This Ain’t Your Mama’s Lunchbox—How Do We Feed Our Kids Wholesome Foods on the Cheap?

Our Moms Council member Joy Real takes a good look at creative lunch suggestions.

(School is back, and so is the daily dilemma of what to pack for them in a lunch that could often be boring. Karen Young's My Daily Find just came up with a great list of new ideas (click here) and also read these ideas below.)


I’m a creature of habit. If I had to have a turkey sandwich every day for lunch, I wouldn’t be mad about it. 

My 15-month-old daughter, on the other hand—what pleases her one day she might throw on the floor the next (she might do that even if she still likes it, but that’s a whole other chat topic.) 

What’s a mother to do? Be constantly on the search for new and enticing meals, that’s what.  Not to mention, with all of the talk of the increasing obesity rates in children and the quality of the meals she might eventually have access to in a public school, I really want to make sure the food she gets from Mom is good … and shapes her taste buds for years to come.

It’s not as easy as one would think, providing a diverse, nutritious and (mostly) organic diet to a growing toddler, without breaking the bank, and without spending hours in the kitchen preparing kid-friendly culinary masterpieces (because we all know moms don’t have that kind of time!) 

But it can be done.  How, you ask? By utilizing every resource known to Mom! I had a few cookbooks left over from the puree days, when I spent my nights steaming, pureeing and freezing fruits and veggies for my little one. 

Not only did they have some interesting pointers on combining fruits with bitter-tasting veggies to make them more palatable to an infant, but they also had quite a few toddler and bigger-kid recipes that I knew would make my daughter happy. I also checked in with some of my mommy friends, and together we culled some recipes and tips from websites I found on my dear friend Google (see below for links.)

Here are a few lunch ideas that can be used for both toddlers and bigger kids (and dare I say, even adults on occasion?) with some adjustment:

Sandwiches, sandwiches, sandwiches

Let’s start off with a classic: PB&J with a healthy twist a la Elvis. Use organic peanut butter (can be found at your local grocery stores, and also in bulk at Costco which saves beaucoup bucks), soft whole-grain bread, sliced organic bananas (though if you’re looking to save, this fruit is not on the Dirty Dozen and can be bought conventionally). Leave the jelly off, and instead include some fresh fruit purees (either homemade or store-bought in the pouch; Revolution Foods makes a few great ones found at both Whole Foods and Henry’s Markets or online). Serve with milk (whole, reduced-fat, soy, almond, whatever your pleasure) and some apple slices.

Other things to put in between two pieces of whole-grain bread (or inside a whole-grain pita) to make a nutritious lunch:

An Avocado (one of the Clean 15, so no need to buy organic) and Cream Cheese Spread (combine ½ an avocado with 2 tablespoons of organic cream cheese and a spritz of lemon juice to keep the avocado from browning).  Sneak some preservative-free turkey slices or some shredded boiled chicken for a good protein boost.

Cheese! A great way for kids to get calcium, and also a great opportunity for parents to sneak in some veggies alongside that cheese. Puree some carrots, tomatoes, or cauliflower and spread a thin layer on one side of your sandwich, with cheese on the other. 

Hummus and veggies (i.e., cucumbers, carrot slices, use these soft-cooked for toddlers)

Quick and easy: A veggie omelet or scrambled eggs with veggies and cheese (I’m a big fan of breakfast for dinner, so why not breakfast for lunch?). Use whatever leftover veggies you have at your disposal.  Spinach and broccoli work particularly well, as do parmesan and swiss cheese.  

Make ahead: Cheesy pasta with veggies.

Orzo is a great pasta for toddlers, because it’s little enough for them to handle in their mouths. Big kids and adults can eat it too. This can be made the night before and stored in the fridge for up to five days of lunches.

Cook 8 ounces of orzo according to the package.

Meanwhile, sauté a package of frozen veggies (broccoli or mixed, or …whatever you fancy that your child can eat) in a few tablespoons of olive oil, until heated through, and lower the heat. 

Add the drained pasta (reserving a ladle of the pasta water) to the sauté pan, along with ½ cup of grated parmesan and the pasta water. Stir until the cheese is melted. Serve once it has cooled enough to eat, or store in the fridge for tomorrow. Can be eaten cold (as a school lunch) or warmed in the microwave on the weekend.

Please visit www.foodnews.org to learn more about which foods you really NEED to buy organically and then according to your family’s needs, purchase only what is necessary, so there is no waste. 

Your best sources for organic foods may be the local farmers market, a delivery service such as www.spud.com  (which delivers locally grown organic produce to your door), your local grocery or even Costco. Happy eating!


Also, here's a recipe from Erika Maya of Ballantines PR

Lemon Raspberry Muffins:

 2 cups of organic gluten free flour

½ cup organic cane sugar

2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt
1 (8oz) container organic lemon yogurt or soy
½ cup + 1 TBSP grapeseed oil
3 to 4 tsp grated lemon peel
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
3 eggs
1 cup organic raspberries
12 (3 g) packs Sun Chlorella granules
1/3 cup organic cane sugar
¼ cup organic gluten free flour
2 TBSP Earth Balance

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray 36 miniature muffin cups with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt. Mix well. In small bowl, combine yogurt, oil, lemon peel, lemon juice and eggs and mix well. Add to dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Add Sun Chlorella and mix gently. Gently stir in raspberries. Fill greased muffin cups ¾ full. In small bowl, combine topping sugar and flour. Using fork, cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over each muffin. Bake at 400 degrees F for 11-15 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 5 minutes and then remove from pan. Serve warm.

Nutritional Info Per Serving (One serving = 3 mini muffins): Calories 90, protein 1 g, carbohydrates 12 g, fat 4 g, sodium 75 mg, protein 2 g, vitamin A 845 IU, folic acid 36 mcg, vitamin B12 7 mcg, iron 4 mg, chlorella pyrenoidosa 3 g, lutein 4 mg, alpha-carotene 156 mcg, chlorophyll 67 mg, omega-3 fatty acids 52mg, omega-6 fatty acids 64 mg

For more information on Sun Chlorella, please visit www.sunchlorellausa.com.

We have had some of the most interesting topics so far in our Moms Talk, and we welcome your input and suggestions and stories for the future. Please feel free to still weigh in on these topics:

Moms Talk topics so far . . . 

Joy Morales April 14, 2011 at 06:52 PM
Thanks Michele! I get bored making the same thing over and over for my kiddo as well...I'm sure this will be an ongoing issue (especially considering I sometimes still have the same problem with myself as an adult!)
Joy Morales April 14, 2011 at 06:53 PM
Yes Heidi, I was just talking about tortilla wraps with another mommy friend of mine. I think when Maya gets a little older I will move on to those. Your idea about a variety of snack foods is a good one too - kind of like a bento box! Thanks!
Joy Morales April 14, 2011 at 06:58 PM
LOL - yes, I ran into this problem a time or two when I would puree something I thought my daughter liked, only to have her not like it three days later ...I would have a gazillion cubes of zucchini and think, hmmm....not good. I hid a lot of things in her yogurt (and still do to this day!) but did end up having to chuck some (hey, no one is perfect!). I try to make sure what I buy in bulk is something that I or my husband can also eat if she ends up changing her mind later about her latest food love...
Mike Szymanski April 14, 2011 at 07:25 PM
The day that the boys suddenly decided they both hated Pirate Booty was devastating to me...it only happened recently, and I love the cardboard-flavored stuff... and i think it's low fat...but anyway, it's sad that it won't be on our shopping list anymore.
feiji1991 August 22, 2012 at 08:53 AM
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