Back to School: Lunch

There’s a funny thing that happens when you put food in a travel container… it becomes lunch! I’ve come across a handful of magical, transformative such vessels- perfect for turning a lentil dish into a treat, just like that. In this photo I featured UKonserve’s divided rectangle, which provides many opportunities to bring snacks without using baggies (throw-away plastic) and also kept fruit juices where they belonged.

Lunch can fall into the same trap as breakfast: We try to get creative with “Lunch foods” and “Breakfast foods”… only to find that the best way to do so is to drop the labels altogether. It’s time to re-imagine your lunches (and breakfasts, for that matter).

Shapes, sizes, and packages:

Wraps, soft taco shells, English muffins and pita pockets can hold your same ‘ol sandwich fillings in a new way. Cut them into squares or triangles or leave as they are—any way you slice it, you’ll be introducing a new look to an old favorite. If you’re up for it, make whole-wheat waffles on a batch-cook day to use for breakfast and lunch throughout the week.

Experiment with new fillings and spreads:

Greek yogurt + cucumbers

  • Add paprika or scallions for extra color and flavor
  • Smoked salmon is a great addition
  • Plain Greek yogurt is a healthy substitution for cream cheese- give it a try! If you don’t love it on your sandwich, you can still eat it on its own, in a parfait, or smoothie. You can also add a little mayo to adjust the taste: Mayonnaise contains more healthy fats (and less saturated fat) than cream cheese.

Hummus or olive tapenade + cucumbers, thinly sliced mushrooms, red peppers, red onions, and zucchini (any or all)

  • The veggies listed above can be eaten raw or cooked. If you can, roast or grill extra dinner veggies and add those as well! Try eggplant and carrots.
  • Add spice with freshly ground black pepper, paprika, or chipotle powder
  • Try hummus on one slice of bread and mayo and cheese on the other

Ricotta + tomato, lettuce, onion, and more!

  • Whip ricotta with a little olive oil until fluffy and spreadable. Add salt and pepper, top with tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, and onion. I like to add pesto and grilled veggies, too!

Goat cheese + pickled vegetables, lettuce, and avocado

Peanut butter + bananas, apples, or dried fruit

  • PB&J is an inherently healthy choice, but using fresh fruits makes it even better by eliminating added sugar.
  • Experiment with other goodies, such as chopped walnuts, hemp hearts, or cinnamon and nutmeg.


Buy extra meat or tofu for your dinner and use in lunches the next day:

  • Chicken salad can be made in many ways, including with Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise or sour cream.
  • Thinly sliced beef or pork can be used like deli meat to fill a sandwich.
  • Toss ½ inch slices of firm tofu in oil and spices then bake in in a 400° Use in sandwiches, atop salads, or as finger food! Pairs well with a home-made peanut sauce: 3 T Soy sauce + 3 T rice wine vinegar + 3 T toasted sesame oil + 2 T honey + ½ cup peanut butter + juice of 1 lime. 1 tablespoon each of grated ginger and garlic if you’re feeling fancy.


  • Many vegetables and legumes can be combined with a little salsa and plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream) for a delectable Mexican-inspired lunch.
  • Use leftovers or frozen/canned ingredients with fresh wraps and salsa for easy prep.

Classic ingredients, nutrition review:

Tuna salad is a great choice.

  • Eating this inexpensive, filling staple about once a week is a good benchmark in order to meet the body’s need for Omega-3 while also keeping an eye on mercury levels.
  • For those who are pregnant or nursing, consult your doctor to confirm appropriate frequency.

Eggs: Big thumbs up! A frugal, healthy protein.

  • Whip up a batch of hard-boiled eggs for quick snacks, on-the-go breakfast, or a filling addition to salads.
  • Egg salad can be made with mayo or vinegar and pickles, depending on your preference. Battle of the regions, explained here.
  • Though more time consuming, deviled eggs are visually-appealing and may get kids (or grownups) to eat more eggs. 

Deli meat. This one does come with a caution: processed meats have been associated with an increased risk of colon cancer.

  • If you choose to eat deli meat, sausage, bacon, smoked fish, etc. try to limit serving sizes to 50 grams a day or less. Luckily, there are many alternatives.
Seeking inspiration from OBento:

Most kids prefer relatively un-flavored foods, separate from one another, that don’t require utensils. This can be limiting if cheese sticks and squeezable yogurts seem to be your only options. However, just a quick Google search for Obento or Bento box will show many foods transformed into “kid-friendly” forms. What foods are you already buying that can be adapted for a lunch box?

Make them exciting for lunch with the right shapes and dips. Raw green beans were a go-to this summer, as we had them in abundance. They are great raw, and with the ends trimmed off and cut in small pieces, they are finger food.

  • If you have a narrow scope of vegetables in your household, consider trying new ones! The best way to get kids to try new things is to model the behavior yourself.
  • The best part about working veggies into your child’s lunch is that it can benefit your lunch as well. Adults tend to prefer their veggies with an exciting dip, so add ranch dressing, hummus, ricotta or cottage cheese to your bag if needed! Consider a small investment if you don’t have appropriate containers.
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