Adapted from an article originally published on https://desireerd.com/5-healthy-bento-box-lunch-ideas-for-kids/
If you’ve got kids, that means packing lunches…and needing an endless supply of inspiration to keep things fresh and fun! So let’s talk about what it means to pack a healthy lunch your kids will actually eat—and I’ve got five healthy bento box lunch ideas for kids to help shake up your lunch routine.
Since I’m a dietitian, I thought I was going to have this lunch-packing situation DOWN. I mean, I know what kids should eat, right? Well…fast-forward 10 lunch-packing years later and I have to admit that sometimes, I can get as stumped or frustrated as the next parent! That’s when I have to put the dietitian hat back on and come up with some solutions to get me through the weeks. So, I’ve teamed up once again with Silver Hills Bakery (my fave sprouted grain bread!) to help demystify what a healthy packed lunch for kids actually looks like.
How to Make a Balanced Lunch for Kids
Dietitians talk a lot about eating balanced meals…but what does that mean in terms of the food you put on your plate—or in a lunch box?
I’ve always loved using the “Plate Method” as an easy check in at mealtimes, which aligns with the guidance from Canada’s Food Guide. I love the plate method because it’s visual, so it takes the guesswork out of getting all the nutrition you need to keep you energized between meals.
While it’s absolutely okay if you don’t get there 100% of the time, aim to create a meal that is roughly 50% fruits and vegetables, 25% protein foods and 25% whole grains.
See? Easy peasy.
Now, as a plant-based parent, the whole nut-free schools situation took some getting used to—particularly because I rely on nuts a lot for their minerals, healthy fats and plant-based protein. However, it’s also helped me to get creative in terms of what I put in a lunch box. When creating a nut-free lunch according to the plate method, this could look like:
- One to two foods rich in plant-based protein, such as tofu, tempeh, legumes and seeds
- This might be a seed butter on toast, crispy roasted chickpeas as a snack, tofu skewers or chickpea tuna sandwiches.
- One to two whole grain foods, such as Silver Hills Bakery sprouted grain breads, brown rice or whole grain crackers
- How much you serve will depend on your wee one’s appetite. Serving sprouted grain breads gives you a leg up on other whole grain sandwich breads as it gives your child a boost of plant-based protein and fibre that will help them to feel fuller for longer.
- Two to three fruits and vegetables
- Be adventurous! Take kids to the store and ask them to choose something they’ve never tried before, like kohlrabi, jicama or purple cauliflower. For fruits and vegetables that brown, like apples or avocado, toss them in lemon juice first to delay browning.
- Pack water in as a beverage
- Even for kids, water is best during the school day. They can enjoy calcium-rich plant-based milks with breakfast and dinner for strong bones.
Tips for Packing a Healthy School Lunch
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a ton of time to pack lunches. So I like to streamline things as much as possible. So hHere are some tips to help you create packed lunches that are healthy, that your kids actually eat and that won’t take all of your spare time!
- Make it fun: play with shape and format
- Use a large cookie cutter to cut sandwiches in a heart. Or just alternate between rectangles, triangles and squares for your sandwiches.
- Turn a sandwich into a skewer, a wrap or a snack plate. Same fillings, different format!
- Cut fruit and veggies into fun shapes like spirals or balls using a melon baller every once in a while to shake things up
- Get kids involved: they’ll be more likely to eat their lunch!
- Ask them to cut fruits and veggies or prep their whole lunches (as age appropriate)
- Have them bake with you on the weekend so they have cookies and muffins for the week
- If lunch comes home, ask why in a non-judgemental way…and get their opinion on how they would have enjoyed their lunch more
- Plan ahead:
- Chat with kids about what they would like in their lunch on the weekend before you grocery shop and pop the ‘menu’ on the fridge so everyone is clear on what to pack
- Don’t forget about leftovers!
- It can shake up the routine and introduce more variety
- Every once in a while, add a surprise!
- Whether it’s a sticker, a little cookie or a note, the element of surprise keeps kids engaged with lunch.
5 Healthy Plant-based Lunch Box Ideas for Kids
- Pizza Party:
- Grilled sandwich with pizza sauce, vegan mozzarella cheese and vegan pepperoni
- Serve with grapes, sliced yellow bell peppers and popcorn
- Skewer Sandwich:
- Apple + cinnamon toast skewers
- Serve with edamame, cherry tomatoes, broccoli
- Tuna Redux:
- Chickpea tuna sandwiches
- Served with blueberries, cucumbers, carrot spirals
- Snack Plate:
- Hummus and whole grain tortillas, cut into triangles
- Served with a mini orange, snap peas, sliced kohlrabi
- Bagel Bites:
- Vegan cream cheese, jam + bagel, cut into 1-inch pieces
- Served with kiwi, rainbow carrots, school-safe trail mix
Desiree Nielsen is a registered dietitian, author and host based in Vancouver, British Columbia. She runs a nutrition consulting practice with a focus on inflammation, digestion and plant-centred diets. Desiree is the author of a book on anti-inflammatory nutrition called Un-Junk Your Diet: How to shop, cook and eat to fight inflammation and feel better, forever and her new cookbook, Eat More Plants: 100 Anti-inflammatory Plant-centred Recipes for Vibrant Living is a #1 National Bestseller.
Read more about how healthy whole grains can play a satisfying role on your plate in our article, What You Need to Know About the New Canada Food Guide. Scroll down to subscribe to our newsletter for more sprouted inspiration and healthy tips for families, and follow Silver Hills Bakery on Facebook or Instagram, too!