By Karen Hendricks
Like the middle child, lunch doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. I try to instill a “good start” to the day with a healthy breakfast… and I focus on home-cooked dinners. But in between? Lunch is just as important!
A few months ago, I wrote about the challenges of packing healthy lunches for my kids in Think Outside the (Lunch) Box. Actually, it’s my husband who packs school lunches every day, God bless him. But we all need inspiration from time to time… the kids get tired of the same old sandwich routines, my husband gets tired of slapping PB&J’s together, and we all need to shake up the lunchbox menu. Several friends asked me to write about school lunches again to share more tips and recipes. So here goes…
Stuck in a rut? Shake up the lunchbox with these fun ideas:
- Pack a chunky, healthy granola bar instead of a sandwich. I promise, the sandwich police will not get you. Who says you must pack a sandwich for lunch?
- My daughters love packing “big salad” for lunch. It’s always an “everything but the kitchen sink” kind of project. Add a leftover chicken breast, sliced on top for protein. Or add a scoop of tuna salad, a sliced hard-boiled egg or “crab delights.” Plus lots of veggies of course and a little container of salad dressing.
- Along the same lines, my kids love packing pasta salad for lunch. Pizza pasta salad is fun, with tomatoes, olives, green or red peppers, cheese and pepperoni. Add pasta and Italian dressing and voila!
- Potato salad is also a great choice to beat the lunch routine blues. It’s a great, substantial choice for tiring gym days. Pair it with an apple and pretzels… yum.
- Once in a while, treat your kids to a slice of leftover pizza in their lunchbox. But a word of warning: Their friends will be jealous and will ask their parents to do the same thing. You might get in trouble with other parents!
- Greek yogurt is all the rage and my daughters love it. Packed with protein, it’s just as substantial as a sandwich. Pack one of the larger cup sizes with a container of granola to sprinkle on top, plus a piece of fruit, and they’re good to go.
- My son, on the other hand, loves a hot lunch from time to time. He especially enjoys leftover mac ‘n cheese, spaghetti, or pasta casseroles. Invest in a small Thermos container and take time once a week or so, to warm up a leftover crock before school. It will stay warm til lunchtime and make your son (or daughter’s) day! Again, this is often a “meal of envy” around the cafeteria table so proceed with caution.
- If your child likes tuna salad, chicken salad, etc… rather than making a sandwich, pack a container of the salad along with healthy crackers. Either dip the crackers into the salad or pack a plastic knife/spoon for spreading. Fun!
- Purchase alternatives to bread: Create all-new “sandwiches” with artisan rolls, pita pockets, tortillas for wraps, etc. It gives your ham & cheese a whole new outlook.
- Like PB&J? Mix it up a bit by trying PB&N (Peanut Butter and Nutella) or PB&M (Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Spread). These are fun for end-of-the week, Friday treats. I wouldn’t recommend this become a habit. 🙂
One of our family’s absolute lunchbox faves: Chicken Salad Sandwiches. This recipe came from a 1st grade cookbook my oldest daughter made as a Mother’s Day project 11 years ago. So I owe a debt of gratitude to her friend Christina’s mom for sharing the recipe–as I have told her several times through the years. It’s a winner! Part of the reason is the creative mix of ingredients–a tangy dressing, crunch of celery, sweetness of grapes, and toasty almonds. My children all know the recipe by heart and it’s a fun family project to mix it up together. It never stays in our frig for long.
The Best Chicken Salad Ever:
(*All amounts are to your liking… my apologies to my friend Ruth who likes concrete measurements)
Chicken breast, cooked and cubed (Hint: As a shortcut, I often purchase the chicken at the deli counter. Ask them to cut 2-3 thick (1/4″) slices. They might look at you weird… I get it all the time. But if I explain what I’m using the chicken for, they usually end up saying, “What a great idea!”)
Lowfat yogurt (use 50/50 mayo to yogurt… usually about 1/3 cup each)
Cut grapes (halves) – we prefer red grapes – or substitute chopped cranberries
Chopped celery, about 2 ribs
Tiny bit of chopped onion, if desired
Sliced almonds (Bake at 325 degrees until light brown for extra toasty flavor), about 1/4 cup
Dill and/or Parsley
Mix everything together, tossing lightly. Enjoy!
If you have elementary-aged children, there are so fabulously creative lunchbox ideas flying around Pinterest these days. I’ve started a board on our Off the Merry-Go-Round Pinterest page called “Lunchbox Fun”–check them out!
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As always, feel free to share your ideas and strategies… how do YOU keep the lunch routine easy, healthy and delicious?