Back to school means back to packing lunches. Yikes! I have such a hard time coming up with new ideas.
Peanut butter and jelly gets boring. Nutella has been a great backup especially paired with some strawberries, but that gets old too. Regardless, both options will be in my pantry for busy mornings but I need some more interesting solutions.
Do you have any good lunch box ideas?
I asked around and some other moms shared their tips with me.
Elise S., a Cinnaminson mom of two, told me how she brightens up peanut butter and jelly or tuna sandwiches with a little trick. “I sometimes cut them into different shapes with cookie cutters or use a little gadget that cuts the sandwich into a circle with no crusts.”
Kids love the “no crust” sandwiches but did you know that crust may be the healthiest part of the bread? Check this article out.
My sister, Jackie B., saw a tip on television for salad lovers that she shared with me. “Make a salad in a Ziploc bag for ease. Kids dump in dressing, close bag and shake. Open, fold down top, and dig in. The whole thing can be thrown away. That is a mommy time saver (hate to have to clean out dirty lunch bags at night).”
Of course, you can use reusable containers that kids can shake too. That would be better for the environment but moms will endure the “cleaning up” which can be horrific, especially if the containers are left in book bags on a Friday night! Wish there was a green way to avoid the clean up without using plastic bags.
Maryellen R., a mom of teenagers, needs to be creative because her girls don’t eat meat. She sends hummus and pita or pretzel chips many days. One of her girls likes “cold roasted veggie wraps with roasted zucchini, yellow squash and roasted red peppers with a little bit of Italian dressing on them.” That sounds yummy!
Maryellen's other daughter enjoys “cold quesadillas with salsa to dip.” She also sends pasta salads with white beans or chick peas and Italian dressing and includes cut up cucumbers and tomatoes. When her girls were younger, they did eat meat but her youngest, Tess, didn’t like sandwiches so Maryellen would pack a couple of cheese sticks and some pepperoni slices. Tess became known as “Tesseroni “ with her lunch bunch.
Danielle D., a friend who lives in Florida with two children (already back in school), gave me some great ideas for lunches that make you think a little outside the lunchbox. “My oldest loves burritos and doesn't mind eating them cold, we put heated black beans, rice and chicken in a warmed tortilla and wrap it in foil, sometimes it is warm and sometimes it isn't but she is happy with that. They both like tacos the same way, just heat up the meat and tortilla, wrap it and send lettuce, salsa and sour cream in a small container.” Another idea she told me about was a cold chicken wrap with Caesar dressing. She wraps leftover chicken or those Perdue short cuts in a tortilla with hearts of romaine, a little shredded cheese, and Caesar dressing. That sounds delicious, I think I’d like that in my own lunch box.
I've been reading about these Bento Box lunches. Have you heard about them?
They are a Japanese packed lunch that usually includes rice or pasta, some protein, and fruits and vegetables. The bento lunch is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Basically, they are reusable containers with different sections or smaller containers inside to keep food separate, fresh, and pleasing to the eye.
They make sense.
Food doesn’t get thrown around like it does in a traditional styled lunch box when your child runs to the bus stop, hops on the bus, and drags their bag along the floor. Everything stays safe in its own spot. Giggle.com has a Double Decker Mealbox for $10 and you can check out some bento ideas atParenting.com. Also visit Fit Fresh; Lunch In a Box; and Laptop Lunches for great ways to pack a good bento box lunch.
Several moms mentioned thermos lunches. Some favorite thermos fillers included Spaghettios, various soups, macaroni and cheese, and leftovers. Most moms complained that they are not sure how hot the food stays and I have found that to be a problem as well. My kids have come home with a full thermos telling me the macaroni and cheese was cold and mushed together. So, this year I plan to invest in a good thermos. I’m thinking L.L. Bean or REI may have some well-insulated camping thermoses.
Think creatively when planning lunches. Try some wraps, shaken salads or bento boxes. Veggies and dip are always a great hit and they sell individual packs of dip just for this purpose. Apple slices with peanut butter are also a favorite and again, they sell individual packs of peanut butter and even individual packs of apple slices to make our jobs a little easier. Frozen Go-Gurts are a delicious secret. They are yummy when frozen and will defrost a bit before lunch. They can get messy so be sure to send napkins. Grape tomatoes, grapes, bananas, and any kind of fruit or raw vegetable are the perfect addition to a healthy lunch. Cheese sticks and whole grain crackers are a great go to item for the lunch box.
My girls love homemade chicken noodle soup so this year my plan is to buy a rotisserie chicken every couple of weeks, make soup and use the rest of the chicken for sandwiches. I figure this will be healthy, not loads of work, and easy on the pocketbook. I will multitask my rotisserie chicken.
Water is our beverage of choice but 100 percent juice boxes and milk that don't need to be refrigerated provide necessary vitamins and minerals. Follow the USDA’s Nutritional Guidelines to pack health into your kid’s lunch boxes. They will feel better and perform better when filled with the right kinds of food.
Don’t forget about a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast each day. Breakfast, as we all know, is the most important meal of the day. and get them through the day with fun and nutrition filled lunch boxes. Start planning now and pack a lunch with a big punch!
About this column: Janet, a Cinnaminson, N.J., resident who's married with twin girls, is all around town and writing about it.