Summer is winding down, fall is around the corner and a new school year is upon us. That means our parental responsibilities are once again going into double time. With car pools, study groups, sports practice and after-school commitments, it’s a wonder we ever have a moment to ourselves…and it’s easy to let the small, but important tasks go by the wayside. Making those sack lunches are one of those key functions that we need to attend to, but too often, we surrender to the easy solutions. You know: the Lunchables Deep Dish Pizza route or the bag of Pringles and an Oreo cookie four-pack (along with the ham & cheese on white)? Sure, it gets the job done, but you know you could do far better. And more and more of us are doing exactly that.

One of the greatest trends of school nosh time is the reinvention of the Sack Lunch. A dedication to making our kids’ lunches less boring, more nutritious and as wholesome as possible. If you’re reading this thinking you don’t have time in your  already packed day, don’t worry… you’ll need 15 minutes max. And if you make it the night before, all you have to do is wrap it up in the morning and you’re golden!

To inspire you, here are some easy tips (and recipes) that can make your sack lunch adventures more nutritious for your kids and more satisfying (and guilt-defying) for you.

1. Cut Down on the Processed Foods

Zoodle Salad

Processed foods like what you find in so many pre-made lunch packs are filled with fat, additives and often an over-abundance of sugar. If you make your own creative lunches for your kids, you can control their nutrition and feel good about what you’re feeding them. A favorite very “today” kind of lunch starts with an easy-to-use spiral slicer and ends with a delicious Zoodle salad like the Southwestern Zoodle Salad by Sur La Table. Add a slice of whole-wheat pita bread on the side and some red grapes for dessert. Another easy thought is fruit salad with low-sugar yogurt and a couple tablespoons of peanut butter with low-ingredient crackers like Triscuits. It will be filling and not just another old boring sandwich.

2. Be Creative with Sandwiches

lettuce wrap

Ham and cheese on white bread just doesn’t cut it anymore, folks. Give your kids some credit and treat them with a whole-wheat lavash wrapped around hummus, avocado and sunflower seeds or lettuce cups filled with chopped chicken salad or a little P.F. Changs-esque lettuce wrap action. Both options are low maintenance to make but oh so delicious to eat.

3. Update Old School Lunchbox Recipes

Banana Almond Butter

There’s nothing wrong with peanut butter and jelly. It’s filled with protein, and as long as you use wholesome bread and just a teaspoon or so of jelly, you’re doing ok. But if you want to go a step farther in the yummy department, try an Almond Butter (cold-pressed for the best nutrition) and Banana Sandwich on whole wheat. Another way to update old school lunches is to add something wonderfully unexpected, like a few slices of avocado or marinated cucumber slices on that turkey sandwich—tasty veggies add great flavor to an otherwise boring sandwich.

4. Pack Healthier Crunchy Treats

almonds

Kids usually expect a munchy treat on the side of their sandwich, wrap or even salad. That typically means Kettle Chips or Doritos in the everyday household—but not in yours, super parents! Flavored kale chips can satisfy that crunch just fine, as well as popcorn, sea salt almonds or a handful of Triscuits. Healthier options are commonplace at your local grocer, so take a chance—your kids’ taste buds may be more sophisticated than you think.

5. Make the Sweet Treat Healthier

muffins

The other lunchbox expectation is the sweet treat. Kids definitely want that little sugar rush at their end of their meal. (Their teachers however, would beg you to reconsider if they could!) Instead of cookies or chocolate, try something naturally sweet like fresh fruit. You could even cookie-cut them into cute shapes to make them more fun to indulge in. A healthy mini-muffin is another great idea, such as this Blueberry Muffin recipe from Harvard School of Public Health.

6. Pack with Style

Bag the brown paper bag and clunky lunch box for a stylish and eco-friendly lunch container like this Bento Colors chic bento box or this felt lunch bag from LunchBots. For more lunchbox and bag ideas, check out this great round-up on Brit + Co. And for packing the goods inside, lunchskins and Itzy Ritzy area two great sources for easy-to-clean, food-safe, reusable sandwich bags that also happen to look amazing.

Do you pack a sack lunch for your kids? How important is the nutrition factor to you? Let us know in the comments section below.