healthy food

Genius hacks to help you pack healthier lunch options as kids go back to school

It’s difficult enough to fix food kids want to eat at home. But, what about healthy food they’ll want to eat at school?

Phoenix-based food writer, cookbook author and nutritionist Robin Miller knows that this

struggle is real. She lovingly prepared a lunch comprised of ciabatta sandwiches, fresh salsa, adzuki bean chips, pepper jack cheese and yogurt and was understandably miffed when her son, Luke, told her, “I threw the sandwich out.” Why? He said it

was too big.

So Miller started over. And she prepared an entire list of kid-friendly, grab-and-go food items that you can try in your child’s next lunch. The best part? They’re fun and healthy, Miller says. “I plan ahead, pack them with love and strive for a healthy balance of complex carbohydrates, protein and fiber.”

Cookbook author and nutritionist Robin Miller recommends setting up food stations to help teach kids how to prep and plan their meals.
Cookbook author and nutritionist Robin Miller recommends setting up food stations to help teach kids how to prep and plan their meals.

Here are some options that can you add to your lunch planning repertoire:

Miller also recommends setting up food stations to help teach kids how to prep and plan their meals. And getting your kids involved means they are choosing what they like, so

they are more likely to eat it later. She suggests theme stations such as wraps, soups, mini pizzas, bowls of rice or pasta and smoothies.

For a wrap station, let kids tuck their favorite fillings into a flour tortilla or pita. Miller says

mini pizzas or antipasti are a “more healthful version of (their) prepackaged counterparts.” Kids get to choose what to pack alongside their pizza “base.” All they need to do when it’s lunchtime is spoon the sauce, sprinkle the cheese and add toppings. (Don’t assemble in advance or the bread will get soggy.)

A pasta or rice station offers complex carbohydrates plus protein and veggies. Cook a pound of spiral pasta or a cup of rice and let the kids pick their ingredients, then add a

light dressing, balsamic vinegar or olive oil, if desired.

Miller also recommends setting up food stations to help teach kids how to prep and plan their meals.
Miller also recommends setting up food stations to help teach kids how to prep and plan their meals.

WRAP STATION

Smoked turkey, baked or smoked ham and roast beef

Swiss, cheddar and pepper jack cheese

Baby spinach, romaine and red lettuce

Sliced tomatoes, roasted red peppers and pickles

Mustard (yellow, Dijon, honey), mayonnaise and hummus

PIZZA OR ANTIPASTI STATION

Mini whole-wheat pita pockets or whole-wheat sandwich thins

Pasta or pizza sauce (pack in a small, reusable plastic container)

Fresh mozzarella balls (bocconcini) or shredded mozzarella cheese

Cured meats, such as pepperoni, salami and ham

Red and green bell-pepper slices

Fresh or steamed broccoli florets

Sliced olives

PASTA OR RICE STATION

Cubed cheese, crumbled feta cheese or grated Parmesan cheese

Grilled chicken breast, diced or tuna chunks (from a pouch)

Black beans (canned, rinsed and drained)

Cherry or grape tomatoes, shredded carrots, shredded red cabbage, diced celery or diced cucumber

Sliced olives

Pickled peppers

VEGETABLES

Bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, celery, green beans, snap peas

Wash and slice larger vegetables into thin strips

WHOLE FRUIT

Apples, pears, nectarines, plums, grapes, cherries, berries

Wash and place smaller fruit such as grapes and berries in plastic containers

MELON

Cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon

Cube or use a melon baller, then place in plastic container (include a fork)

CHEESE

Sticks or slices

Cube or wrap individual slices

Lunch box
Lunch box

LUNCH MEAT

Turkey, ham, roast beef,

bologna

Roll meat and cheese into cigar-shaped pieces and include condiment packets or containers of dressing for dipping

DIPS AND TOPPINGS

Salsa, guacamole, bean dip, hummus, cottage cheese, ranch dressing

Portion into small bags or single-serve containers

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Back to school: Genius hacks to pack healthier lunch options