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Lunch Ideas to Save the Day!

Pack fun, healthy lunches that are easy!

By Jennifer Hill Macaroni Kid Fremont Publisher April 9, 2017


As a mom to four and a child care provider of many over the years, I thoroughly enjoy feeding children healthy meals. I love seeing kids eat foods that are healthy and actually enjoying them. There are many ways to encourage healthy eating in our kids – of all ages – but today I am going to focus on lunch. With school starting soon, it’s time to think about packing lunches. Sadly, the school lunches are full of processed foods and not many fresh fruits or veggies and my own kids choose not to buy lunch. Thankfully, I have some great eaters and get to pack them some awesome lunches!

I have a few lunchboxes that encourage me to fill their lunches with lots of amazing things and have fun doing it! And the best part? Nothing to throw away!


Cheese Quesadilla
Cutie
Berries and Peach
Green Salad with Cucumbers and Garbanzo Beans
Baby Peppers and Donut Hole



Mango and Peach
Snap Peas
Chicken Leg
Cucumber, Baby Peppers, and Carrot
Plain Greek Yogurt with Honey


You can find divided lunch boxes, Bento boxes and accessories in local stores (Daiso, Cost Plus, etc.), online or enjoy a trip to San Francisco’s Chinatown for some shopping, or you can get creative with what you already own! Start with plastic lidded containers, pick up some silicone baking cups (or throwaway paper ones, if you’d like) and some plastic toothpicks and have fun! If you are like me, you might already have some divided Tupperware containers as well! Those work great too!


Pretzels
Sliced Ham
Watermelon and Cantaloupe
Cheddar Cheese Cubes
Cuties



Tortilla Chips
Baby Peppers and Plum
Cantaloupe and Watermelon
Guacamole
Grilled Chicken


Fill up your child’s lunch with small servings of many different foods. For example, a lunch could include yogurt, mixed berries, cantaloupe, carrot sticks, broccoli, and whole wheat pretzels. Another lunch could include hardboiled egg (check the store or online for egg shapers! SO cute!), strawberries, peaches, kiwi, cherry tomatoes, and pita chips. Have fun, think of all the fruits and veggies your child likes, try some new ones, and give them small servings and fill up the container with yummy goodness!


Sliced Turkey
Coconut Rolls
Pineapple and Cutie
Raisins
Baby Peppers



Yogurt
Shredded Cheese (to add to salad)
Berries
Green Salad with Peppers and Chicken
Croutons and Cutie


There's a great group of parents on Facebook who share pictures of their kid's lunches - most of which are simple - NOT the complex things you see on many blogs. Click here to check it out. Also, if you Google “Bento lunches” you will find dozens of blogs and sites featuring tons more ideas and tips and, if you are like me, you will be greatly inspired this school year! 


Green salad with Sunflower Seeds
Cucumber and Baby Peppers
Cantaloupe, Pineapple, Strawberry, and Persimmon
Croutons
Chicken Leg



Green Salad with Sunflower Seeds, Garbanzo and Kidney Beans
Mango
Strawberries
Hardboiled Egg
Cucumbers and Baby Peppers


Be sure to keep a wide variety of healthy foods, fruits, veggies, snacks and leftovers on hand to put together some fun and creative, yet healthy, lunches the kids will love! I also love using up leftovers to pack lunches. To help you with ideas to cover all of the food groups, here’s a great list I created after completing a Children’s Nutrition course:

Protein: This is one of the most important part of your child's meal. Protein contains Nitrogen, an important chemical essential for the production of antibodies. 

  • Cheese (added to a sandwich, string cheese, or shredded cheese)
  • Ham (sliced or cubed, by itself or added to a sandwich)
  • Turkey (see Ham)
  • Chicken (see Ham, also great served by the piece such as a leftover chicken leg, cold or heated) 
  • Eggs (kids love hard boiled eggs)
  • Tuna (sandwich or with crackers)
  • Salami
  • Pepperoni
  • Yogurt 
  • Peanut Butter 
  • Beans (Kidney, Garbanzo, etc.) 
  • Bean Dip
  • Hummus
  • Pizza (mine happily eat cold pizza or "make your own" pizzas for lunch at school)
  • Nuts (homemade trail mix is always a hit)

Fruits & Veggies: Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can help you ward off heart disease and stroke, control blood pressure and cholesterol, prevent some types of cancer, avoid a painful intestinal ailment called diverticulitis, and guard against cataract and macular degeneration, two common causes of vision loss. They often also contain fiber which is important for children and adults!

Fruits: Minimum of 5 servings of fruits and/or veggies per day is recommended. 

  • Banana 
  • Apricots
  • Kiwi 
  • Nectarines
  • Apple 
  • Pineapple 
  • Oranges
  • Cantaloupe 
  • Tangerines/Cuties
  • Grapes 
  • Cherries
  • Pears 
  • Applesauce
  • Honeydew 
  • Blueberries
  • Watermelon 
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches 
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Persimmon
  • Avocado 
  • Papaya 
  • Mango (fresh & dried) 
  • Starfruit
  • Plums 
  • Figs
  • Prunes (yes, kids like them!)
  • Raisins/Cranberries and other Dried Fruits

Veggies: 

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers 
  • Snap Peas
  • Carrots 
  • Corn (on the cob or off)
  • Celery 
  • Broccoli
  • Beans (Kidney and Garbanzo are kid favorites!)
  • Green Salad
  • Bell Peppers
  • Guacamole
  • Salsa
Grains: Carbohydrates provide the body with the fuel it needs for physical activity and for proper organ function. The best sources of carbohydrates - fruits, vegetables, and whole grains - deliver essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and a host of important phytonutrients. Whole Grains are preferred (not enriched whole grain) whenever possible.

  • Whole Grain Bread 
  • Whole Grain Pita Pocket
  • Tortilla (the whole grain ones are great!)
  • Granola Bar 
  • Cereal Bar 
  • Pasta (available in whole wheat also) 
  • Pizza Crust 
  • Muffins 
  • English Muffins (perfect for DIY pizzas)
  • Biscuits 
  • Crackers
  • Rice Cakes
  • Naan Bread

Beverages: 

  • Water (a partially frozen bottle helps keep their food cold)
  • Milk (cartons which do not require refrigeration are now available!)
  • 100% Juice (no more than 4-6 oz. per day)

Treats:

  • Goldfish Crackers
  • Crackers
  • Graham Crackers
  • Teddy Grahams
  • 1 or 2 Cookies
  • Granola Bar
  • Cereal Bar
  • Jello
  • Pudding
  • Popcorn
  • Tortilla Chips

IMPORTANT REMINDER: Several food items are extreme choking hazards, especially for young children (age 4 and under). Please avoid the following items for children 4 years old and younger:

  • Hot Dogs
  • Peanuts and other nuts
  • Grapes (MUST be cut!)
  • Raw Carrots
  • Most Raw Veggies
  • Popcorn
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