It’s hard to believe summer is already coming to a close, but next week kids are heading back to school in New Jersey.  Around the Barn, parents are aching to know: how can they pack easy, healthy lunches that their hungry kids will eat?

There are plenty of tricks to help make packing a healthy lunch as creative and easy as can be.  At HealthBarn USA, we start with our lunchbox blueprint of five components to be packed: (1) the main course, (2) the garden, (3) the drink, (4) the crunch, (5) the treat.    If you stick to these essentials, kids will be happy to know what to expect for lunch, and it tastes great, too!  Everything is easier if you prep ahead of time, and don’t forget to involve the kids in the process.

The main course:  Make a pasta dish at the beginning of the week, and make sure there will be leftovers.  A cold pasta or grain salad with veggies can be a welcome change from the standard turkey sandwich.  Kids love soup for lunch, too, which is a great way to make sure they’re eating their veggies.  Looking for ways to get extra veggies packed for lunch? Make sandwiches with wraps instead of sliced bread.  It’s easier to pack more ingredients into a wrap, and kids love that it’s all rolled up like a burrito.

The garden: One of the best ways to make sure fruits and veggies make their way into the lunchbox is to do the prep work ahead of time.  Washing and chopping veggies can seem like a lot of fuss on rushed mornings, so get it done the night before or at the beginning of the week.  Store celery sticks in single serving sized Tupperwares, put bunches of washed grapes into 5 baggies or containers, or slice apples into wedges–just rub the flesh with lemon juice to keep it from turning brown.  Then all you have to do is grab and go in the morning.

The drink: Water in a reusable bottle is best, but for nutrition, pack low-fat dairy or non-dairy alternatives such as soy, rice or almond milks.

The crunch:  Most kids want something a little salty, so our top picks are Stacy’s pita chips, Lundberg rice chips, and Beanitos (gluten-free).

Double thumbs-up for healthy treats!

The treat: Pack dried unsulfured fruits, chocolate chips, and nuts (if there are no allergies) as a sweet snack, instead of sugary desserts with no beneficial nutrition.  This mix definitely gets a thumb up!  Berries, watermelon and pineapple are also favorites.  And keep in mind that a treat doesn’t have to involve food, it can be a “sweet” note from you.  Check out more dessert alternatives in yesterday’s post.

Bonus: One of HealthBarn USA’s seven healthy habits is to recycle.  These 5 components can create a lot of waste if you use plastic baggies, so we recommend that you purchase a bento-box style lunchbox for packing all this good stuff.  When you explain to your child that the lunchbox will help reduce garbage and protect the planet, it will come back every time to get restocked for the next day.

If you like these ideas and want more healthy recipe ideas, you can pre-order Appetite for Life:  The Thumbs-Up, No-Yuck’s Guide to Getting Your Kid to be a Great Eater, by Stacey Antine, Founder of HealthBarn USA, HarperOne, on sale September 11, 2012.

At HealthBarn USA, kids know how to eat right!

What puzzles you about keeping your family healthy?  Tell us what’s on your mind by emailing [email protected].  We’ll answer those questions here weekly.

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