Hip and healthy lunch box tips for back to school

The days of every kid having a PB&J and apple for lunch are over. According to Chef Jennifer Carden, author of The Toddler Cafe, now it’s all about whose food is more blue or who has the funkiest drink. How can you possibly pack your child a healthy school lunch that rates “cool” enough that they will actually eat it? Read on for hip and healthy lunch box tips.

Mom and Daughter Making Lunch

Get your kids interested in their school lunches

Instead of just packing up whatever lunch you think is fine, let your kids be part of the lunch planning. Carden says, “I like to use the word ‘foodstorm.’ It’s my own little creation — a way of saying ‘communicate with your kids.'”

If you don’t want your kids to toss their lunch or trade it for less than healthy meals, “foodstorm” with your kids. Talk with them about the foods they like and the kind of lunches they want to take to school. “The more they know and the more they help, the [more they] will begin to take ownership and eat their lunch,” adds Carden.

Hip and healthy lunch box tips

Carden suggests making lunch fun and adding variety to every lunch (but only after you discuss it with your kids). Here are a few more of Carden’s tips:

  • Get your child a neat lunchbox or put stickers or drawings on a lunch bag.
  • Add notes or pictures for young children.
  • Use fun containers and keep waste to a minimum.
  • Try wooden utensils, instead of plastic. Your kid can be hip and eco-friendly.
  • Make sure there is one high-protein food that they like.
  • Make sure you send a healthy drink, like milk or 100 percent juice. Sugary drinks are devoid of nutrition and will take away your child’s appetite.
  • Don’t give your kids new and different foods in their lunches without discussing it. They will be less likely to eat new foods if they are not familiar with them.
  • Make lunch colorful with cut veggies and fruit.
  • Make lunch novel by cutting their favorite bread into into shapes (use cookie cutters in a variety of shapes).
  • Take advantage of leftovers. Lots of things can go between bread or in pita pockets.
  • Black bean soup, whole wheat pasta or soba noodles can be sent in a thermos for a comforting warm meal on a cold day (and because they are unique as compared to the everyday sandwich, they beat the boring lunchbox blues).
  • Think outside the (lunch)box. Instead of packing the usual lunch fare, be creative and send your child to school with a novel meal. For example, this Banana Hot Dog is healthier than meat-based dogs and your kids will love it!

Banana Hot Dog

Serves 1Banana Hotdog

In a pinch, a plain old banana can become a hot dog! This is a funny and different way to serve this fruit. Put it in front of your kids and watch their reaction. Let your kids help add the “mustard” — though it may be messy, it is sure to get them interested. And it’s a great way to use up your old hamburger or hot dog buns. Serve with banana chips for the ultimate tropical experience.


  • 1 banana, peeled
  • 1 whole-wheat hot dog bun
  • Jelly
  • Creamy peanut butter


Place the peeled banana in a bun. Fill two zip-top baggies — one with jelly and the other with peanut butter. Cut a tiny hole in the corner of each bag, and squeeze jelly and peanut butter out onto the banana as you would mustard and ketchup. Eat and enjoy.


  • Add crushed pistachios for a crunchy relish look-alike.
  • Cereal and dried fruit make great additional toppingsJelly Pouch.
  • Try soy nut, almond or sunflower butter for a change.

Recipe from The Toddler Café© by Jennifer Carden

The Toddler Café©

The Toddler Café© is a cookbook made with love by Jennifer and Matthew Carden. Jennifer is a chef, author, food stylist, teacher, artist and mom whose innovative ideas and humorous slant on feeding children have led her to develop cookbooks and products that help parents feed their children healthy, quick and uncomplicated food. Matthew, Jennifer’s husband, is a lifestyle photographer whose fine art photography is shown and collected internationally. Together they created The Toddler Café©, a tasty compendium of 50 inventive but simple recipes and creative tips on making mealtime with your kids fun and interactive. This is a cookbook that every parent can use!

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