These healthy lunches for kids pack a plant-powered protein punch

It’s a never-ending struggle to keep kids away from the high-fat junk food in the lunch line (read: cheese pizza, chicken nuggets and sugary drinks), which is why it’s best to pack their lunch instead. Plant-packed healthy lunches for kids should contain protein, fiber, anti-oxidants and nutrients to nourish their bodies — and yours.

The most recent USDA “MyPlate” guidelines actually recommend that vegetables, grains and fruits make up three-quarters of your plate at each meal, downgrading both animal protein and dairy substantially from the former “food pyramid” model — and the current 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest eating lots of different nutrient-dense foods, while reducing saturated fats, processed foods and added sugars. If this sounds like a hassle that’s going to cost you a lot of money and time, think again. By using the same healthy ingredients when packing everbody’s lunches, you actually save money and time.

Healthy lunches for kids ... and you!5 Complete plant-powered healthy lunches for kids (and you, too)

  1. Bagel and hummus
    Slather a whole-grain bagel with hummus (a dip made from chick peas), and decorate it with cucumbers at lunch time.
    It’s a refreshing treat you can enjoy at your desk, and the kids will love the interactive aspect.
  2. Leftover wrap
    Wrap up last night’s rice and beans in a whole wheat tortilla. Provide a little baggie of shredded lettuce and green or red peppers to add the fresh crunch. Bring some guacamole for yours, and add a little barbecue sauce to the kids’ (or viceversa).
  3. Pasta pesto
    You can cook some pasta up with pignoli nuts and peas for you to take to work, and make a pesto pasta salad for the kids (bonus points for using a fun-shaped pasta).
  4. Do salad your way
    Pack your salad in a mason jar, with the dressing separate — then, when you’re ready to eat, just pour, shake and serve. The kids might prefer a “deconstructed” version, where they can dip their favorite veggies into their favorite dressing.
  5. DIY bean dip
    Process lentils or any beans smooth, using a hand blender. Add your favorite herbs and spices, such as cilantro, dill, cumin, cayenne pepper and garlic powder. Send the kids along with fun whole wheat crackers or tri-color tortilla chips, and pack whole wheat pita bread or naan to enjoy with yours.

Just add favorite fruits that can take a beating in a lunch sack, such as whole oranges or apples, or dried fruits (with no sugar added), or you can pack softer fruits in a plastic container to these lunch main dishes. Chunks of melon or pineapple are perennial kid favorites, as are grapes by the bunch. Round out the meal with whatever nuts you have available, and always pack water instead of sugary juice or sports drinks.

Have fun with creating healthing lunches for your kids — and for you! If you’re ever in a bind, don’t forget that peanut butter (or any nut butter) and a little jelly on whole wheat bread or bagel is a classic, time-tested, plant-powered lunch favorite of kids of all ages.

Image source: Naomi Mannino

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