Protein helps sustain your kids' energy throughout the school day, and will help you make it through your own day at work. You can make tasty, protein-packed lunches for yourself and your family using foods that taste good cold, and don't require access to a microwave or toaster oven at school or work.
Dips and Spreads
Spread cream cheese, black bean dip, hummus, or any other bean- or cheese-based spread onto a whole-wheat tortilla or other healthy grain item, then toss in some chopped vegetables and roll it up. Alternatively, pack small containers of these spreads along with veggies and hard whole-grain crackers for dipping. Cheese, beans and dried peas, such as chickpeas, are all high in protein, and beans and peas also contain other healthy nutrients like fiber and iron. Use dry dressing and dip mix as a quick and easy way to season any kind of dip base, including beans, cheese and hummus.
Nuts and Seeds
There's a reason why the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a classic. Peanuts are high in protein, and when combined with whole-grain bread, make a complete dietary protein and a satisfying snack. Peanut butter is also high in fat, so use this option only once or twice a week, and try no-sugar-added jellies and jams to go with it. Other nuts and seeds are also high in protein and essential fatty acids, so substitute almond or cashew butter for peanut butter, or pack a salad with sunflower seeds, pine nuts or slivered almonds. Look for single-serve containers of shelf-stable creamy salad dressing for a convenient way to pack dressing separately from your salad greens.
Cold cuts are always a sandwich option for lunch, but they can get boring day after day. Preserved meats, such as packaged deli cold cuts, can generally last until lunch time, but if you're concerned, just add a small ice pack to your child's lunch to keep it safe. Any thoroughly cooked meat becomes a viable protein option for lunch, so slice up the leftover roast beef for sandwiches, or chop up last night's leftover chicken along with your kids' favorite dip and some toothpicks for spearing and dipping. Shred leftover turkey, chicken or pork to make tortilla roll-ups with some chopped-up lettuce and tomato, and a sprinkle of grated cheese and dry dressing and dip mix as seasoning.
Yogurt and Cottage Cheese
Some kids love them, some kids hate them, but if your kids will eat them, yogurt and cottage cheese will give them a protein boost plus plenty of calcium. Cottage cheese is higher in protein, but yogurt is often easier for picky eaters to accept. Use individual sealed serving-size containers and add an ice pack, or package them in a chilled thermos. Add a fruit topping to mix in with cottage cheese, or celery sticks to dip into it. For yogurt, add some crunchy granola to stir in and make the lunch more satisfying.