Sandwiches: Here is a simple approach for creating lunchbox meals with sandwiches. Just pick from each category and you’ve got a sandwich made in no time.
- whole wheat bread
- pita pocket
- dark rye bread
- sourdough bread
- bagels (plain or flavored)
- hamburger buns
- soft shell tortilla (whole wheat or flavored)
- nonfat mayonnaise
- non-fat sour cream
- non-fat plain yogurt (Greek style is thicker and creamier and makes a nice spread)
- mustard (spicy, honey, Dijon, horseradish, etc.) - creamy low-fat all-natural bottled dressings - avocado (a ripe avocado can be mashed and used as a delicious spread) - pesto (a little basil or roasted red pepper pesto)
- tuna (canned, packed in water and drained) - thin slices of smoked salmon
- hummus (regular or flavored variety) - chicken (baked, broiled or grilled and thinly sliced) - nut butter (peanut, soy, sunflower, cashew or almond) - vegetarian burger or patty (cooked as directed on package)
- deli meat slices (all natural and low sodium) - cheese slices (low-fat varieties or vegetarian cheese slices)
veggies: sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, pickle relish
or sliced pickles, lettuce, bell pepper strips, pitted and chopped black or green olives, thinly sliced peeled jicama, thinly sliced chayote squash, sprouts
fruit: (these work really well on nut butter sandwiches)
thinly sliced apples, raisins, chopped dried cherries or any dried fruit variety, sliced bananas
Soups: Soups make great lunchbox meals. Keeping soup warm until lunchtime can be a challenge but I have found that if you warm up the thermos first, with some very warm water from the tap for a few minutes, then pour it out and add the hot soup, it will usually stay fairly warm until you are ready to eat.
Choose your child’s favorite soup either homemade or store-bought. When buying store-bought varieties look for all-natural ingredients and low-sodium content. Add some simple sides along with a thermos of warm soup and you’ve got a quick and easy lunchbox meal.
Some suggestions for side dishes to go along with hot soup are listed below.
*Simple Sides for Lunchbox Meals:
- Small Side Salad: lettuce, tomato and cucumber with Italian dressing
- Veggies and Dip: carrot and celery sticks with all-natural Ranch style dressing or hummus for dipping
- Fruit and Yogurt: apple slices with low-fat vanilla flavored yogurt for dipping
- Potatoes: cubes of cooked potatoes dressed with a little non-fat sour cream and chives
- Cheese and Crackers: low-fat cheese cubes and whole grain crackers
- Chips and Salsa: baked pita chips with salsa for dipping
- Breadsticks and Fruit: flavored breadsticks and a small container of applesauce
- Cheese and Fruit: low-fat string cheese and a small box of raisins
- Chips and Fruit: small bag of baked chips with a piece of fruit
Pasta and Noodles: Warm or cold, cooked pasta or noodles are simple lunchbox meals that can be made quickly and easily. These can be made ahead of time and served either cold or warmed up before placing in insulated container.
*Pasta or Noodles:
- Small Pasta Shapes: elbow macaroni, farfalle, penne or rotini (or your favorite)
- Long Noodle Varieties: thin spaghetti, fettucini, rice noodles or udon noodles
Depending on what you choose, warm the quantity of sauce you are using in a saucepan or simply add your choice of sauce to the warm, cooked pasta.
- pasta sauce with vegetables
- Italian dressing
- peanut sauce
- non-fat sour cream (alone or mixed with some dried herbs)
- mustard and non-fat sour cream or mayonnaise combination
- salsa (your favorite variety)
- basil or roasted red pepper pesto mixed with non-fat sour cream or non-fat plain Greek yogurt
Here is a suggested list of vegetables that you can use in any combination. Of course if your child has any favorites you will want to use those. If using frozen vegetables, cook according to package directions and if using fresh, use raw or lightly cooked until tender, whichever you prefer.
- artichoke hearts (frozen or marinated in jars) - drain before using
- asparagus spears (frozen or fresh) - cut into one-inch pieces
- broccoli (frozen or fresh) - cut into bite-sized pieces
- carrots - sliced or diced
- celery - sliced or diced
- mushrooms - sliced
- sweet bell peppers - chopped
- roasted sweet red peppers (jarred - drain before using) - cut into bite-sized pieces
- tomatoes - diced
- sweet onions - chopped
- peas (frozen or fresh)
- corn kernels (frozen or fresh)
- baby spinach leaves (fresh works best and the heat from the warm pasta will soften the leaves perfectly)
These are just some simple
that add a little something extra to pasta or noodle dishes. Use these ingredients alone or in any combination you prefer to make flavorful lunchbox meals.
- pitted and chopped green or black olives
- chopped nuts
- grated or cubed low-fat cheese
- any canned beans (rinsed and drained before using) such as black, cannellini, garbanzo or kidney
- chopped sun-dried tomatoes
Choose the greens for your salad. There are a variety of pre-packaged salad greens in the grocery stores these days from spring mixes, romaine, arugula, baby spinach and more. You can choose these products and even make combinations of them for an interesting salad base for your lunchbox meals.
You can also simply buy the fresh variety in heads by themselves and make your own combinations. This route is cheaper than the packaged variety but if time is short you can't beat the pre-packaged greens.
*Veggies and Fruit:
Choose a variety of vegetables and/or fruit to put in the salad with a rainbow of colors for the most nutrition. Some combinations I like are:
- cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, celery or - red bell peppers, artichoke hearts, scallions or - grape tomatoes, avocado, hearts of palm or - shredded carrots, shredded cabbage, mandarin oranges or - diced apples, blueberries, strawberries
Here are some suggestions for fillings that will make a salad a quick and easy lunch meal.
- Cooked Chicken (cubed) - grilled, baked, broiled or - Cooked Seafood (cut into bite-sized pieces) - tuna, salmon, shrimp, crab or lobster or - Cooked Grains - brown rice, basmati rice, quinoa, buckwheat or wild rice or - Cooked Beans - black beans, garbanzo beans, butter beans, lima beans, kidney beans, azuki beans, cannellini beans or edamame or - Cooked Meat (cut into bite-size pieces) - steak, ham, pork chops or roast beef or - Eggs - chopped hard-boiled eggs, cut up cooked omelet or cooked scrambled eggs or - Cooked Pasta - (the smaller varieties work best like rotini, elbow macaroni, couscous or farfalle)
Choose an all natural, organic and low-fat variety. Making your own dressing is always an option and you can control all the ingredients that way but if time is too short, there are so many varieties available today that you will always be able to find something delicious.
These simple topping accents will add an extra layer of flavor to salad meals. Use as many or as few as you like.
- Croutons: plain or flavored varieties - Crumbled Bacon: use turkey bacon to cut down on fat or try the vegetarian variety - Nuts: use a sprinkling of chopped nuts like walnuts, pecans, almonds or pine nuts - Seeds: these are also a good addition like pumkin seeds, sunflower kernels or sesame seeds. - Baked Tortilla Chips: crumble them up and sprinkle over your salad - Shredded Cheese: use a low-fat variety and sprinkle over the salad
Try these easy lunch box meals whenever you need them. They are quick and simple to put together and will give you a variety of ideas so lunch will never be boring for your children or anyone who has to pack a lunch.