By now you’ve probably heard the outcry about Congress and school lunches. During a recent revision to the agriculture appropriations bill, Congress said that one-eighth of a cup of tomato paste could continue to be counted as a serving of vegetables. One-half a cup of fruits or vegetables is normally considered a serving.

Coincidently (or not), one-eighth of a cup of tomato paste is about the amount on most school pizzas. “Pizza is a vegetable?!” has quickly become the catch-phrase of the healthier school lunch movement.

One of the takeaways of pizza-as-a-vegetable-gate is this truth: Our school lunch problem is not going to be solved on a national level anytime soon. Parents aren’t helpless, though. For many, there is always the option of packing a school lunch.

Lunch boxes don’t have to be filled with only a sandwich, a piece of fruit and milk. When you pack your child’s school lunch, you can make it as healthy as you want and put in anything you want.

Homemade Soups

Kid-friendly soups make great lunches. Buy an insulated thermos that is wide and not too deep so kids can eat right form the thermos. The thermoses that are long and have a little cup attached at the end are just a mess waiting to happen when a child tries to pour soup and talk to a friend at the same time.

  • Chicken Noodle Soup – A classic that all kids love. If your child loves carrots, double the amount of carrots in the soup to increase the veggie-factor in it.
  • Garden Vegetable Soup – For a totally meat-free version of soup chock-full of vegetables, use vegetable broth in this recipe. The usual kid-approved vegetables go into this recipe – corn, carrots, green beans, and potatoes.
  • Alphabet Soup –You can make the very kid-popular alphabet soup yourself. This recipe has a creamy tomato base that’s pureed with carrots, onions and celery. The alphabet noodles are added to the pureed soup to finish it off.

Kebobs

If the cake pop craze has taught us anything, it’s that everything is more fun on a stick. Try putting foods a little healthier than cake on a stick in the lunch box.

  • Fruit Kebab – Pineapple, orange slices, grapes, strawberries, melon balls – any fruit that won’t turn color when exposed to air will do.
  • Fruity chicken kebabs – Thickly sliced deli turkey or chicken (or slice your own from last night’s dinner) is skewered with grapes and strawberries.
  • BLT Kebabs – Whole grain bread, nitrate-free bacon, cherry tomatoes, butter lettuce and homemade mayo make one yummy kebab.

Snacks

Single serving packaged chips and cookies are convenient, but not healthy. When you want to have a treat with lunch, try one of these healthy, homemade snacks.

  • Homemade Honey Graham Crackers – Control the ingredients that go into these timeless favorites by making them with wholesome ingredients. Add a small cup of nut butter for dipping.

Beverages

A small stainless steel reusable bottle filled with something healthy to drink should be part of every lunch box.

  • Orange-Earl Gray Iced Tea – Kids love flavored canned ice tea. This should be a hit, but without as much sugar or any of the high fructose corn syrup in canned. This tea gets a lot of sweetness from the natural sugar in the orange juice, plus a bit from added sugar.
  • 100-Percent Fruit Juice – An 8 ounce serving of fruit juice, if it’s all fruit, is also a good option for lunches.
  • Water – Water is a wonderful lunch drink. Keep a water filter pitcher in your refrigerator filled with cold water, and in the morning, just fill the reusable bottle up and pop it in the lunch box.

Have other school lunch ideas? Leave us a note in the comments below.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.