Posted on February 24, 2015 at 6:00 am
What should I pack for my girls’ lunch? This is a question I ask myself often. Usually in the morning when we are running late, one girl can’t find her shoes and the other’s hair isn’t done. So I quickly grab the old standbys, throw them in their lunch bags, and we head out the door (usually with the shoes, not always with the hair done). Every once in a while I will actually pack their lunches the night before and I feel such a sense of accomplishment. When I do this, mornings are always a little smoother and less stressful. Also, it gives me time to get a little more creative and mix things up a bit. But since this doesn’t happen as often as it should, I start to feel like I’m packing the same things over and over again. So, with the 100-day mark of school upon us, I decided to hunt down some fresh ideas for school lunches.
I began my search online and the first site seemed promising; that is, until I actually opened the link and looked at the suggestions. The recipes were full-blown meals that would take a lot of time to prepare. They also happened to be foods my girls wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Now, I confess, my kids are on the picky end of the spectrum. I know there are many sites and recommendations out there for helping parents of picky eaters, and I am glad the suggestions work for some kids. The children these tactics work on, however, are not mine. I also found sites (what are you trying to do to us, Pinterest?) with amazing lunch ideas that treat food as art. I’m sure my kids would love their food to look like “lions, tigers and bears, oh my!” However, I lack both the desire and artistic talent to make this happen. I realized I needed to refine my goal. I didn’t just want fresh ideas for school lunches anymore. I wanted ideas that wouldn’t take a lot of extra time, and were picky-eater friendly. I know there are plenty of articles, websites, and Pinterest pages dedicated to lunch ideas; however, if you are short on time, want a relatively quick-fix for your lunch packing slump, and if you are dealing with picky eaters, hopefully this list of ideas will help you make it to the end of the school year, or at least through one more month.
One website that has plenty of lunch ideas is Lisa Leake’s 100 Days of Real Food. While she spends a lot more time and energy on her kids’ lunches than I do, I was able to glean some relatively easy and fun ideas from her “10 Ways to Switch up Your Kid’s Lunch” list and her “Nut-Free School Lunches” list. Here are some of my favorites:
Apple Sandwiches—Instead of using bread, slice apples vertically into flat circles and cut the core out of the middle. Then fill with peanut butter (sunflower seed butter is a good nut-free alternative) or with cheddar cheese.
Wraps/Pinwheels—Sometimes just taking the usual sandwich fixings and making a wrap is enough to make things more interesting. You can also cut the wrap up to make little pinwheels. Fastening with cute tooth picks is an added bonus.
BLT Pitas—This is a fun way to use leftovers. I wouldn’t take the time to make bacon just for lunches, but if I’m making it anyway, I can plan ahead and make a little extra for a fun treat. Pitas are similar to tortillas in that you can use them with the usual fillings and it feels like something different. If your kids like tuna or egg salad, these are great pita fillers. Hummus is also yummy with pitas.
Kabobs—Presentation can make a difference in whether or not kids will try new foods. My kids love fruit, so kabobs aren’t necessary. However, I tried making a Caprese salad kabob and was pleasantly surprised that one of my kiddos gave it a try. It was incredibly simple. I cheated and used a cut-up string cheese stick instead of fresh mozzarella, and then used cherry tomatoes and basil to complete the kabobs. Actually, since I don’t usually have skewers at home, I used toothpicks.
Pancake Sandwiches—My kids love breakfast for dinner and their all-time favorite is pancakes. One morning I had the brilliant idea to use leftover pancakes to make a sandwich. Of course, then I discovered this same idea on the 100 Days of Real Food site. I wasn’t sure if I felt proud that I was in such good company or disappointed that I hadn’t actually created something entirely new. Either way, I usually fill pancake sandwiches with cream cheese and jam and my kids think it’s a special treat. If your school isn’t nut-free you could also try peanut butter with honey and/or bananas.
Next, I found an article called “32 Back-to-School Lunch Ideas” on food.com. My kids didn’t get anything this fun during back-to-school time, so why not pull these cool recipes out now, in the middle of the year, and impress them? Here were my favorite ideas:
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sushi Rolls—A regular sandwich made to look different suddenly feels new and fun. Take your slice of bread, cut off the crust, flatten it, put in your filling (PB&J or cream cheese and jam for a nut-free option), roll it up, and cut it in slices to make it look like sushi rolls.
Secret Sandwiches—Once again, it is all about presentation. Basically you take a dinner roll, cut a hole out of the bottom, put your chosen sandwich fillings inside, and then fill the hole with the bread you cut out. The secret’s inside the sandwich!
Cheesy Pretzel Dippers—Take a pretzel stick, put a cheese cube on the bottom, and include dipping sauce. Easy, different, and fun.
Of course, a standby for one person might be completely new to somebody else. So here are a few ideas straight from my house to yours:
In winter, when fruit options start to decline, my kids enjoy dried fruit (they especially love dried mangoes).
Mini rice cakes with cream cheese and strawberry slices (of course, there are many other options here, including Nutella for an extra special treat).
Skip the bread and put cream cheese on ham and roll it up.
When I find myself with some extra time, I like to make homemade muffins and then throw extras in the freezer to have on hand for lunches.
Some random, easy snacks that I’m always forgetting about include olives, popcorn, raisins, and pickles.
Hopefully some of these ideas will appeal to your kids and help you mix up your lunch-packing routine. Of course, you can find many more ideas online, or take a look at one of the wonderful books available at your library such as Best Lunch Box Ever by Katie Sullivan Morford or Weelicious Lunches by Catherine McCord. I’m already looking forward to trying Weelicious’ Banana Dog Bites and Cinnamon Roll Sushi!