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Fall is approaching which means the start of a new school year. If you’re a parent, grandparent, or caregiver, you may be packing lunchboxes once again. We know this can get repetitive and thinking of what to pack each day can be daunting, but we have tips and recipes to keep lunches easy, fun and nutritious!

Here are 6 tips to consider when packing a nutritious lunch:

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  1. Base lunches on traditional recipes and heritage ingredients, they are balanced meals filled with fruit, vegetables, and whole grains—all important components of the Mediterranean Diet, the Latin American Heritage Diet, the Asian Heritage Diet, and the African Heritage Diet. 
  2. Think inside the box! Bento boxes are fun, mezze platters are fun and they both hold all kinds of foods, and help with portion control. You can also save time by preparing lunches for the week ahead of time and storing them in containers.  Try packing chopped up fruit, vegetables, whole grain crackers, dips, and/or a few cubes of traditional cheese. Kids and adults alike will love the opportunity to enjoy an assortment of foods at lunchtime! 
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  3. Encourage your kids’ participation! Give them a variety of healthy options and let them choose what they feel like that day. Plus, getting them involved early will help them appreciate healthy eating and homemade cooking (nothing beats homemade meals).
  4. Skip the soft drinks! Swap out sodas and sugary juices for healthier options such as water, unsweetened iced tea, or agua fresca (a combination of fruits/cereals/seeds/flowers combined with water and a small amount of sugar—and one of our personal favorites).
  5. The easiest way to pack a satisfying, healthy lunch: save some dinner from the night before! If you’re cooking for two, make a recipe with four servings, and you’ll each have a portion for lunch the next day.
  6. If your kids don’t get excited about eating vegetables, try presenting them in different ways. As Jennifer Anderson, RD, of Kids Eat in Color suggests, using a mini cookie cutter to make fun shapes out of fruits and vegetables might encourage your child to eat more of them! And if at first you don’t succeed, try again. Kids’ tastes change so much during development, and it can take several different tries over time before a child finds a new food first acceptable, and then enjoyable.

Check out these kid-friendly recipe ideas:

ABC Meatball Soup

ABC Meatball soup

This soup gets a great whole grain boost from the oats in the turkey meatballs, and if you can find whole grain alphabet pasta (or simply use your favorite whole grain pasta) even better! It also fits into a thermos!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Also going into a thermos, this flavorful and filling soup with beans, corn and fresh cilantro is a great option for school lunch. To make it interactive, pack some tortilla strips on the side for your child to crush up themselves as a topping!

Einkorn Mac & Cheese

Einkorn Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese is a classic! This is a great way to incorporate more whole grains. For even more nutrition throw in some peas, green beans, or broccoli!

Penne with Pesto and Cherry Tomatoes 

Pesto pasta is a go-to meal for many of the parents at Oldways, and it tastes great chilled or at room temperature. You can make your own pesto, or use store-bought. If your child is in a nut-free classroom, pesto can also be made with seeds, such as sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds.

Lemon Garlic Bean Spread

Kids love dipping, and bean-based dips such as this one are a great way to add more plant-based protein. Pair with whole grain crackers and/or cut veggies like carrot sticks, snap peas, or cucumber spears. Hummus, tzatziki, pumpkin seed dip, and guacamole are also great dips to try to add both nutrition and variety to meals.

sandwich with beet filling and whole grain bread on a plate outdoors

Beet Chicken Salad Sandwich

Sandwiches are a great option for school lunches! This one is extra fun for kids since it is pink! Make the chicken salad the night before for quick assembly in the morning. For a shortcut, you can use a can of beets instead of roasting them.

Teff and Cocoa Energy Bites

Black Bean Brownies from Sharon Palmer

These bite-sized snacks are a delicious sweet treat to include in the lunchbox. These are made from teff, an African heritage whole grain, and are naturally sweetened with dates. 

Black Bean Brownies with Walnuts

These brownies will be a hit for a special dessert every once in a whileA dense, moist brownie packed with cocoa, polyphenols and bean nutrition–protein, fiber, and even antioxidants. The beans replace the grains and some of the fat in this gluten-free, egg-free brownie. What a great way to get kids (and grownups) to eat their beans!

Need more inspiration? Check out our recipe library, and have confidence knowing that simple and affordable  traditional heritage diets—eating patterns from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Mediterranean—provide the perfect blueprint for a healthy and balanced meal.

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