Summer is Wrapping Up! Try These Creative Lunch Ideas for Heading Back to School
Written by: Julia Berkelhammer, MS, RDN, LDN
Branch out from the boring peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese! Make lunchtime fun by using wraps and dips to help increase your child’s consumption of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. With the right ingredients on hand, the following ideas are quick, easy, healthy, & teacher-approved!
Fruit and nut butter wrap – Rethink the standard PB&J and try a variety of nut butters wrapped up with apples or bananas. Spreads made from almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, hazelnuts, and sunflower or pumpkin seeds are healthy, non-peanut options. They contain magnesium, vitamin B, vitamin E, antioxidants, protein, and monounsaturated fats (the good kind)! Walnut butter is especially high in the essential omega-3 fatty acids that cannot be made by the body and are necessary for the brain. For the wrap, use a whole grain or high fiber option.
Fruit and cheese wraps – Low fat, spreadable cheese pairs well with many colorful fruits. Think mangos, kiwis, pears, and all the berries! In addition to being naturally sweet, the phytonutrients in berries have been shown to reduce risk of cancer, infection, chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, and contain compounds that can improve memory (1).
Veggie & hummus wrap – Pack in a variety of seasonal veggies from the color of the rainbow. Crunchy, colorful bell peppers naturally contain varying amounts of vitamin A and C, fiber, and virtually no sodium or cholesterol. Try carrots, tomatoes or cucumbers. The vegetable combinations here are endless. Spread the wrap with your favorite hummus for the benefit of added fiber and protein.
Rice & beans wrap – AKA the mini buritto! Try stuffing it with brown rice and any beans that your child(ren) enjoys! When picking rice, be sure to use a whole grain option, which provides more fiber than white rice. Brown rice is considered a whole grain, containing more protein and fiber, but you could also choose a brown basmati, red or black rice, or wild rice. Whole grains are associated with decreased risk of chronic disease, (2) while white rice and other refined grains are associated with increased risk of chronic disease (2).
Salsa – Traditional salsa with tomatoes and onions is a low-fat dip with lots of taste. Salsas made of beans and corn or with fruit are good options as well. Any salsa containing tomatoes will provide cancer-fighting antioxidants, vitamins A, C, & E, and potassium. Don’t skimp on the salsa and pack in some whole grain chips and raw vegetables for dipping. Many stores are even carrying varieties of chips made with other healthy ingredients such as quinoa, chickpeas, kale, flax, chai, etc.
Guacamole – This flavorful spread is made from the avocado, which is full of healthy, monounsaturated fats. Healthy fats paired with other nutrient-rich foods increase absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K). The creamy texture is perfect for dipping chips, crackers, or veggies like carrots, cucumbers, or sliced bell peppers. It can be found in conveniently pre-portioned, individual packs.
Hummus – This spread is typically made from chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) but many varieties exist. Flavors include roasted red pepper, jalapeno-cilantro, garlic, beet, pepper, and caramelized onion. There are also versions made from different beans, including black beans, lentil, or even edamame. Beans are an excellent vegetarian source of protein, iron and zinc, but are also high in fiber, folate & potassium. Moreover, they are low in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol. Dip with crunchy pita chips or really boost fiber intake by serving with veggies like celery, broccoli, or carrots.
Yogurt dip – Try adding a ranch seasoning packet to Greek yogurt for a healthier dip alternative. Choosing Greek yogurt instead of sour cream or salad dressing increases protein intake and has less unhealthy fats. This can be used instead of mayo or served with crunchy veggies for dipping. I like sliced cucumbers and sugar snap peas.
Peanut butter yogurt dip (3) – May sound weird but don’t knock it ’til you try it! For a creative twist, combine 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey with 1 cup fat free Greek yogurt and 3 tablespoons of peanut butter (or any nut butter). This is a versatile dip that can be munched on with whole grain crackers, fruits, or veggie slices.
When in doubt… add more fruits & vegetables!
For sides and snacks, always aim for more fruits & vegetables! Have I driven that point home yet? It may seem like an obvious choice but still, most US children do not meet national recommendations for fruit and vegetable servings (4). If time is an issue, make it easy on yourself and buy pre-packaged or pre-cut produce options. In some grocery stores, you can find pre-washed and sliced bell peppers, celery, broccoli, and pre-packaged baby carrots. Most stores also have pre-cut watermelon, pineapple, kiwi, cantaloupe, berries, & honeydew. Cherries, berries, and grapes are already the perfect size for snacking. They just need a quick rinse and they are ready to eat! You can even buy dehydrated fruit or baked fruit chips that add some variety and sweetness but still provide the fiber. Remember, the USDA recommends all Americans try and make half their plate or meal fruits and vegetables.
- Seeram NP. Recent trends and advances in berry health benefits research. J Agric Food Chem. 2008;58(7): 3869-70.
- Tigh P, Duthie G, Vaughan N, et al. Effect of increased consumption of whole grain foods on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk markers in healthy middle aged persons: a randomized control trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;92(4):733-40
- Moore, LV, Thompson FE, Demissie Z. Percentage of youth meeting federal fruit and vegetable intake recommendations, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, United States and 33 states, 2013. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2017;117(4):545-553.
Julia is the RD at Avance Care’s new Durham Location. She enjoys anything outside, such as reading, running, or walking the dogs. She also loves to cook new recipes for her husband (thank you, Pinterest!), paint, or do home projects like redoing furniture. She makes many weekend visits around NC to hang out with family and friends. She has 2 dogs and loves hanging with her niece and nephew (the cutie in the picture).