Last year, our summer was filled with a plethora of park meet ups, zoo trips, pool visits and hikes. My kids and I thrive on all of this adventuring, but I was rapidly losing creativity when it came to what to pack for lunch. I really would NOT be interested in knowing how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we consumed in those months!
My kids only care about two things when it comes to lunches I pack- that it fills their stomachs and tastes good, too. Hopefully these ideas help you accomplish both!
Sandwiches & Wrap Filling Ideas
These are great if you prefer having the option of being able to eat while walking or you may not have a flat surface on which to set food down.
- cream cheese and strawberry jam (a classic- and always a winner in our house)
- hummus, feta, bell pepper and cucumber strips
- cream cheese, turkey and cucumber strips
- peanut butter dip (see below) and fresh strawberries, sliced (use straight peanut or almond butter to make this dairy-free)
- almond or peanut butter, coconut flakes and apple slices (tossed with lemon juice)
- cream cheese, bell pepper strips and cucumber strips
Kids can set these on their laps and munch away! Great for park benches or in the car on the way home. If you own bento boxes, those would work particularly well for storage.
- DIY Protein Box- we’ve all seen those cute little boxes at Starbucks. If you’re like me, you’ve probably thought, “I could make that!” Well, you really can. Customize to your family’s favorites, but a hard boiled egg, a bunch of grapes and some crackers and cheese is a great place to start. If your kids aren’t into hard boiled eggs, try sprinkling on some Everything But the Bagel Seasoning. It might just convert them!
- DIY Lunchables- Of course these are available as a store-bought shortcut from time to time, but if you’d like to save some money and pass on some of the extra unnecessary ingredients, try making your own! Just stack up some turkey/ham/salami and cheese and cut into squares. Add some crackers and grapes and you’re all set!
These are best for settings where you can spread out a picnic blanket or where picnic tables are readily available. These lunches don’t require you to pack a bunch of individual things for each person, but rather make one large container of dip and have everyone share. In my experience, this is a huge timesaver to help me get out the door!
- Peanut Butter Dip- if you’re unfamiliar with the magic that is peanut butter dip, allow me to enlighten you! It’s creamy and decadent, but also packs a good protein punch for days full with hiking, biking, or swimming. Just whisk together equal parts of peanut butter and plain (or vanilla) yogurt in a bowl. Add a generous drizzle of honey to taste (if using vanilla yogurt, you may not need this). Place in a resealable container, and then bag up (separately) some graham crackers, apple slices (toss in lemon juice to prevent browning) and celery sticks for dipping.
- Salmon Dip- Flake canned salmon in a bowl, add the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Add a couple of teaspoons of mayo or yogurt, chopped dill pickles, and salt and pepper. Place in a resealable container, and then bag up some crackers, baby carrots, bell pepper strips, whatever your family likes, and dip away! Since this one contains mayo, you’ll want to make sure it’s kept nice and cool in an insulated lunchbox. For a dairy-free alternative, use mashed avocado instead of the mayo or yogurt (it also happens to be delicious). Just be sure to be generous with the lemon juice so your avocado doesn’t brown.
- Store-bought Hummus- with pita chips, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, etc. This great for when you’ve got minimal time to prep anything. For an extra shortcut, find hummus containers in individual serving cups. Then you can just grab a few and prep your “dippers”. Lunch will be ready to pack in 5 minutes flat!
Other “Hand-Held” Lunch Ideas
- Muffins, Fruit and Cheese sticks– muffins are the perfect food for summer adventures- you can pack lots of good stuff in them and they don’t need to be kept cool. Find a good, nutrient dense recipe. Sub in whole wheat flour or add some hidden veggies to keep tummies full, longer! To go along with them, think of fruits that travel well like apples, bananas and clementines. Add some cheese sticks (which should be fine without refrigeration for a couple of hours), and you’ve got a portable lunch, no cold-pack necessary! Here are a few muffin recipes my kids and I both love:
- Energy Balls, Fruit and Yogurt– You probably already know what “energy balls” are and you may have even made them before. Those are the delicious little balls usually made with a nut butter, oats and honey, along with a long list of possible additions (such as chocolate chips, flax seeds, dried cranberries, coconut flakes, etc.). A quick search on pinterest will offer dozens of variations on this genius creation, which can be customized if there are any food allergies in the family. Not only are they filling, but they don’t need to be refrigerated, and they’re super easy to pack. That makes them the perfect food for summer adventures! To make yogurt portable, I fill reusable baby food pouches with yogurt the night before. Big and little kids alike can slurp these down while hiking on a trail or observing meerkats at the zoo.
My hope is that a simple thing like a few more easy lunch ideas will help you savor the days of summer. Think less about having to get home to feed hungry, grumpy kids and more about the sound of their laughter as they run through the splash pad just a few more times.