The school year is officially here and while most parents are trying to navigate this years “new normal,” many are simultaneously trying to figure out what meals they should send their kids to school with. I often speak with parents about healthy lunch ideas that are both satisfying and nutritious that their kids will actually eat – there is nothing worse than making the effort to prepare lunches only to find out their kids didn’t actually eat them!
TRUTH: When I was a kid, my mom would prepare lunches for me and instead of eating them, I would hide them in my backpack and then in my closet for weeks until my parents found moldy, uneaten sandwiches (EWWWW – SO GROSS!!). This memory always remains in my mind and that’s why I really stress the importance of making sure the lunches you send your kids to school with are lunches you know they are going to enjoy.
TIP: Get your kids involved. Work out a meal plan with your kids, making them active participants in their weekly lunch menu. If they say they won’t eat it, believe them. Most kids are visual so getting on Pinterest may be a great idea. Giving them a chance to see some options will help them decide what meals they want to eat and know which ones they won’t. Show them options you know they like and consider including 1 meal a week that is new to them. I personally have a rule in my home: We always try new things but no one will force you to eat something you don’t like. BUT: you might surprise yourself and the only way to know if you like it is to take 3 bites. Whenever I offer something new I always make sure other parts of the meal include foods I know they will eat for sure. I don’t want my kids to feel punished if they decide they don’t like the new food they’ve tried. That’s just not fair.
In my situation, my kids are young. They are still in daycare and technically, meals are provided for them. My kids have dietary restrictions and due to Covid19, our daycare’s kitchen is under renovation, making accommodating their restrictions extremely challenging. This week the daycare director offered me the option to provide my own lunches, which of course prompted this blog!
So what am I planning on feeding my kids? Isn’t that the million dollar question! Below is my first 5-day lunch plan, based on meals my older daughter (3.5 years old) and I agreed on. A lot of ideas also double as dinner ideas because leftovers work wonders when it comes to menu planning! I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the mental capacity to think about 10 separate meals ideas between Monday-Friday. My menu plan includes a combo of warm and cold meals. You can replicate this meal plan or make modifications to suite your family’s needs.
Vegan Lentil Chili:
I love this meal because it’s protein and nutrient packed. It’s also vegan, which is great for my girls since they are both gluten and dairy free. Chili can be made in a large pot or an instant/croc pot and can be easily frozen and defrosted another week when you’re looking for a quick and easy lunch idea but don’t have the time to cook it. You can serve this on it’s own or add a variety of toppings like avocado, jalapeno, green onions, shredded cheese or sour cream.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
· 2 tbsp. cooking oil
· 2 stalks celery (finely diced)
· 1 onion (finely diced)
· 1 green pepper (finely diced)
· 2 28 fl oz. cans diced tomatoes
· 1 19oz red kidney beans (drained)
· 1 19 oz can or soaked pinto beans (drained)
· 1 19 fl oz. lentils (drained)
· 2 tbsp. chili powder
· 1 tsp smoked paprika
· 1 tsp. garlic powder
· ½ tbsp.. ground cumin
· salt and pepper
1. Heat a large pot over medium heat and add the oil. When the oil has heated, add celery, onion and green pepper to the pot and season with salt and pepper
2. Sautee the vegetables while stirring for 2-3 minutes or until they start to release their liquids and become translucent.
3. Add the chili powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder and ground cumin to the pot and stir to cover the vegetables.
4. Cook for another 2 minutes
5. Add the diced tomatoes, kidney beans, pinto beans and lentils to the pot and season well with salt and pepper
6. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
**This isn’t the only thing I plan on sending my kids to school with. I like the idea of including some fresh cut veggie sticks with guacamole and a small side of berries for dessert.
Bell Peppers, cream cheese and everything bagel spice
This is one of the BEST and easy lunch ideas!!!! Since my girls are dairy-free, I use Kite hill plant-based artesian cream cheese but if your kids do well with dairy, you can choose any brand of cream cheese you like. This meal is sweet, crunchy, creamy and filled with flavour. You can either make it ahead of time or include the ingredients separately in a lunchbox for your child to make on their own.
Prep Time: 5 times
Cook Time: 0 minutes!
· Any bell pepper of your choice
· Cream cheese of choice
· Everything bagel seasoning
1. Cut bell peppers into halves or quarters
2. Spread cream cheese on bell pepper
3. Sprinkle with everything bagel seasoning
Depending on your child, this may or may not be enough for lunch. You can always add a few slices of whole-wheat pitas or Mary Crackers with 1-2 tablespoons of hummus. As always, I love to include a small amount of fruit. For this meal I plan on sending some halved grapes and a ½ banana, sliced.
