With the kids going back to school, lots of parents are excited to get back into the fall routine...but coming up with lunch ideas for the kids can be stressful and overwhelming!

We have some easy ideas to start the school year off right, and keep all the kids happy all year long!

Now obviously you pack lunch differently for a 5-year-old than a 15-year-old but with some easy alterations and/or substitutions, these can work for everyone!

Weekend prep is also a huge time-saver during the week. For example, wash and cut up all the produce you buy, and you'll be much more likely to use it instead of throwing it out!

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    1

    PB&J "Sushi" Rolls

    Start with the basic recipe HERE. Kids love finger foods, and peanut butter has a good mix of protein and fat to keep them full for the day! If your child is in a nut-free school, Sunbutter (sunflower seed butter) is a good and yummy substitute! You can also add in a little fresh fruit (like bananas or strawberries) for added fiber and vitamins! For older kids, try more 'adult' flavor combos like almond butter and blackberry preserves or natural peanut butter and fig jam.

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    Protein Plate

    Think beyond the bread! Get a reusable bento box-style container and fill it with healthy favorites your kids love! Start with a couple of protein-heavy options like hard-boiled eggs (pre-peeled is best for the little ones), edamame (buy them frozen, and let them thaw in the box!), sliced chicken or turkey roll-ups, and add a few yummy additions like assorted nuts, mini bagels, string cheese, grapes, etc.

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    Lunch Dippers

    Let's be honest: food is more fun when you can play with it. Find some healthy dips your kids like, and give them a lunch of dippers: carrot, celery, and cucumber sticks, rolled up lunch meats, cracker sticks, cheese cubes, etc. Dips can be anything from peanut butter to hummus to a tzatziki-style sauce made with low-fat Greek yogurt to the perennial kid-fave: ranch dressing. Obviously you want to watch the volume of the less nutritious, calorie-laden dips. Experiment, and they might discover a new favorite!

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    4

    Turkey Pitas

    Pitas seem to be the forgotten bread. You can stuff them with so many things, but one of my faves is pretty simple, and better for older kids: turkey, thinly-sliced cucumber, roasted red pepper, and a little Caesar dressing. Keep it simpler for younger kids, like a standard turkey, lettuce, tomato, and a bit of mayo or Italian dressing. (Protip: Pack the "insides" separate from the bread to avoid the nightmare that is a soggy sandwich! You might want to skip this step for the littlest ones.)

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    5

    Mini Corn Dogs

    Maybe not the healthiest option, but the recipe is pretty simple, and if you make a batch of these, you could easily freeze them and thaw/reheat as necessary for a lunch treat. Plus, what kid wouldn't gobble up a mini corn dog?? Lighten things up with a veggie or turkey dog, and don't forget to pack some ketchup! Get the recipe HERE.

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    Everything Pasta Salad

    Think of this as chef salad meets pasta: cook up some pasta, like fun shapes for younger kids or tri-color spirals for older kids and after draining, toss with a little Italian dressing to keep it from sticking together, then chill in the fridge. Add in your kids favorites: regular or sun-dried tomato slices, black olives, ham, salami, turkey, cheese, cucumbers, celery, shredded carrot, raw bell pepper, baby spinach, really anything goes. Lots of veggies are good way to bulk this up while keeping it healthy. Add more dressing to taste, but don't overdo it! (If your child prefers a mayo-based pasta salad, consider mixing the mayo with non-fat greek yogurt to lighten things up!)

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    Mason Jar Salads

    Trendy and simple, these are great for everyone, but I definitely recommend looking for plastic mason jars, ESPECIALLY for tiny kiddos. The premise here is simple: Layer your salad ingredients with the wettest/heaviest on the bottom and driest on top, so that you don't wind up with a soggy salad by lunchtime. Dressing always goes on the bottom, followed by hard chopped veggies like carrots, cucumbers, and peppers. Then add in any beans or grains like chickpeas, cooked pasta, or black beans.Then add your softer fruits and veggies like tomatoes, avocado, sliced strawberries or grapes. Top with any proteins like shredded or crumbled cheese, meats, hard boiled eggs, or shelled edamame. Then add any nuts or seeds, and finally, top it all with greens. If you leave room at the top of the jar, kids can shake it and eat it right from the container, otherwise provide something else that they can dump it all into and enjoy. (Note: if the jar tips over, it defeats the purpose of separating everything, so keep that in mind.)

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    Frozen Smoothies

    Smoothies are awesome because they are so customizable...frozen smoothies are even better because they serve double duty as ice pack AND lunch! Silicone ice-pop containers (like THESE) are awesome for this, or you can just use any kind of resealable thermos/bottle. Start with a base of milk or non-fat Greek yogurt, add in whatever fruit you'd like, and find what flavors you love! If you (and the kids) are up for it, test out different flavored protein powders, or powdered peanut butter, or sneak in some veggies. (A little baby spinach can go virtually undetected, especially in a chocolate peanut butter smoothie!) I also have been known to throw raw oats in my smoothies, but some kids might not like that texture. Make your smoothie the night before, pop the container in the freezer, and by morning, you'll have a hassle-free healthy breakfast or lunch ready to go.

    Have a great school lunch idea or recipe? Share it in the comment section!