One of the most important things a parent can do to set their child up for success at school is provide a healthy and well-balanced lunch. For many parents, the idea of making elaborate lunches like you might see on Pinterest, with food your child likely won’t eat, is a pipe dream. There just isn’t any time. But with the right selection of small appliances and a bit of prep, you can send your kid to school with something more than just a boring ham and cheese sandwich or pre-packaged food.
Having the right appliances to make school lunches a breeze and organizing prep is only half the battle. The other half is coming up with the ideas of what to make. We’re here to help with some ideas, including many I make for my own 10-year-old son.
1.Grilled cheese – A kid favourite, while traditional grilled cheese requires a pan, butter, and stovetop heat, you can whip up a grilled cheese using a toaster oven or even an air fryer. Use minimal butter to make it healthier yet still get that nice, crispy crust. Cut in half, wrap in foil, and place in a Thermos to keep it warm until lunch time.
2.Chicken nuggets or drumsticks and waffles – Sure, it’s considered fast food, but if you’re doing it at home, at least you can search the grocery store for healthier options with less additives. Or go the extra mile and make your own batch of homemade chicken nuggets in the air fryer to freeze and reheat as needed. Tossing both right from frozen in an air fryer for 12-15 minutes will deliver a hot lunch kids will love. Meanwhile, change things up by adding a hot waffle, toasted in the toaster, to accompany the nuggets instead of traditional French fries. Include a small container of maple syrup along with a plastic fork and knife so they can enjoy their own version of chicken and waffles.
3.Pita pizzas – Use a toaster oven to make a delicious pita pizza with pita bread, a thin layer of tomato sauce, cheese, and the toppings of the child’s choosing. This is a lunch they might like to help make, assembling the pizza in the morning for you to cook. Once done, slice, wrap, and voila! Pizza lunch, any day of the week.
4.Pockets – Whether it’s ham and cheese or another filling, place between two slices of buttered bread in a sandwich maker or indoor griddle, and you have your own delicious pocket. Prep ingredients like shredded cheese, deli chopped cooked meats, sliced vegetables, and other toppings ahead of time and keep them in the fridge for quick and easy access.
5.Flatbread and hummus – A simple lunch that requires very little prep, slice flatbread into triangles and pair with hummus for dipping. Try making your own hummus at home using a personal blender. With a few simple ingredients you might already have at home, including chick peas, paprika, and tahini, you can whip up a batch in minutes, refrigerate, and use throughout the week. Make sure to include a side of fresh vegetables, like cucumber and carrot slices, for dipping as well.
6.Burritos and quesadillas – one of my son’s favourite lunches is burritos or quesadillas, which I make using leftover flank steak or shredded chicken, made for dinner the previous night in the Instant Pot. I usually slow cook the meat or poultry with salsa, vegetables, and taco seasoning, setting it to cook at 9 or 10 a.m. to be ready for dinnertime. The great thing about multicookers like the Instant Pot is even if you set the cook earlier (if you have to leave for work, for example), the food will keep warm for hours until you arrive home. A warm tortilla, cheddar cheese, and reheated steak or chicken wrapped in a burrito is a hot lunch that looks like restaurant take-out.
7.Breakfast smoothie – some kids love to sleep in, or go to before-school care, which makes having a healthy breakfast in the morning difficult. Blend fresh fruits and vegetables in a blender with a liquid like milk, milk alternative, water, or fruit juice, add ice, and pop into a bottle for breakfast on the go. With a thermal bottle, the smoothie will keep cold for hours. The child can then rinse it out in the sink at school and refill with their water for the rest of the day.
8.Soup – store-bought soups contain a ton of sodium, but using leftover stock, vegetables that are on their last days, noodles, and leftover meat or poultry, you can create a hearty and delicious soup for lunch during the colder winter months. Cook it in a slow cooker and use a blender to make the texture nice and smooth for cream-based soups like pumpkin or squash. Some blenders even have heating elements to not only blend the soup ingredients but also warm them, allowing you to go from fridge to Thermos in minutes with minimal clean-up. Don’t forget a side of crackers or bread for dipping.
9.Assemble-your-own-burger – Use a griddle to cook or reheat a burger in the morning (one you made from scratch on the barbecue the night before, perhaps?) and store in an air-tight container. Pack the bun and toppings separately, including sliced cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and condiments (this is where keeping those tiny packages from fast food restaurants can come in handy) and let them assemble their own burger. For a side dish, consider homemade chips or French fries made in the air fryer.
10.Fruit salad – great for a side dish, make ahead a fruit salad that you can scoop from throughout the week. Every Sunday, cut strawberries, blueberries, grapes, peaches, pears, or whatever other fruits are your child’s favourites (and are in season) and store in an airtight food storage container in the fridge. The fruit will come in handy for an after-school snack, adding to ice cream or topping with whipped cream for dessert after dinner, using for smoothies, and more.
Things to keep in mind when making school lunches
Be sensitive to food allergies – Consider not only your own child but others at school as well. Many schools do not permit peanuts or any nut products, so look into alternatives like soy butter for the lazy PB&J days.
Include all major food groups – It’s simple to include all the major food groups: have a section for fruit, one for vegetables (my son’s favourites are cucumbers and sugar snap peas or edamame beans with a touch of salt), one for dairy (cheese cubes), one for a main dish with grains, and one for meat or poultry. Prep ahead of time so making lunch only requires a quick cook with the right appliance.
Alternate between hot and cold – Keep things interesting by switching it up. Maybe it’s a pita pizza on Monday, for example, burrito on Tuesday, and soy butter and jam sandwich on Wednesday.
Set a schedule and have your child participate – Try setting a schedule or empower your child by allowing them to choose what they want each day among the lunch “usuals.” With everything prepped and groceries purchased, anything on this list should require minimal effort. They’ll be more inclined to eat something knowing they picked it.
Don’t forget snacks and treats – Kids work hard at school and deserve a treat every now and then. Snacks are also essential since most schools have snack periods before and after lunch. Granola bars are an easy option, and you can consider making your own at home in big batches that will last a week or two. A favourite in my household are mini muffins made with leftover fruits or vegetables, like banana, zucchini, and squash. Pop one right from frozen into the lunch and by the time second snack rolls around, it’s fully defrosted. Every Friday, my son also gets a special “junk food” treat like a mini chocolate bar, cookies, or a bag of potato chips.
School lunches can be easy and fun to make
It sounds overwhelming to have to come up with a clever and exciting new lunch for your kids five days a week. But with a dozen or so ideas in rotation, your kids won’t get bored. And you can always change things up with a different side dish, new toppings or fillings, or other adjustments.
Preparing the lunches doesn’t have to be difficult either. Find one day a week when you can set aside an hour or two for the prep, make use of storage containers and space in the fridge, and get everything ready for quick assembling and cooking.
Having the right small appliances plays a major role in the process. Check out a wide selection of small appliances at Best Buy Online