Chef Kelli's tips, recipes for back-to-school lunches

Back to school planning is fun and furious, and we often put so much focus on the outfits and supplies that we tend to forget the most important part of our children's day -- the food. A healthy school lunch ensures our kids are on top of their social and academic game.

Chef Kelli Lewton of 2 Unique Caterers & Event Planners and Purefood2U joined us in the FOX 2 Cooking School to give us some ideas for your kids' lunches, and for meal planning throughout the week. You can get her ideas and recipes by watching the segment in the video player above, or continue reading below.


  • COLORFUL VEGGIES: You want an appealing salad bar so kids will take what's offered, the brighter the veggies, the more nutritious. Try some of the baby organic carrots, celery with either sun, peanut or almond butter. Cucumber cream cheese sandwiches or just with homemade or better yet, just cucumbers. Add spinach and other greens whenever possible in sandwiches, casseroles, soups etc.
  • WHOLE GRAINS: The fiber in REAL whole grain and brown rice breads or even the sprouted grain tortillas are a lunch box home run! Don't be afraid to include cold brown rice for a salad or side, kids and people in general have a preconceived idea that certain food has to hot and other cold, pack your kids favorite sides cold for lunch! Cold meatballs in a lunch with some crunchy veggies and a side of fruit!
  • GOOD FAT: from REAL food sources vs. manufactured foods! Homemade dressing rich in olive oil vs. the msg and proceeded veggie oil and high fructose syrup you will find in most dressings.
  • NEW FOODS: Don't forget to expose your kids (and yourself) to the bounty around us here in Michigan; regularly incorporate unfamiliar vegetables like butternut squash, pea pods, and bean sprouts as well as ethnic dishes. Variety is vital to good nutrition, so increasing kids' food repertoire. The more food choices they have, the more they'll try.  Don't let your kid be the chicken-nugget-or-bust kid!


  • PREPARE YOUR CHILD: Talk with your child about nutrition and the importance of developing a healthy body. Together, come up with a family plan, including a list of steps the family wants to take to transition to a more healthful diet. Post the list in a place where everyone can see it.
  • INVOLVE YOUR CHILD: Children of all ages can help with menu planning, shopping, and preparing meals. Children who feel they have had a part preparing the meal will be more likely to eat it.
  • INTRODUCE A WIDE VARIETY OF FOODS: Offer a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Offer a few teaspoons of each at every dinner. Even if your child eats only two bites, he will understand that these are the foods that make up a healthy diet. When he starts wanting more than two bites, expand your offerings to include more foods. As your child grows, increase serving sizes.
  • EXPERIMENT WITH OLD FAVORITES: Offer a new food with a familiar one. Applaud adventurous eating.
  • OFFER THE SAME FOOD PREPARED IN DIFFERENT WAYS: Offer foods alone and prepared in combination with other ingredients. Cut foods in different ways. Try carrot sticks one day and carrot coins another.
  • DON'T GIVE UP: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, many children will not accept a new food until it has been offered at least ten times. Continue to offer new foods until your child considers them familiar.
  • INTRODUCE FOODS ONE BITE OR SEVERAL BITES AT A TIME: Some children become overwhelmed by large quantities of food on their plate. Others will feel more successful if they can finish a small quantity of food you have provided, so keep portions small.
  • INSTITUTE THE "TWO-BITE" RULE by eating two bites of each item on their plate. Explain that our tastes change as we grow up and what we didn't like last week we may like this week. Explain, too, that eating a variety of food builds stronger, happier bodies. Remember that children's food preferences change frequently. What they don't like on Wednesday might be a great hit on Friday or vice versa.
  • DON'T MAKE A BIG DEAL when your child rejects a food: Stay cool and reaffirm the boundaries you have established by insisting that your child eat two bites before leaving the table. Don't let your child engage you in a power struggle.
  • GIVE YOUR CHILD A CHOICE: Give your child some choices within the boundaries you establish. For example, instead of asking, "What do you want for lunch?" ask "Would you like a turkey sandwich, or a quesadilla?"
  • DO NOT COMPLETELY FORBID CERTAIN FOODS: Forbidden foods can quickly become the foods of greatest desire. At school, for example, children are more likely to trade for foods that are not allowed at home. Allow your children to choose a special food from time to time and let them eat it guilt free. Teach your children the difference between everyday foods and occasional foods. In time, they will start making healthy choices on their own.
  • ENCOURAGE CHILDREN TO BRING HOME THEIR LUNCH LEFTOVERS: Looking at leftover lunches is a great way to get information about your children's lunch preferences. Find out why certain foods have come back uneaten. Did your child not like it? Was she not hungry enough to eat everything in the lunchbox? Was there a birthday celebration at school that day? Did she share someone else's lunch instead? Maintain a dialogue without criticizing. Consider making a list of foods that your child likes to eat for lunch and update it regularly with input from your child. You may find that she prefers romaine lettuce to red leaf lettuce. By making this simple change, she might start eating salads more regularly. Providing a dip for carrot and celery sticks might make eating them more fun.

