Healthy Lunch Box Hacks for Back to School

Did you give up packing lunches for the summer? As you get ready to fit tasks back into your routine, it’s a temptation to go for the easiest and most convenient option. That might be a matter of tossing non-nutritious “Lunchables” and pre-packed cookies and juice boxes into your grocery cart and having the kids play mix-and-match in the morning.

That can be an occasional fun event, but it’s not a great option for everyday. Here are a couple of formulas that let you get better results with just a little prep time.

The Muffin Formula

Use what you have on hand to put together exciting muffins. Muffins are a comfort-food star to jazz up a Thermos of soup or cut up veggies with peanut butter.

Basic Ingredients

  1. 1 egg
  2. 1/3 c. oil
  3. 1/3 c. sugar or honey
  4. 1 c. self-rising flour

Mix these items together in a mixing bowl. Now comes the fun:

  1. Stir in cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, vanilla, or any favorite spice or flavoring. This is optional, but can add excitement.
  2. Add one more cup of grains or flour alternative. Oatmeal, almond flour, coconut flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, granola, cooked faro — mix and match as long as it totals one cup. We suggest going with at least half flour and topping it up with almond flour and sunflower seeds, not the other way around. Here’s where you can add fiber, protein, and favorite flavors.
  3. Stir in one cup of liquid. Your go-to could be milk, but you can also use thin applesauce, strong black tea, yogurt, orange juice, or a combination. Save a cup of your breakfast smoothie to be your muffin liquid, if you like.
  4. Now add one cup of goodies. Dried dates or other dried fruit, chopped nuts, sliced berries, shredded coconut, dark chocolate chips, grated carrots or zucchini — the sky’s the limit.

Bake your muffins for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees in a muffin pan. Check them by sticking a fork into one of the muffins. If it comes out clean, they’re ready. However, since different ingredients can bake a little differently, be ready to give them a few more minutes if they need it.

These muffins will freeze beautifully. Grab one straight from the freezer for your lunch box. Come lunchtime, it will be fully thawed and fresh.

You can fit this prep in with your breakfast, or take an hour over the weekend and get creative. Try out lots of different ideas and keep track — you’ll have your favorites. Our example uses almond extract, 3/4 c. whole wheat flour plus 1/4 c. almond meal, 1 c. milk, and 1 c. diced strawberries. Yum!

Lunch Combinations Formula

Call them lunchables, lunchmakers, or what you will, these plastic-encased trays of meat and cheese and crackers can pack lots of fat and sugar with very little fiber. A turkey version has 10 grams of protein, less than one gram of fiber, 16 grams of fat and 17 grams of sugar.

By comparison, a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread offers 25 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, 2 grams of fat, and 8 grams of sugar.

Yet the fun idea of having a bunch of little bites of tasty things for lunch has a long tradition in cultures around the world. A Bento box, a charcuterie board, or a ploughman’s lunch — they’re just traditional versions of a homemade lunchable from around the world.

Follow our simple formula to put together an awesome lunch combination of your own.

  • Start with a protein source. For maximum fun, pick two or three different items. Cut up cubes of cheese, ham, chicken, hard-boiled egg, or your own favorites.
  • Get a high-fiber carb source into the mix. Whole-grain bread or crackers make good choices. Check labels before you buy and go for an option with 3-4 grams of fiber.
  • Packaged lunch combinations don’t usually include pickles, but a ploughman’s lunch, a Bento box, or a charcuterie board does. Chutney, pickle relish, or any favorite pickle will bring a sharp flavor to wake up your kids’ taste buds. Almost any vegetable can be packed in a little jar with a spritz of vinegar and end up nicely pickled by lunchtime.
  • Finish up with cut up fruits and vegetables like apple wedges, orange segments, carrot sticks, or radish roses.
  • Tuck in a cookie or a piece of fruit leather for a treat.

It’s easy to eat a lot of bland food without noticing or even enjoying it. Including different flavors can encourage more mindful eating, even if you have to work your way up to it. Do some chopping on the weekend and fill up a few containers with portable goodies, and you can make a tasty homemade lunch combination in minutes.