You already know the basics for packing a healthy lunch for your kiddo, part of which is making sure your child actually eats what you pack them. The below recipes are not only infinitely tastier versions of popular pre-packaged lunch items, but since you control exactly what goes in them, they're also healthier than their store-bought counterparts.
Of course, there's no need to limit the below to the little ones — homemade pudding cups are delightful in every brown bag, no matter who it belongs to.
Build a Better Lunchable
When I was a youth, the Lunchable was the Holy Grail of school lunches. It was just crackers, meat and cheese, but dividing them up in neat little compartments to be assembled at a later time made the pre-packaged meal seem magical. Once they introduced Pizza Lunchables, I became completely obsessed.
The standard meat-cheese-cracker Lunchable can be prepared with barely any effort and, since you get to pick the players, these meals can be customised to fit your child's nutritional needs. Whole-grain crackers, low-sodium lunch meats, or even pieces of roasted chicken can all be used to create a healthier stacked cracker snack. The more desirable Pizza Lunchables can be made yourself with only a skoch more work on your part. Simply pre-bake little rounds of pizza dough (maybe whole wheat?) and store them in the freezer until go time. Throw in a small container of low-sugar pizza sauce with toppings. Shredded cheese and pepperoni are a no-brainer, but diced, cooked veggies help ensure that pizza day is fun and nutritious.
Freeze Homemade Burritos and Wraps for Tasty Microwavable Meals
Few things are more convenient that frozen foods, and if your kid has access to a microwave during the day, it may be hard to resist tossing a frozen burrito in their lunchbox. But by setting aside a little time on the weekend, you can make burritos and wraps with exactly what you want in them and then freeze them for lunches throughout the week.
You'll want to use cooked ingredients like beans, roasted meats and vegetables, and grains; fresh tomatoes and crisp lettuce don't hold up well in the freezer. Once you've cooked your delicious fillings, add around a cup and a half to your favourite tortilla and wrap it up. Then wrap that wrap again in foil and throw your future meals in a freezer bag (or wrap them yet another time in plastic wrap) to prevent freezer burn. When it's time to put your kid on the school bus, pack one of your frozen creations in along with some fresh salsa or guac (homemade, of course) and send them off with the knowledge that they will be consuming a well-rounded, rolled-up meal. (For delicious filling ideas and assembly notes, check out these awesome posts from The Kitchn and Bon Appetit.)
Whip Up Enviable Snacks and Desserts
Apples and carrot sticks are pretty up there in terms of health, but they aren't exactly the most exciting snacks to find tucked away in your Scooby-Doo lunchbox. Pudding cups and Goldfish crackers were always favourites of mine, but individually portioned packs can be expensive, and generate a lot of packaging waste. Both can be easily made in your kitchen and packed in reusable containers, saving you money and cutting down on wasted packaging. (These are however firmly in the "treat" category, so maybe pack these along with a piece of fruit.)
For the cheesy little fishes, both this recipe from The Kitchn and this recipe Tasty Kitchen are full of crunchy, savoury goodness, and the latter has a great little how-to for making fish-shaped cookie cutters out of aluminium cans. These chocolatey, layered pudding cups from Serious Eats aren't exactly health food, but they only take up ten minutes of your time and are infinitely more delicious than their storebought counterparts. With these snacks in the bag, your kid will be the bell of the lunchtime trading ball, but I doubt they will want to participate.
Upgrade Noodle Cups
Before you send your kid to campus with a microwave and mini fridge, consider schooling them on how to make upgraded instant noodles (saving them from the super salty flavour packet of doom) using this deceptively easy method from Serious Eats:
The idea is simple and genius: combine par-cooked noodles, a bit of vegetable base, some raw sliced veggies, and a few seasonings inside a jar. Add boiling water, wait a few minutes, and you've got yourself a lunch with all the appeal of instant noodles, but with actual flavour and freshness trapped under that lid.
There are four great flavour combinations (with DIY flavour packets!) but once you master the recipes, you and your favourite university student should feel free to get creative with vegetables, sauces, and even jerky. If you really want to get next level, you can make your own noodles.
Even if you don't have any children to pack lunches for, the above meals and snacks are great options for any lunch that needs to be portable. I can only claim "furry children" as my own, but I can guarantee that I'll be taking advantage of these recipes. There really is nothing easier than a frozen burrito, and nothing more nostalgically delicious than a pudding cup.