Whether in a brown bag or on a plastic tray, school lunches don’t have the greatest reputation, and they aren’t known for being all that healthy, either. The recent rise of bento-style lunches, however, sets a new standard. Individual compartments create meals that are unique, fun and healthy—the perfect combo! Here are some ideas on what to include for a balanced lunch both parents and kids will love.
beyond the apple.
Nothing says school like an apple, but it’s far from your only option. Keep fruit fatigue at bay by switching it up with grapes, perfectly sized clementines or pineapple chunks.
skip the sugar.
Forgo sugary fruit snacks and juice boxes. Only pack 100-percent fruit juice, and choose no-sugar-added options for fruit sauces, too.
mix it up.
Blueberry muffins, banana bread and other baked treats can get fruit into your child’s lunch, or pack a thermos with a smoothie or berries and yogurt. Ditch pre-packaged trail mix; instead, make your own with dried fruit, sunflower seeds, granola and chocolate chips.
whole grains, dairy & protein
the whole story.
Go for whole grains over refined ones—and not just with bread. Include brown rice, whole-wheat pasta or popcorn (a healthy alternative to chips and other salty snacks).
not part of the process.
When it comes to protein, skip processed deli meats, which can be high in fat and salt and are linked to health issues later in life. Pack roasted chicken and turkey in their place.
Don’t include desserts every day; make them special treats.
the low down.
Go with low-fat or fat-free options for milk, yogurt and cheese. Also, look for yogurts with little or no added sugar.
hot and cold.
Raw grab-and-go options can include carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, sliced bell peppers and cucumbers, but don’t leave cooked veggies out in the cold. Steamed green beans, roasted sweet potatoes and corn on the cob can all have their places in a lunchbox.
salads and slaws.
Colorful, crunchy and packed with flavor, they may just be the perfect solution for the veggie adverse. Just make sure you use a dressing without too much added fat or sugar.
the main event.
If you’re worried sides will go untouched, make the veggies the star of the show. Quesadillas, wraps and sandwiches, soups and even pizza all can work as vegetable-packed main dishes.
do a dip.
Vegetables tend to go down a little easier with hummus, tzatziki or low-fat ranch.