School lunch is an important meal for our kids—they need to refuel after a morning of learning and (hopefully) physical activity at recess and/or PE, and be ready for an afternoon of more learning and activity. Bring lunch from home, OR partake of the school lunch. School lunch programs are required to provide a balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat, and include fruit and or vegetables. It might not be as wholesome as something you might make, but it can definitely fit into a balanced diet. The school district in which I live (Bend Lapine, Oregon) does a fantastic job of providing locally grown fruits and vegetables and locally raised meats via the “Farm to School Program”.
A balanced and nutritious lunch will include something from each of the major food groups:
- “Complex carbohydrate”—whole grain or starch like: bread, crackers, tortillas, rice, beans, quinoa, pasta, potato, sweet potato, yams, corn, peas.
- Protein—meat, fish, poultry, egg, cheese, beans, nuts/peanuts, nut or peanut butter, yogurt
- Dairy (all dairy products also contain protein)—milk, chocolate milk, yogurt, cheese–if your child is drinking milk and eating dairy products at other meals and snacks, dairy is not an essential part of lunch!
Simple and Nutritious Lunch Ideas
Recipes from Healthy Choices, Healthy Children, a guide to raising fit, happy kids, by Lori S. Brizee with Sue Schumann Warner, published by Paraclete Press, in bookstores as of October 1, 2011
Add a fruit, raw vegetables, a small cookie or treat and milk or water to any of the cold or hot ideas below to make a complete, wholesome lunch.
Pack lunch in an insulated container with an ice pack or frozen water bottle to keep things cold and safe until lunchtime!
Left over baked chicken
- 1 or 2 baked, chilled baked chicken legs (amount depends on size and appetite of child) and whole grain crackers.
Cheese, meat and crackers
- String cheese, leftover chicken, pork or beef slices and whole grain crackers.
Sandwiches and Wraps: Use whole grain bread, pita bread, flat bread or tortillas with any of the following fillings.
Old Favorites, with a few twists:
- Peanut-butter and Jam (quick and easy, and needs NO refrigeration).
- Peanut butter or almond butter and thinly sliced banana.
- Turkey or other meat, a slice of cheese and thinly sliced cucumber and tomato with mayonnaise and mustard.
Traditional Tuna Salad Servings: 1-2
- Tuna, canned in water, drained 1- 5oz can
- Egg, hard boiled, chopped 1 large
- Reduced-fat mayonnaise 1 Tbsp
- Yogurt, plain, nonfat 1 Tbsp
- Sweet pickle relish 1 Tbsp
- Celery, finely chopped ¼ cup
- Romaine lettuce, chopped ½ cup
Directions: Mix tuna, egg, mayonnaise, yogurt, relish and celery together; place ½ mixture with lettuce on bread or in tortilla or on top of a bed of lettuce.
Nutritional analysis for ½ recipe : Calories: 174 Protein: 25 gm; Carbohydrate: 5 gm; Fat: 6 gm; Saturated fat 1 gm; Cholesterol 134 mg; Sodium 440 mg; Dietary fiber: 0 gm. Add 100 to 150 calories for one whole wheat tortilla; 170 calories for a large, whole wheat Pita Bread; 160 to 250 calories for 2 slices whole grain bread.
Use other canned or leftover fish, chicken, or turkey in place of tuna. Mix with mayo and yogurt as above; add grated carrots, chopped bell peppers, chopped onion, grated apples and/or chopped grapes—BE CREATIVE
Egg Salad Servings: 1 or 2
- Egg, hard-boiled 2 large
- Prepared mustard 2 tsp
- Low fat mayonnaise 1 Tbsp
- Yogurt, plain, nonfat 1 Tbsp
Directions: Mash egg with a fork and mix in mustard, mayonnaise and yogurt and place on bread, tortilla, flat bread or pita bread for a sandwich, or on top of a bed of lettuce and raw vegetables for a salad.
Nutritional analysis for whole recipe: Calories: 230; Protein: 14 gm; Carbohydrate: 8 gm; Fat: 15 gm; Saturated fat: 4 gm; Cholesterol: 429 mg; Sodium: 428 mg; Dietary fiber: 1 gm. Add 100 to 150 calories for one whole wheat tortilla; 170 calories for a large, whole wheat Pita Bread; 160 to 250 calories for 2 slices whole grain bread.
- Use “Creamy Salad Dressing or Dip” pg 148 Healthy Choices, Healthy Children, a guide to raising fit, happy kids in place of mayonnaise and yogurt.
- Add Alfalfa sprouts ¼ cup
- Add grated carrot ¼ cup
Leftover Meat with Neufchatel Cheese Servings: 1
(Neufchatel cheese is a natural cheese that is very similar to cream cheese but has 33% less fat and 25% fewer calories)
- Neufchatel cheese 2 Tbsp
- Beef, turkey, chicken or pork, thinly sliced 2 oz
- Lettuce, spinach, tomato, cucumbers, sprouts as desired.
Directions: Wrap a thin slice of meat around a tablespoon of cheese and then wrap that in romaine or green leaf lettuce; eat with crackers—or spread cheese on tortilla, place meat on cheese, add vegetables and roll up for a wrap—or, spread cheese on bread, add meat and lettuce, tomato or sliced cucumber and sprouts for a sandwich.
Nutritional analysis for meat and cheese: Calories 174; Protein 18 gm; Fat 10 gm; Saturated fat 6 gm; Cholesterol 65 mg; Sodium 143 mg; Dietary fiber, 0. Add 100 to 150 calories for one whole wheat tortilla; 170 calories for a large, whole wheat Pita Bread; 160 to 250 calories for 2 slices whole grain bread. .
Bean, Avocado, Tomato and Cheese Serving: 1
- Black, pinto, red or kidney beans, whole or non-fat refried beans ½ cup
- Avocado, sliced ¼ medium
- Tomato, diced ¼ medium
- Sharp cheddar cheese, shredded 2 Tbsp
- Optional lettuce, chopped or torn As desired
- Optional: salsa, tomato or mango As desired
Directions: Wrap—mash beans with fork or potato masher or use refried beans and spread on tortilla, add other ingredients and roll up (heat or eat cold). Salad—whole beans are best; sprinkle beans over bed of lettuce, add avocado, tomato, cheese and salsa as desired and enjoy.
Nutritional analysis (without optional ingredients or tortilla): Calories 255; Protein: 12 gm; Carbohydrate 26 gm; Fat: 12 gm; Saturated Fat: 4 gm; Cholesterol: 15 mg; Sodium: 102 mg (if beans cooked from dry, no added salt); 562 mg (if canned beans, varies depending on brand); Dietary Fiber: 12 gm. Add 100 to 150 calories for one whole wheat tortilla; 170 calories for a large, whole wheat Pita Bread; 160 to 250 calories for 2 slices whole grain bread.
Hot lunch ideas that can go into a thermos:
- Soup and whole grain crackers, tortilla or bread
- Left over macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, lasagna or other casserole
- Don’t forget the fruit and veggies on the side!
***Be sure your thermos will hold foods at greater than 140 degrees Fahrenheit until lunch time! Food must be thoroughly heated to greater than 140 degrees, before it is put in the thermos. Foods held at temperatures at less than 140 and greater than 40 for more than 2 hours are at high risk of bacterial growth that can cause food poisoning***