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Tips for healthier back-to-school lunches

Classically trained chef that enjoys teaching people how to cook simple, seasonal and elegant meals.

With the end of summer comes the inevitable "back-to-school" series of commercials for all things clothing, supplies and food. Use these simple tips to make back-to-school lunches healthy and more delicious.

1. Avoid "fast" food

Instead of grabbing for the bag of chips or a processed granola bar to throw in school lunches, opt for healthier non-processed options such as carrot sticks, sliced apples, jicama (try it, we promise your kids will love it!), guacamole and whole-wheat tortilla chips, fresh pico de gallo or low-fat cheese.

Avoid anything overly packaged to guarantee your kids are getting nutrients, not chemicals. To do this, slice your own apples (avoid the pre-bagged) and toss with lemon juice to avoid browning or chunk blocks of cheese into cubes and bag instead of traditional string cheese.

5-Minute recipe: Homemade pita chips. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Quarter or eighth 1 package of whole-wheat pita bread and toss with 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon paprika. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

2. Utilize rollover meals

Constantly feel like you're cooking? Streamline kitchen time by creating rollover meals for your family. Choosing products with dual purposes cuts down cooking time. Great ingredients to do this with adapt to many flavors such as brown rice, grains like quinoa and farro, eggs, beans and lentils.

For example, purchasing a rotisserie chicken can lead to two simple meals: chicken enchiladas and healthy chicken salad.

5-Minute recipe: Chicken enchiladas. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Shred 1/2 whole chicken and toss with 1 cup mild salsa and 1/4 cup cheddar or pepper jack cheese. Divide evenly between 4 soft tortillas (whole wheat preferably) and line seam-side down in a baking dish. Drizzle additional 1/2 cup salsa and 1/4 cup cheese on top and bake until golden brown and bubbly.

Photo credit: Ermin Gutenberger/iStock/360/Getty Images

5-Minute recipe: Healthy chicken salad. Shred and toss remaining 1/2 chicken with 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, 1/4 cup toasted nuts, 1/2 cup sliced grapes and season with salt and pepper. Eat alone, on top of greens or in-between bread.

3. Don't be wary of sweets

Creating a complete meal is about including dessert; what kid doesn't want dessert? Sweets tend to be the biggest culprit of processed food so to keep your sweet tooth intact opt for frozen (and much less expensive) fruits such as berries, cherries and mango. Play with different types of dark and milk chocolate speckled with candied ginger, mint or raspberries. Unsweetened yogurts (look for 7 grams of sugar or less) can be dressed up with honey, nuts or fruit. Crave something cold? Make your own ice pops by combining fresh-pressed juices for an ice pop both you and your kids will like.

5-Minute recipe: Make your own ice pops. Combine 1 pint beet juice with 1 pint raspberry lemonade and 1 pint fresh whole raspberries. Pour into ice pop trays and freeze. Your kids won’t even notice the difference.

Photo credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/360/Getty Images
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