Kale and Sweet Potato Brown Rice Bowl
Bowls are one of my favourite things to make for dinner because they are easy and versatile. This particular dish is nutritious, warming and filled with the perfect fall food combination. This meal also works well as leftovers and the rice can double as another meal for another day.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
· 1 cup cooked brown rice (or quinoa)
· 2 cups steamed kale
· ½ cup cooked chickpeas
· 2 cups roasted sweet potato chunks
· 1 tsp olive or coconut oil
· Sea salt to taste
· Tahini sauce
1. Roast sweet potatoes if you haven’t already. Chop 1 large sweet potato into ¼ inch chunks and drizzle with 1 tsp of olive or coconut oil and sprinkle a little sea salt. Bake at 400°F for 30 minutes. This step is best done ahead of time (as in, the night before!)
2. Cook brown rice according to packaging instructions while sweet potatoes are roasting
3. Prepare kale by washing, de-stemming and chopping. Then steam in a steamer basket for 3-5 minutes or until tender. You can blanch or sauté the kale if you prefer.
4. Once all the ingredients are prepared, distribute brown rice, kale, chickpeas and sweet potatoes. Drizzle with tahini, hummus or salad dressing of your choice.
The original recipe calls for a peanut sauce but since schools are a nut-free zone, I opt for a simple tahini sauce. You can also use hummus or even a favourite salad dressing (I always LOVE the Mother Raw dressings which can be found almost everywhere, including Walmart). This meal works really well with some pumpkin seeds and snap pea crisps for dessert.
Veggie and Meat Wraps
We discovered this easy lunch idea during lockdown in March. It’s so easy and gives everyone the opportunity to design a wrap of their choosing. Use all the ingredients, omit some or add others that your kids love. Wraps are yummy, nutrient packed and super satisfying. They are also quick to make in the morning which is an added bonus.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes!
· Corn or flour tortilla
· Slice of dairy or dairy-free cheese (Earth Island is my preference)
· Slice of nitrite free turkey
· Sliced tomato
· Sliced cucumber
· Grated carrot
· Bell peppers
· Any other vegetable of your choice
· Balsamic vinaigrette dressing (optional)
1. Spread hummus, guacamole or any spread of your choice (some parents use cream cheese)
2. Break cheese or dairy-free cheese slice in 2 and add to wrap
3. Add nitrite free turkey
4. Add vegetables of your choice
5. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette if you choose
6. Wrap tortilla and cut in half for easy eating.
You don’t necessarily need to include anything else with this meal but it’s always nice to offer at least 1 extra option. Apples and honey are the perfect addition to this meal.
Slow Cooker Vegetable Soup
One more meal idea that is essentially effortless but packed with nutrients and so delicious. Soups are the perfect meal on a cool day and the fact that half can be frozen for another week makes this dish extremely appealing.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 6 hours unless using an instant pot. Follow instant pot instructions for soups
· 1 large onion, chopped (you can also use frozen diced onion)
· 3 stalks celery, chopped
· 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
· 3 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced into small pieces
· 2 cans of fire roasted tomatoes, 14.5oz
· 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables of your choice, 12oz
· 2 bay leaves
· ½ tsp dried thyme
· 2 tsp minced garlic
· 1 tsp salt
· 1 tsp pepper
· 2 tsp Italian seasoning
· 8 cups organic vegetable stock
1. Place everything in a slow cooker
2. Cook on low for 6 hours or until potatoes are soft. If you cook on high, reduce time
3. Serve warm with a piece of challah or crusty bread. Salt and pepper to taste
Even though my girls are gluten free, I still like to offer them a small piece of challah from time-to-time. Other times I give them rice cake or crisp bread (I like the brand pain de fleurs). I like to include a small amount of dairy-free butter to add to the bread but of course if your kids eat dairy, a regular butter works too. This is a really hearty soup so I keep dessert small but yummy. I like to include organic fruit roll ups (I personally use Yo Yo’s Bear which I discovered at Starbucks!).
So there it is: 1 weeks worth of lunch ideas. This meal plan makes me feel good about what my kids are eating at school and knowing that these are foods they enjoy make me breathe easy. I want my kids to be nourished, especially now that cold and flu season is upon us. It’s important to support our kids’ immune systems now more than ever and food is truly the foundation of good health.
Interested in adding a Naturopathic Doctor to your child's healthcare team? I currently offer online and in-person appointments in Maple and North York and visits are covered by extended health insurance. Feel free to real out to me for a complimentary consultation.
Want to find these original recipes and photos on Pinterest? You can find them in my Kids Lunch Ideas Board.