First day of school.
Which also means time for creative lunch ideas. I imagine that lots of kiddos are like mine with their ever-changing palates and tastes. On Monday, good ol’ PB&J reigns supreme, but by Wednesday it’s so last year.
Sandwiches don’t usually cut it around here.
So what’s a mom to do? Get clever.
Mental faculties primed.
Creativity sequence initiated.
All systems go…
Investing in good divided lunch containers that fit in my girls’ lunch boxes has infinitely expanded our lunch options.
(Note: Some of these suggestions do include peanut butter and I know, I know… a lot of schools have varying policies on this now. We love our PB around here, so always check out your school rules first.)
My girls are always begging me for the pre-packaged Lunchables. They are usually expensive, not to mention highly processed and full of sodium. It’s super easy (and less expensive) to put together your own version. I include lean meat (like chicken or turkey), my girls’ favorite cheeses and whole grain crackers. For a fun twist, I sometimes include mozzarella or provolone with low-fat turkey pepperoni. (If using a single divided lunch container, be sure to place crackers in a zipper baggie to keep them fresh.)
Think Outside of the Bread Box
It is easy to think about a sandwich and conjure up an image of various goodies between two slices of bread. But stuff the same old boring ingredients into one of these alternatives to reinvent it:
Whole grain tortilla (rolled up like a wrap)
Whole grain hamburger bun
Flatbread rounds (like Arnold’s Sandwich Thins… like a bun… but flatter)
This trick works for almost anything, PB& J, tuna, deli meat, chicken salad, etc.
We especially like to spruce up the PB&J by substituting honey for jelly and adding banana slices and chocolate chips. Yum! (We use natural peanut butter without the extra sugar so I don’t feel too guilty about adding in the sweet stuff.)
Fruit & Cheese Platter
Sometimes, my kids are just downright finicky about their meat. And most days, I’d rather pick my battles and save the scuffle for something that really matters. So cheese is always a great alternative. Pair protein with fruit and I’ve got a pretty good thing going. Cube or slice the cheese and include various fruits like melon, blueberries, strawberries, or grapes. Apple slices are great for dipping in peanut butter! Include whole-grain crackers and the meal is complete. For another fun twist, cut bamboo skewers to a size that will fit in the lunchbox and make fruit & cheese kabobs!
A good cold pasta salad is always a hit for my sweet girls! I like to use the garden rotini or Wacky Mac for the pasta because the colors and shapes make it interesting for the kids. Toss with lots of veggies like shredded carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, black olives and grape tomatoes. Add grated parmesan cheese or shredded cheddar, a lean meat (like grilled chicken) and toss with a light dressing (we like to use Zesty Italian or Tuscan House Italian from Kraft).
My girls are almost always good for a crisp salad. Start with dark greens and add shredded cheese, lean meat, chopped hard-boiled egg, shredded carrots, and grape tomatoes. Pack dressing in a small separate container and add just before eating to keep salad fresh.
Most of these things are available singly packaged, but I like to save money by packaging them myself in small reusable containers.
Fruit cups (no sugar added)
Applesauce in various flavors (no sugar added)
Nuts or seeds (if allergy appropriate)
Raw veggies (like carrot sticks, sugar snap peas or celery)
Fruit (apple, banana, peach, plum, etc.)
Cheese sticks (available in lots of varieties)
Personally, I think it’s pretty hard to beat water. After all, it makes up more than 70% of our bodies and most of us don’t drink nearly enough of it. I use a reusable water bottle and fill it with filtered water from home. But on occasion, I include one of these:
Juice box (100%, of course)
Aseptic milk carton like Horizon Organic (like a juice box and shelf stable so it requires no refrigeration until after opening)
Let’s face it. Kids like to play with their food. (Alright, who am I kidding? I still like to play with my own food!) Include dips and dressings for dunking. Pack things they can stack and mix themselves. Use cookie cutters to cut fun shapes (cheese, sandwiches, fruit, etc.)
Taming the Temp
Always, always, always include an ice pack in the lunch box.
There have been recent news reports that 99% (and that’s not a typo) of school lunches are not kept appropriately cold enough to be safe to eat by lunchtime. (I will admit that I was somewhat shocked to hear that a startling amount of parents do not include an ice pack and expect an insulated lunch bag to do the job on it’s own. Yikes.)
So there you have it. Class is dismissed. Enjoy!
And to appease everyone who is thinking… don’t you homeschool??? The short answer is “yes,” however my girls “brown bag” it once a week to meet with their supervising teacher, while mommy sips her coffee in the peace and quiet I am afforded once (and if I’m lucky, twice) each week.