Quick & Easy Back-to-School Lunches for Kids, According to Dietitian Moms
Back-to-school time means back to making lunches for many parents and caregivers. Sure, you can lean on pre-packaged meat and cheese kits to fill your child's tiny bellies for their mid-day fuel. Or, you can go to the other side of the spectrum and create whimsically-themed bento boxes a-la super-creative Pinterest moms.
But, if you are a parent who isn't quite a themed-lunch creator but you want to provide your child with nutritious and wholesome meals, know that you aren't alone.
To gain some inspiration for school lunch creations that are nutritious, easy to prepare, cost-effective, and (perhaps most importantly) taste delicious, we asked some registered dietitian moms what their go-to lunches are when they have to whip up a meal for their back-to-school needs.
So, without further ado, here are some quick and easy back-to-school lunches for kids, according to dietitian moms. Then, make sure to check out 5 Healthy Fast-Food Kids Meals for Busy School Days.
Peanut Butter and Banana "Sushi"
"One of my favorite kid friendly lunches is Peanut Butter and Banana 'Sushi' because it reminds me of a sushi roll, even though there is no rice involved," Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook shared.
To make this sushi roll, Pincus advises spreading your favorite nut butter, soy butter, or sunflower butter on a whole grain flatbread or tortilla, add a banana and roll it up. "Then cut into slices so they turn out to look like pieces of a sushi roll. If you want it to hold together better, spread a little extra nut butter around the edge before rolling to serve as glue." Pincus added that it's a delicious and fun plant-based lunch that's a source of fiber and healthy fats too.
Sample recipe from Nutrition Starring YOU.
Overnight oats are not just for breakfast – they make a great kids lunch option too!
Chrissy Carroll, MPH, RD, LDN, ACSM-CPT, USAT Level I Triathlon Coach, RRCA Certified Running Coach, and blogger at Snacking in Sneakers, shared that one of her favorite lunchbox meals is this yummy oat recipe that she makes in no time. "For a base, just combine 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup milk, 1/4 cup Greek yogurt, and 1 tablespoon of chia seeds. Make a big batch and let them sit in the fridge overnight, and you can store 'em there throughout the week." She explained that in the morning before school, "you can quickly mix and match flavors that your kiddos love."
Carroll's family's personal favorite flavor combos are peanut butter chocolate chip, or strawberry banana.
The fiber-filled oats and protein-rich Greek yogurt make it a filling lunch, and it's easy to pair with any of your little one's favorite side, she explained.
Sometimes, the simplest meals are also the best. Sarah Gold Anzlovar, MS, RDN, LDN, Owner of Sarah Gold Nutrition and mom of two, shared that she includes a snack lunch made with a cheese stick or cubes, whole grain crackers, hummus with cut veggies, grapes or strawberries, salted or flavored roasted pumpkin seeds, and a piece of chocolate.
"This is a great option for kids that don't love traditional meals and gravitate more toward snack foods," she explained. "It's well-balanced with protein, fiber-rich carbs, fat, and produce and doesn't contain any nuts, which many schools don't allow."
Elizabeth Shaw, RD a California-based registered dietitian and the owner of Shaw Simple Swaps, suggests a snack lunch box as well, sharing that her daughter loves shelled pistachios, mandarin oranges, whole-grain crackers, and a fun "treat" like a few chocolate chips. "Not only does this combination provide a trifecta of nutrition (hello carbs, protein, and fat), but it's also satisfying for her. Plus, pistachios are one of the highest-protein nuts that offer a good source of fiber and are a great crunchy swap for a potato chip!"
Kacie Barnes, MCN, RDN, a Dallas-based dietitian & creator of Mama Knows Nutrition, leans on hard-boiled eggs for her children's lunch boxes. She explained that one full lunch meal includes hard-boiled eggs, a roll or a slice of buttered bread, orange slices, and raisins.
"Eggs are a high-quality protein source and even contain some iron. Pairing a citrus fruit like oranges with an iron source helps their body use more of it," she explained.
Barnes advises to make sure you pre-peel the eggs so the kids don't have to waste precious lunchtime minutes getting their food ready to eat. She tries to pair a protein with a starch and produce in a lunch to make it filling and pack in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Make-your-own yogurt parfait
Anything DIY is extra-appealing to the littles. And a DIY yogurt parfait is no exception. Anzlovar suggests including ingredients like Greek yogurt, cut fruit such as berries, bananas or apples, sunflower or pumpkin seeds (or if nuts are allowed you can do walnuts or slivered almonds), and granola in a lunchbox, and allow the kids to assemble their meal once lunchtime strikes. "The protein in the Greek yogurt paired with the fat from nuts or seeds and carbs from the granola make it a satisfying meal that will give you child energy for their afternoon. For kids that might need a little more, you can add in their favorite granola bar or another snack."