Whole Kids Foundation unveiled the recipients of our first Young Entrepreneurs Pilot Grants aimed at supporting youth-led business programs that are improving the way kids eat through gardening, plant-forward cooking or nutrition education. The two grant recipients received a combined total of $33,000 to help grow their programs.
Back to school looks different this year, but regardless of your situation, lunches still need to be prepared. Sticking with a routine and packing lunches, or making a lunch plan, is helpful, even if you are eating at home. Here are some ideas to get started on being your child’s school lunch hero!
If your kids like dipping, and if they like hummus, there are endless variations to try that can introduce new flavors via a familiar format. Blend in basil from your garden, top with something crunchy like sunflower seeds, or add edamame or butternut squash to change up the flavor and the color. Think Edamame Hummus, sweet potato or Butternut Squash Hummus, Beet Hummus (for a shockingly pink dip!), or Sunny Hummus with Dipper.
Hummus is pretty well known, but do your kids know what hummus is usually made of? Try making a hummus recipe from scratch and talk about the ingredients with your kids. You could set up a deconstructed hummus tasting experiment, in which you taste the ingredients individually before they are blended, and then taste the finished hummus. It’s interesting how the flavors come together to create something new!
Other lunch-friendly dips include this Carrot-Cashew Spread, featuring carrots cooked with dried fruit and cashews, then blended for a creamy, rich, sweet-tasting gorgeous orange dip. Or if your kids enjoy olives, this Green Olive, Basil and Almond Tapenade is a great recipe to know about. I love how hearty and filling this one is from the almonds and olives. If you have a garden and are growing basil, kids can help harvest the basil and add the ingredients to the food processor.
Pack a colorful assortment of veggies for dipping, along with bread, crackers or rice cakes. Or use your dip as a sandwich spread, adding a layer of crunchy veggies on top of your spread.
Crowd-pleasing muffins aren’t just for breakfast. And muffins are generally fun, right?
Consider the lunch muffin! I love making muffins for many reasons, including that muffin recipes usually yield 12 regular muffins or 24 minis from one baking effort, leaving me with muffins to use in several lunches. Another mark in their favor is that kids can help measure ingredients, stir and portion muffin batter.
Veggie Omelet Muffins are fantastic. Also keep in mind that leftover cooked quinoa or other whole grains make an easy, healthy addition to an omelet muffin. Little hands can help crack eggs and stir everything together.
Can anyone resist a Superhero Muffin? The name of this recipe makes them so appealing to all ages, before even tasting one. Packed with good things like oats, zucchini, and carrots, this is an A+ muffin recipe from a champion marathoner to keep on your list. Substitute coconut oil for butter for a dairy-free option.
For sweet treat muffins, Sweet Spinach Muffins are a delicious surprise, with their bright green color from fresh spinach. They have a sweet flavor from banana and honey (no refined sweeteners in the recipe!).
Finally, Chocolate Zucchini Muffins are a great recipe that makes two loaves of zucchini bread, or about 24 muffins. Sweetened with maple syrup and with a double punch of chocolate from cocoa powder and chocolate chips, this is a worthy use for zucchini. These muffins make nice treats to tuck into lunchboxes or enjoy for a special breakfast.
A Sandwich Swap
A square of hearty Picnic Bread, made with potatoes, oat flour and eggs, topped with seasonal veggies, makes a tasty, portable lunch. Create a pattern with the vegetable toppings to surprise your kids or invite them to help arrange the veggies on top.
Get Ahead by Making Extra
Pancakes are a popular weekend breakfast in my house. We often have a few leftover pancakes whenever we make a batch, and I like to save them for weekday lunches. Spread with cream cheese or nut butter and fold or roll up. Or make several small pancakes that can be stacked in a lunchbox.
Spring Rolls are fun for kids to choose exactly what to put inside and to roll them up themselves. If you are making spring rolls for dinner, make extras for lunches the next day. If you have mint, basil, cilantro, peppers and cucumbers in your garden, be sure to add these to your spring roll fillings possibilities.
If your kids love pasta and eggs, you have to try a Pasta Frittata. Think of an omelet with cooked pasta folded in, prepared in a skillet on the stovetop or in the oven. You can also add cheese and leftover cooked veggies. Frittatas can be sliced into wedges and enjoyed at room temp (perfect lunchbox fare), with or without a side of red sauce for dipping. Next time you are cooking pasta, be sure to cook extra so you can make this.
Snacky Lunchbox Additions
Granola Bars can be satisfying to make at home, as you can customize the ingredients and add your favorites. No-Bake recipes are especially appealing for kids as they can be more involved and take more ownership (no oven needed!). I like to print out recipes so that kids can read along. For something like this Granola Bar kids can circle or make a list of the mix-ins they’d like to try.
For a crunchy item in the lunchbox, or for a snack, invite kids to mix up a batch of trail mix with popcorn as the base. Add dried fruit, pretzels, cheese crackers, sunflower seeds or a favorite cereal. Depending on the combo of ingredients, could your trail mix be a topper for a salad or soup? Think about it and get creative! And then you could serve “popcorn salad” or “popcorn soup.” I find that renaming recipes or inventing names for dishes can intrigue and entice kids to try new foods.
Lunch at Home
Make the most of this moment...if you are having lunch at home more often, think about some favorite foods that are tricky to send in a lunchbox, but that could be a part of the at-home lunch routine. For example, soups, English muffin pizzas, tacos and quesadillas. Also, breakfast for lunch and other themes can be fun to plan into the weekly calendar and keep kids engaged and surprised.
Check out our suggestions of books to inspire kids in the kitchen, for more lunchtime fun and participation.
Happy lunch making!
Kate Rowe loves picture books, reading, gardening, cooking, and talking about all of these things! She shares picture book recommendations paired with food adventures @thepicturebookcook on Instagram. She is a writer, editor, and parent of two young book-loving garden and kitchen helpers.