A crispness is sneaking into the morning air and the leaves are ever-so-slightly turning yellow. Children across this great land of ours are sending up a wail and gnashing their teeth—summer is almost over and school will be starting soon. Back-to-school time marks a return to routines for the whole household, from the morning get up/get dressed/eat breakfast/get out the door to evening’s homework/dinner/family time/bedtime.
Routine may sound boring, but it is in the comfort of routine that healthy habits are nurtured. For grown-ups, whether you have a kid or not, one of the healthiest habits to cultivate is bringing your lunch to work. This is a tried-and-true way to save calories and money. (But make sure to take an actual break from your work and eat your lunch in the lunchroom or take it on a walk and find a bench to eat it alfresco. Nobody likes a sad desk lunch.)
There are lots of good reasons to pack a lunch for junior, too: Some school districts have yet to get on the local, organic, healthy lunch bandwagon, so mystery meat and Tater Tot casserole are still on the menu in many areas. Consider too that some kids will eat a little more when mom or dad packs the healthy foods they like. And finally, there are kids who follow vegetarian/vegan, gluten-free, or allergy-friendly diets and need special foods that cafeterias can’t always provide.
Below you’ll find some healthy lunch ideas that are as good for kids as they are for adults. They are all simple, interactive, and fun, and can be prepared the night before. They can even be batch cooked a few days in advance for multiday lunches.
(All recipes by Miriam Wolf)
White Bean Pesto “Pizza”
1 can (15 oz) white beans (cannellini or navy)
2 tablespoons prepared pesto (homemade or jarred)
6 rounds of pita bread
3 cups raw spinach, washed and dried
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips (optional)
Black olives (optional)
- Drain and rinse white beans. Place into a food processor or blender (or use an immersion blender) and purée until smooth. Add pesto and continue to purée. If mixture seems dry, add a tablespoon of oil.
- In each lunch, pack 1 round of pita bread, some of the white bean and pesto mixture, and some of the veggies. When lunchtime comes, each person can make their own pizza—spreading the white bean mixture on the pita and topping with whatever veggies are desired.
Serves 6. Prep time, 15 minutes.
Chicken and Grape Kebabs
1 pound grilled chicken breast
1 pound red grapes
- Grill chicken until cooked through (or buy pre-cooked grilled chicken breast). Let cool and cut into cubes. Thread alternating chicken cubes and grapes onto short skewers or toothpicks.
- This dish should be prepared the night before and chilled overnight in the refrigerator. Use cold packs to keep it cool in your lunch box.
Serves 4–6. Prep time, 15 minutes; cook time, 20 minutes.
Crêpes with Nut Butter and Berries
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Nut butter of your choice
Berries of your choice
- Place crêpe ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth (about 30 seconds). Refrigerate batter for 15 minutes to a half hour for bubbles to settle.
- Preheat a skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium heat. Add a little bit of butter (less than a teaspoon) and swirl the pan to coat.
- Use a ⅓ cup measure to add the batter to the pan. Swirl the pan so that the batter covers the bottom. Cook until the edges are lacy and the center is set. Carefully flip, using a small spatula. Cook for a minute or so until the underside is browned. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
- Continue cooking until all the batter is gone.
- Cooled crêpes can be refrigerated between squares of wax paper for a week and frozen for two months.
- Pack two crêpes folded into thirds plus a couple of tablespoons of nut butter and a small container of berries into lunch boxes. At lunchtime, eaters can spread the nut butter on the crêpes and top with berries, then roll up.
Serves 6. Prep time, 45 minutes (includes resting time for batter); cook time, 30 minutes.
Miriam Wolf is the editor of The FruitGuys Magazine newsletter.