A fun twist on the common sandwich, Flatten your favorite heathy bread and remove crust, layer ingredients and roll, slice in coins and present cut side up. OR use flatbread wraps

A few flavor ideas but the sky is the limit!
White bread - crusts removed
Nutella & strawberries
Turkey and herb cream cheese
Sunbutter & chocolate chips with banana's
Ham & pineapple with cream cheese 
You can separate items by using a smaller disposable cup with a lid and placing it lid side down on top of Mason jar, then screw ring around both. By separating items and letting kids have a little legal play with their food.

Yogurt, fruit and granola
Cheese & meat cubes with grapes and crackers
Mayo/mustard with crackers, cheese & meat squares
Veggies with dip
Chicken salad with crackers or chips
Layered Mexican  dip with chicken & chips
Fruit salad with yogurt sauce

Try something a little different in your kid's lunch by mixing and matching!!!  If it is on a stix it is FUN!
Meat ball kebobs
Fruit of all of kinds
Strawberries and shortcake squares
Nitrate Free Lunch meat with cheese cubes and cherry tomatoes
Cooked chicken or steak with vegetables
Fresh mozzarella cheese with giant cherry tomatoes
Chicken, cherry tomatoes and cubed mozzarella cheese
Nitrate free ham and pineapple with mozzarella cheese
Chucks of lunch meat, tomatoes and bread cubes

Aka Using Leftovers
Don't forget about leftovers! Every dinner entrée and side dish should have a plan over for your children's lunch box!  Packing leftovers in your child's lunch can save you lot time, effort and money and kids love them.  Make a few extra servings for dinner and set them aside for the next day's lunch.
Plan Over Prep
Bake chicken breasts, make extra and serve with a dipping sauce the next; homemade chicken finger!
Make a salad for dinner, slice some extra vegetables, such as cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, and celery, or make an extra undressed salad directly in the Laptop Lunch. (Make extra dressing and pour it into the dip container.)
While you're making dinner, boil a few eggs. Pack the eggs whole, make deviled eggs, or use them in egg salad.
Make extra; pasta, couscous, or rice and toss in perhaps some veggies, fruits or whatever with a little dressing for a cold side salad.
Grill extra vegetables and use them in sandwiches.
Make an extra baked potato and pack it with fun nutritious toppings.
Bake a whole turkey breast, serve a portion for dinner and the extra will be great for sandwiches of finger food

In a container layer ingredients of your choice
Refried black beans
Shredded lettuce, kale or spinach
Taco meat of your choice
Sour cream
Lime zest, cilantro
Guacamole or avocado
Fresh veggies, roasted veggies, leftover veggies
Shredded cheese
Serve with strawberries or pineapple and/or organic baked corn chips

Taco Seasoning for Ground Meat
2 tablespoons chili powder
5 teaspoons paprika
4 teaspoons ground cumin
3 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Combine above ingredients and store in an air tight container for up to a year.
To make taco meat -In a sauté pan cook 1 pound of ground meat over medium heat until no longer pink.  Add ¾ cup water or tomatoes sauce and 2 ½ tablespoons of season mix.  Bring to boil and reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.  Always make extra and freeze!

Mexican Seasoning for Leftover Cooked Meat
Shred beef, pork chicken or turkey and add enough salsa to moisten.

Mexican Seasoning for Raw Chicken Beef or Pork Cutlets
Place some salsa in a medium sauté pan.  Add meat and cover with more salsa heat covered until meat is cooked and fork tender.  Cool slightly and shred meat with fork.  Serve in the place of regular taco meat.
Freezes great!