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5 school lunches that are easy to pack and healthy for kids

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It’s hard to believe, but the summer is starting to come to a close and “back to school” is nearly upon us. Tax-free weekend is just days away to help you save some money on school supplies and new clothing. Now is also the time to start thinking about meal planning for your child’s lunches. Find inspiration with these 5 healthy and easy school lunch ideas:

1. DIY Lunchables

Lunchables, at their core, are a fun way of getting kids more variety in their lunches. But stocking up on a week’s worth of these pre-packed lunches can be a strain on your budget, and nutritionally, they tend to be high in sodium and fat from all the preservatives. Make your own version at home that’s cheaper and healthier than the store bought version. You can invest in fun bento-style divided plastic lunchboxes, or make one yourself using plastic food container and colorful muffin tin liners. As far as the actual snacks go, be sure you cover the nutritional bases. The majority of the meal should be protein to keep kids full and focused. This can range from lunchmeat, to cooked lean meat (just make sure to keep the lunchboxes insulated and cold until lunchtime!). You can also include slices of cheese, pretzels, fruits and veggies, wholewheat crackers, and a sweet snack in moderation. If you want to get really creative, consider cutting up the meat and/or cheese using a fun cookie cutter!

2. Deconstructed Chicken Tacos

Kids love to play with their food and get hands-on with their mealtime, especially during lunchtime at school when they’re full of energy. Deconstructed chicken tacos are a great way to ensure that your kids have the nutrition they need while also giving them an outlet to have a little fun. Start with strips of chicken in one container, shredded lettuce in another, chopped up veggies (like peppers, onions, or tomatoes, depending on your child’s preferences) in a third, and some shredded cheese in a final container. Include mini tortilla chip cups or small soft tortillas and some salsa so that they can construct their own taco during lunch.

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3. Fried Rice Bowl

For many people, fried rice is considered a comfort food, and is favored because it’s so easy to make in bulk. Plus, it’s a great way to sneak more vegetables into your kid’s diet. There are a number of delicious fried rice recipes out there, but the main elements are rice, soy sauce (low-sodium when possible), sesame oil, vegetables (make it easier on yourself by buying a mixed veggie blend in the freezer section. The most popular vegetables that go into fried rice are corn, peas, onions, carrots, green beans and garlic), and eggs. You can add even more veggies into the mix by replacing half the rice with riced cauliflower. Make the entire dish ahead the night before and reheat in the morning in a vacuum-insulated food jar or thermos to keep it warm until lunchtime!

4. PB&J Sushi

Peanut butter and jelly is a classic lunchtime staple for good reason: it’s easy, it’s enjoyed almost universally (assuming you don’t have a nut allergy), and it has a good balance of carbs and protein. PB&J Sushi is a fun take on a classic that will get your child excited for lunch. Use a rolling pin to roll your bread out flat, spread on your peanut butter (preferably natural with no sugar added. You can also substitute almond or cashew butter for less fat) and your jelly (opt for sugar free or naturally sweetened versions), and then roll them up just like you’d do with sushi. Cut the rolls into sushi-sized pinwheels and serve with fruit or crackers.

5. Mason Jar Salad

Mason jars have become an extremely popular tool for making one-dish lunches that are super easy to transport and pretty to look at. After seeing how colorful and fun the Mason jar salads are, your kids might just forget that they’re full of vegetables! First, grab a wide mouth mason jar. At the bottom, pour 1-2 tablespoons of your child’s favorite dressing. Next, layer your harder veggies (like carrots, celery, onions, peppers, beans), next, add your soft veggies and grains (like cucumbers, avocado, quinoa, fruits, or corn), followed by the third layer, which you’ll pack with mixed greens. Finally, at the top, you’ll add your protein and cheese. When your child goes to dump out the Mason jar into their lunch bowl, the order of layers will be reversed and everything will be coated with the dressing from the bottom of the jar.

What are some of your favorite easy and healthy lunchtime meals for kids?

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Sydney Gallimore is a cat-loving food writer who's lived in Charleston for almost 10 years. Her life is fueled by meals at various restaurants around the Holy City, iced coffee, and craft cocktails.

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