School Lunchbox Ideas: 5 Easy Ways to Boost the Basics
By / September 10, 2010 - 0 comments
My six-year-old stepdaughter headed back to school this week, and like a lot of you I’ve been thinking about packed lunch ideas—namely, how to make a quick, easy, delicious, and nutritious homemade lunch that your kids will actually eat.
I’ve read quite a few articles lately about fancy bento box lunches and hot meals cooked in the morning and then packed into thermoses. Well. I don’t know about you, but I usually only have five or ten minutes to make packed lunches, and I almost always end up making something simple like sandwiches or salads.
So I thought today I would share some fast, easy, and nutritious ways you can perk up those lunchbox staples:
1: Sneaky Sandwiches
Pack extra flavor and nutrition into your child’s sandwiches by stirring diced bell pepper, celery, and red onion to store-bought tuna salad or egg salad. (It only takes a few minutes to roughly chop up the vegetables, since you don’t have to worry about them looking pretty.)
To add even more veggies, top with a layer of romaine lettuce, sliced cucumber, or spicy watercress. Alternately, try stirring in fresh sliced grapes to store-bought chicken salad and topping with a layer of tender butter lettuce leaves.
2: Flavor Boosters
Turkey and chicken are healthy go-to lunchmeats, but they get boring fast, especially if you have them all the time. Try zesting up a plain sandwich by replacing your usual margarine or mayonnaise with a thick, creamy dip like Stonemill Kitchens Roasted Red Pepper Dip or Peppercorn Garlic and Herb Dip. Because they’re so flavorful you won’t need a lot—just a couple of teaspoons per slice of bread.
Another easy way to add lots of flavor to an ordinary sandwich is by topping your lunch meat with store-bought cole slaw. This is a great one for people like my husband who can’t stand dry sandwiches. Just make sure to wait until the morning to make this one so the bread doesn’t get soggy overnight.
3: A No-Guilt Sandwich Alternative
When you need a change from sandwiches but you still need to pack lunch in a hurry, it can be tempting to slip something pre-packaged (read: sugar and carbohydrate heavy) into your child’s lunchbox. Instead, try stirring garbanzo beans or diced leftover meat plus lots of fresh veggies like sugar snap peas, baby grape tomatoes, and leafy green spinach into a store-bought pasta salad.
You won’t need to add any extra dressing, as pre-made salads usually come with plenty. Plus, you can almost always buy bags of fresh, pre-washed and trimmed veggies in the produce department near the deli.
Kids will love the tangy dressing and the pasta (its like a kid-magnet, isn’t it?), and you’ll love that they’re getting a good mix of protein, carbs, and vegetables.
4: Fun Fruit Roll Up Wraps
Fruit roll up wraps make a sweet alternative to savory lunches. Spread low-fat strawberry cream cheese over a whole-wheat tortilla, top with berries, and roll up. I found this recipe here; the original version calls for fresh berries, but as we head into the cooler months you could use thawed frozen berries in place of the fresh. In fact, that’s even easier since frozen fruit comes pre-washed and sliced.
5: A Better Dessert
Let’s face it: kids love dessert, but it’s usually full of empty calories. To satisfy their sweet tooth and still give them some nutrition, top a serving of fruit with a couple tablespoons of pudding and a dash of sprinkles (or as my British husband calls them, “hundreds and thousands.”) Try chocolate over sliced bananas or vanilla with the last of the summer berries.
Have any tips for tasty, nutritious packed lunches? Share them with us in the comments!