Pack Lunch Like a Pro

Liz Schnabolk, Photography by Anastassios Mentis

Fruity Chicken Kebabs
Buy chicken or turkey at the deli, and ask to have it sliced to ¾ inch thick. Cut it into cubes. Thread 3 pieces of cubed meat, 2 grapes, and 3 strawberry halves onto a skewer, leaving enough space at the bottom so kids can hold the skewers comfortably. —from Janice Newell Bissex, RD, and Liz Weiss, RD, both moms of two in Massachusetts and founders of mealmakeovermoms.com

Tuna Fish “Sushi” Wraps
Cut a whole wheat tortilla into a square, spread with hummus, and sprinkle with canned tuna fish packed in olive oil. Layer a few baby spinach leaves over half the tortilla. Across the center of the tortilla, place lines of matchstick carrots, cucumbers, and red bell peppers. Roll tightly and seal with a dab of hummus. Slice into bite-size sushi pieces. —from Rebecca Scritchfeld, RD, mom of two in Washington, DC

Tapas Plate
Use a bento box to pack a selection of olives, hummus, cheeses, mini bell peppers, carrots, cucumber slices, pita triangles, and meats. —from Estela Schnelle, RD, mom of two in San Diego

Orzo and Tomato Salad
Whisk together 2 Tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon honey, and ¹/³ cup olive oil for the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside. Cook 12 ounces orzo pasta in 6 cups of chicken broth until tender, according to package directions. Drain and let cool. Mix with 2 cups cherry tomatoes, 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil, and 1 cup baby spinach. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and stir to coat the ingredients. Add 1 cup of mozzarella cubes and toss lightly. —from Emma Fogt, RDN, mom of two in Bryn Mawr, PA

Caprese Skewers
Roll up a slice of turkey and cut into bite-size pieces. On a 6-inch skewer, place a ball of fresh mozzarella, 1 basil leaf, 1 grape or cherry tomato, and 1 piece of the turkey. ——from Blair Mize, RDN, mom of one in Memphis, TN

Smoked Salmon Sandwich
Spread whipped cream cheese on a whole wheat wrap. Top with smoked salmon and sliced tomato and roll up. —from Jessica Fishman Levinson, RDN, founder of Nutritioulicious and mom of twins in Westchester County, NY

Greek Pita Pockets
Take a whole wheat pita pocket and spread hummus on the inside. Sprinkle the inside of the pita pocket with feta cheese. Add a few cucumber slices and shredded, cooked chicken or sliced turkey. —from Blair Mize, RDN

school lunch recipes

Broccoli Pesto Tortellini
In a blender, puree 2 cups fresh broccoli florets with 6 ounces of jarred pesto. Add water or olive oil 1 Tablespoon at a time as needed and blend until smooth. (Adding broccoli to pesto adds vitamins, minerals, and fiber without changing the favor.) Mix sauce with cooked tortellini, sliced red bell peppers, and shredded carrots. —from Rebecca Scritchfeld, RD

Spicy BBQ Ham and Cheese Quesadillas
Place two slices of reduced-sodium cheddar cheese and one slice of ham (or turkey) on a whole grain tortilla. Fold in half, pan-fry, and let cool. Cut into triangles. Mix barbecue sauce into low-fat sour cream and pack into a container for dipping. ——from David Grotto, RD, dad of three in Chicago

Quirky Quinoa
Mix 1 cup of cooked, cooled quinoa with 1 cup black beans; ½ cup corn kernels; half of a red bell pepper (diced); and 1 peeled, diced mango. In a separate bowl, combine 1 Tablespoon canola oil, 1 Tablespoon honey, the juice of 1 lime, and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Add the mixture to the salad and toss. ——from Emma Fogt, RDN

Artichoke Squares
Drain and fnely chop two 6-ounce jars artichoke hearts marinated in oil, reserving 2 Tablespoons of the oil. Heat the reserved oil in a small skillet. Add 1 small onion (finely chopped) and 1 clove minced garlic; cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped artichoke hearts and sauté with onion and garlic for an additional minute. Remove from heat and cool for about 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, beat 4 eggs until frothy. Stir in ¼ cup breadcrumbs; salt and pepper; 2 cups shredded cheese; and artichoke, onion, and garlic mixture. Pour into greased 9-by-9-inch baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes at 350°F. Cool for 10 minutes, then cut into 3-inch squares. —from E.A. Stewart, RD 

Simple Spaghetti
Brown ground turkey breast with onion and olive oil in a sauté pan, then add a jar of prepared spaghetti sauce (look for one with no artificial ingredients) and a cup of water. Add grated carrots, zucchini, and yellow squash to the sauce; mix to combine; and let simmer. Serve over whole wheat or zucchini noodles. —from Holley Grainger, RD, mom of two in Birmingham, AL. 

school lunch recipes
Mediterranean Feta & Quinoa Egg Muffins
Sauté ½ cup chopped onions in 2 teaspoons high oleic sunflower oil for 2 minutes. Add 1 cup chopped tomatoes and sauté for another minute, then add 2 cups chopped baby spinach and sauté until wilted, about 1 minute. Turn off heat and stir in ½ cup kalamata olives (pitted and chopped) and 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano; set aside. Scramble 8 eggs, then add 1 cup cooked quinoa, 1 cup crumbled feta cheese, veggie mixture, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir until well combined. Bake in a greased muffin tin at 350°F for 30 minutes. —from E.A. Stewart, RDN, mom of two in San Diego, CA.

Turkey Apple Roll-Ups
Mash together 1 avocado, ¼ cup low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt, 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread 1 to 2 Tablespoons of avocado mixture on a whole grain wrap. Along the center of the wrap layer 3 to 5 apple slices, about 2 ounces sliced turkey, and a pinch of lemon zest. Roll the wrap up. —from Jenna Braddock, RDN, mom of two in St. Augustine, FL

Lettuce-free Greek Salad Bar
Use small reusable containers to pack individual servings of rinsed and drained chickpeas, chopped seedless cucumber, red pepper slices, chopped Greek olives, chopped tomatoes, grilled chicken strips, Greek salad dressing, crumbled feta cheese, and whole wheat pita triangles. —from David Grotto, RD

On the Side
Try one of these healthy snack suggestions from Michelle Dudash, RDN, of CleanEatingforBusyFamilies.com in Scottsdale, AZ:

  1. Portion out popcorn made with simple ingredients (like organic kernels, coconut oil, and salt) into reusable sandwich bags. Popcorn is a whole grain and a good source of fiber (and also tastes great mixed with dried fruit).
  2. Serve sugar snap peas—or any of your child’s favorite vegetables—with a ranch dip made with a Greek yogurt base.
  3. Toss in a KIND Healthy Grains Popped bar. It’s made with five gluten-free grains and is non-GMO ($27 for 40, kindsnacks.com).
  4. Try Biena Foods chickpea snacks. They’re baked, not fried; contain 5 grams protein, 7 grams fiber, and 8 percent of the daily value for iron per serving; and come in favors like cinnamon maple and barbecue ($3.50, bienafoods.com).

Healthy Sips
Most of the nutritionists we spoke to recommended sticking to water or milk as a lunchtime beverage. Water is the best choice for hydration, and milk provides calcium and vitamin D, which are necessary for kids’ growing bones, says Scritchfeld. If kids want something different, she says, you can mix 1 cup of water with fresh fruit or up to ¼ cup 100-percent fruit juice.

Hannah Lavine contributed additional research and reporting for this story.

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