Written by Dana Leigh Smith
It’s no secret that kids trade lunches. The lure of sugary treats is too much to resist in the face of another turkey sandwich. Break the cycle with these simple seasonal meal ideas that kids of all ages will enjoy. Got an adventurous eater on your hands? Keep him or her enticed with the idea of brown bagging it with our recipe add-ins and substitutions.
Scroll down to check out these awesome recipes: Pumpkin Turkey Chili, Apple Pasta Salad, Leftover Chicken Pitas, Healthy Mini Corn Dog Muffins, Fruit and Nut Wrap.
Pumpkin Turkey Chili (serves 6)
For lunch prep that’s a cinch, make this chili recipe ahead of time and serve it throughout the week in a thermos. Pair it with a whole wheat pita and your kid’s favorite fruit to make a well-rounded, nutritious meal. High schoolers who like to spice it up will welcome this unique spin on lunch.
● 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
● 1 cup chopped onion
● 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
● 1/2 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
● 1 clove garlic, minced
● 1 pound ground turkey
● 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
● 2 cups pumpkin puree
● 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
● 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
● 1 dash salt
● 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
● 1/2 cup sour cream
1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and sauté the onion, green bell pepper, yellow bell pepper and garlic until tender. Stir in the turkey and cook until evenly brown. Drain and mix in tomatoes and pumpkin. Season with chili powder, pepper and salt. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Serve topped with cheddar cheese and sour cream.
* Have an adventurous eater? Add a can of green chilies, 2 teaspoons of cumin, and 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes for some heat. Nix the calorie-laden cheese and sour cream if your teen is health conscious.
Apple Pasta Salad (4 to 6 servings)
Nothing says fall like apples, and this sweet salad offers a new spin on a traditional dish. Make this recipe ahead of time and serve cold throughout the week. Pair it with a healthy, homemadepumpkin pie snack bar and some veggie sticks. Middle school kids will love the tart Granny Smith apples mixed with the refreshing bite of cucumber.
● 2 cups cooked mini wagon wheel pasta. Granny Smith apple, cored and chopped (1 cup)
● 1/2 medium cucumber, seeded and chopped (3/4 cup)
● 1/4 cup chopped toasted pecan
● 1/4 cup golden raisins
● 2 tablespoons olive oil
● 1/4 teaspoon salt
● 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
● 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (optional)
In a large bowl combine the pasta, apple, cucumber, pecans, raisins, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cover and chill until serving time (up to 6 hours). Stir in parsley, if desired.
* Have an adventurous eater? Consider adding antioxidant and fiber-rich pumpkin seeds to the salad for some crunch. Add leftover ham or chicken for added protein.
Leftover Chicken Pitas (adapted from Kitchen Monki recipe)
Put chicken leftovers to good use with this fun pita sandwich. Serve with an apple and low-fat string cheese.
leftover chicken cut into 1-inch cubes
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 cup red seedless grapes, halved
1/2 cup carrot, shredded
1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt, plain
1 whole wheat pita
salt and pepper
1. Combine chicken, celery, red grapes, and carrot. Add yogurt to the salad and toss. Season the salad with salt and pepper to taste. Place in a pita.
* Have an adventurous eater? Consider adding 2 tablespoons of curry powder to the yogurt for an extra flavor kick. Mango and chopped scallions also make great salad additions. Combine them with the other ingredients in the first direction above.
Healthy Mini Corn Dog Muffins (makes 24)
Send off summer by serving up a seasonal favorite, one last time. The recipe yields 24 muffins, so make ahead and freeze until you serve. Elementary school kids will love this fun twist on a typically indulgent favorite. Serve two or three muffins with a fruit salad and celery sticks for a well-rounded lunch.
● butter (room temperature) for pan
● 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
● 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
● 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
● 1 teaspoon baking powder
● 1/2 teaspoon salt
● 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
● 1 large egg
● 3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
● 3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
● 1 cup frozen corn kernels
● 4 beef hot dogs, preferably natural/antibiotic and hormone free
● * Recipe additions, to taste
Preheat oven to 425° F. Generously butter a 24-count mini muffin pan. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients—flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In a medium bowl, combine the wet ingredients—egg, buttermilk, and Greek yogurt. Mix well. Once the wet ingredients are combined, add the corn kernels and stir. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just incorporated, being careful to not over mix. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling the cups 3/4 full. Next, slice the hot dogs into 1-inch segments. Place a hot dog piece in the center of each muffin cup and place the muffin pan into the oven. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the tops turn golden and toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out clean. Carefully remove the corn dog muffins from the muffin cups and place on a cooling rack to cool. Serve with ketchup and mustard or your favorite corn dog topping. Refrigerate (for up to 3 days) or freeze any leftovers. Reheat in the microwave or oven (preferable oven or toaster oven).
* Have an adventurous eater? Consider adding baked beans, sauerkraut and spicy mustard to the mix for a chili dog style dish. If you really want to shock the socks off your mini-me, take a cue from now-closed Rosco's Big Dog in Hartford, Conn., and add peanut butter, shredded cheddar and bacon to the muffin.
Fruit and Nut Wrap (makes 1)
This unique lunch option is easy to make and great for kids in elementary school. They will love how sweet and crunchy it is! Let your children pick their wrap fillings and help roll it up. Serve with carrot stick and fiber-rich pears slices. Fall is the peak of pear season, and your children are sure to enjoy their sweet and juicy taste.
● 2 tablespoons strawberry cream cheese spread
● 2 tablespoons raisins
● 1 whole wheat or flour tortilla (8-inch)
● 2 tablespoons unsalted cocktail peanuts
● 1/4 cup sliced strawberries
1. Mix cream cheese spread and raisins until well blended. Spread evenly onto tortilla to within 1/2 inch of edge. Sprinkle with peanuts. Place strawberry slices down center of tortilla; roll up tightly.
5. Serve immediately. Or, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
* Have an adventurous eater? Consider swapping out peanuts for a less familiar nut variety, such as walnuts. Granola is also a crunchy substitute for kids who attend a nut-free school.