheels with mayo, mustard, and ham; hummus with spinach; or almond/peanut butter, if you’re allowed nuts at school
– Tortilla chips with salsa or pinto bean dip
– Slices of baguette with crostini toppings, i.e. cannellini beans mashed with olive oil and Parmesan
– Hard-boiled eggs with whole grain bread
– Homemade muffins. Our family favourites are banana-chocolate chip, cherry-oat (with hazelnut topping for snacking at home), and honey bran.
– Homemade granola (I have yet to turn it into granola bars), mixed with plain yogurt
– Non-sticky, seasonal fruits: sliced pear, berries, unpeeled apple slices
– Radishes. My son loves the watermelon radish and daikon we get in our CSA, especially when sprinkled with a bit of salt.
– Avocado slices or guacamole
– Salads: Fill a container with greens, diced peppers, radish, hard-boiled egg or tuna, grated carrot. Send along vinaigrette on the side.
– Slices of summer sausage, cooked farmer’s sausage, or kielbasa
– Pitted dates
– Trail mix with cranberries, seeds, raisins, chocolate chips, nuts if allowed
– Udon noodles or leftover pasta
– Fried rice with egg
– Soup in a thermos
– Roasted chickpeas. Cook them, then toss with chili powder or seasonings, and roast at 350 F till crispy on the outside.
– Popcorn. For a rare treat, I send along a small amount of homemade caramel corn, if I’ve made a batch for myself the night before!
– Steamed edamame in the pod, sprinkled with salt, or cooked string beans
– Cheese cubes or slices with whole grain crackers
– Applesauce in a reusable container, sprinkled with cinnamon and granola if desired
– Sandwiches: cream cheese with spinach, hummus, deli meat with mustard, egg salad, tuna salad, piece of leftover roast chicken or beef
– Cheese tea biscuits with butter
– Homemade cookies: ginger, oatmeal, no-bake macaroons
– Leftover waffles
– Homemade wraps. You can easily make tortillas from scratch, fill with black beans, grated cheddar, and lettuce. Or make a cheese-and-bean-filled quesadilla.
– Homemade boursin (cream cheese, butter, minced dill, basil, chives, garlic) on a bagel. Or whip cream cheese with crumbled feta in the food processor for a yummy spread on bread.
– Dried apple rings
– Sweet potato chips. Peel and thinly slice, drizzle with olive oil and salt, roast at 450 F till crispy. Flip halfway.
– Apple cake, pumpkin bread, banana bread

Since I hated my school lunches as a kid, I often try to think about what I’d like to be eating away from home and follow that. I believe firmly in teaching children to enjoy good food from a young age, not to mention that nourishing food is necessary for good physical and mental performance at school. I want my son to look forward to his lunches and to thrive while eating them. Knowing that makes it easier to put in the early morning effort. If you’ve got any ideas, please pass them on.

you might also like:
a plea to parents: feed your kids well!
Declaration of war against the candy rack
The insidious scourge that is “kid food”

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7 thoughts on “Needing inspiration for school lunches? These healthy, non-packaged ideas may help.

  1. Delicious ideas – even for grown up brown bagged lunches. When my kids were little they would eat just about anything as long as I put it on a stick. Fruit, tofu, cooked or raw veggies – whatever. You can buy those little wooden shishkabob sticks and rinse and re- use. Just be sure to tell them NO POKING ALLOWED – and hopefully no one will lose an eye 😉

    1. Haha, I’d be very worried about those skewers getting used as weapons in a JK class! I think I’ll stick with using them at home for now, but definitely a good idea.

  2. Yum! Definitely keeping some of these in mind for when I go back to work.
    Another idea is to wrap random leftovers (cooked meats and veggies) with some rice in sheets of nori, and slice into bite sized pieces. “Leftover sushi” if you will.

  3. How about yesterday’s Happy Meal or KFC chicken nuggets? Seriously, this is what some of my sons’ classmates have in their boxes. My sons claim I’m the only mum who sticks to the healthy guidelines that everyone else apparently ignores. They feel hard done by as I give them a sandwich, wrap or pasta salad, fruit, crudités, and maybe some nuts or a cracker and peanut butter.

  4. Thanks for all the ideas. I confess I kind of laughed reading through it. Our youngest daughter is incredibly picky. Her first words at every meal are “I don’t like it” and who, if we allowed it, would pretty much live off a diet of jasmine rice and pasta. Making meals for the kid who like nothing, pretty much sucks the life out of you. Anyway, you’ve encouraged me to be more creative.

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