Packing school lunch is no simple task! Find out some easy healthy school lunch ideas that are delicious and your kids will eat!
This post is sponsored by the Grain Foods Foundation. All opinions are my own.
We’re only a few weeks into the school year, and I already hear parents and kids complaining about packing school lunch. Parents are tired of coming up with new lunchbox ideas; kids are bored of the same old lunch week after week. Lunch packing burnout is real! So, what can we do about it?
A few years ago I shared my top tips for packing a healthy and delicious school lunch, including taste and nutrition – the two most important parts of any meal (in my opinion). When it comes to nutrition, I explained that the foundation of a balanced lunch box starts with pairing ingredients from each of the major food groups – lean protein and/or low-fat dairy, fruit, vegetables, and grains. Mixing and matching items from each of these major food groups leads to a healthy and delicious lunch that can be different every day (or two).
One of the caveats I used to make is that grains should be whole grains as often as possible. When my girls were younger, they didn’t know the difference between the whole wheat bread they were eating and the white bread the other kids had at lunch. But as they’ve gotten older, they’ve become more aware – and independent – about what they want to eat, and whole grains aren’t always their first choice. And that’s okay!
Whole Grains, Refined Grains & Enriched Grains
When it comes to grains, kids may turn up their noses at whole wheat bread or nutty whole grains like farro and wheat berries. The good news is that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation is for half of all grains to be whole grains, which means parents can provide a mix of whole grains and white enriched grains throughout the day.
Here’s where things get a little confusing.
- Whole grains contain all the nutrients found in the grain kernel, which includes the outer bran, inner endosperm, and the germ. (See the image below.)
- Refined grains are processed to get rid of the outer bran and the germ, leaving only the inner endosperm, which is primarily carbohydrates.
- Enriched grains are refined grains that have vitamins and minerals added back into them after they have been processed. Most bread, pasta, rice, and cereal has been enriched, meaning that certain B vitamins and iron are added back to the refined grains. The best way to know if you are buying enriched grains is to look for the words “enriched flour” in the Ingredients list on food packages.
While refined grains get a bad rap, consuming a combination of whole grains and enriched refined grains means kids will get a variety of nutrients including carbohydrates, dietary fiber, several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid), and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium).
Easy, Healthy School Lunch Ideas
The bottom line of all this talk about refined, enriched, and whole grains is that the best school lunch is one that combines a variety of foods that will maximize flavor and nutrition. Not only do foods taste better together, but they’re also better for you!
Here are some examples of easy healthy school lunch ideas that are better together:
- Tuna salad with multigrain crackers + grape tomatoes + strawberries
- Pasta with meat sauce and peas + grapes
- English muffin with cream cheese and smoked salmon + tomatoes + orange slices
- Burrito bowl made with a mix of white and brown rice, black beans, shredded cheese, and salsa + watermelon
- Slice of pizza + side salad + apple
- Tomato mozzarella sandwich made on sourdough bread + blueberries
- Grilled cheese + tomato soup + sliced cucumbers + kiwi