Tag Archive | lunchbox

Lovin’ in the Lunchbox

By Karen Hendricks

Lunchbox staple--good old PB&J

Lunchbox staple–good old PB&J

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.

All the ingredients come together for one awesome chicken salad

All the ingredients come together for one awesome chicken salad

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)

It's a wrap... chicken salad wrap

It’s a wrap… chicken salad wrap

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


Cracked pepper

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!

Edible Muppets? Find this idea on our Pinterest page... Advanced lunchbox packing 301.

Edible Muppets? Find this idea on our Pinterest page… Advanced lunchbox packing 301.

If you enjoyed this post, check out:

Oatmeal: It’s What’s for Breakfast

Everything Goes Better with Peanut Butter

As always, feel free to share your ideas and strategies… how do YOU keep the lunch routine easy, healthy and delicious?

Think Outside the (Lunch) Box

By Karen Hendricks

One of my top priorities as a mom is to play the role of “Nutrition Nazi.”  I try my best to infuse nutrients into our meals and ban empty calories.  Equally important as the nutritional value of meals:  The family value of gathering everyone together for meals.  That gets extremely difficult through the middle and high school years, I’m finding, but it’s a priority we try to maintain.  Now that I am “off the merry-go-round” and working from home, I feel like I have a better handle on meal time routines, although most moms with growing families will agree that it’s a constant struggle to keep enough food in the house!

One of the biggest challenges is packing school day lunches.  Although lunches provided in school cafeterias are becoming healthier, my kids prefer to pack because waiting in lines takes too much time and they don’t always like the selections.  This is fine with me!

I like to think of every lunch box as an extension of our family meal times, upholding those same nutritional values and reminding my children that their family loves them.  (Please note:  I would never embarrass my middle or high schoolers with “love notes” in their lunch boxes, although I was known to add a few random notes and jokes through their elementary years!)

I think the challenges include:

  • Finding the time to pack lunches.
  • Making sure they’re nutritious.
  • Not succumbing to easy, but expensive and empty-calorie, pre-packaged lunch items found at the grocery store.
  • Ensuring that lunches can be devoured quickly, since schools are constantly cutting the amount of time allotted for lunch periods.
  • Making sure that everything fits within your child’s lunchbox!

Our entire family helps with the packing of lunches in some way. Here are some tips that have helped us streamline the process, and I hope they help you as well:

Prepare a Lunch Menu.  When my kids were learning keyboarding (4th-5th grades), I set up a simple spreadsheet on our home computer which we still use today.  The rows going down list food groups (Meats/Sandwiches/Grains, Fruit/Veg, Dairy, Snacks, Drinks) with rows under each heading for the kids to customize each week’s menu with our grocery shopping (for example, ham or tuna salad sandwiches, yogurts or string cheese).  The columns are set up per the days of the week, with a column for each child to check off their selections.  It’s great typing practice for the kids, plus they learn organizational skills and the menu is a great help to the chief lunch packer (my wonderful husband).  When my children were younger, they could also see how a nutritious lunch was built using the various food groups.  Now it’s second-nature for them to include at least one item from each food group.  One of the kids typically prepares the lunch menu on Sunday, printing it out and stationing it on our countertop (you could also post it on a bulletin board or refrigerator).  Every night before bedtime or during evening snack time, all the kids make their “picks” for the next day’s lunch.

Banana Keeper! Made by Tupperware and sold in a set of 2, these happy yellow containers keep our bananas from being bruised and squished. Pure genius!

Invest in Reusable Containers.  There are some great products made specifically for lunch boxes today!  Plastic sandwich containers not only keep sandwiches from being squished, but they also negate the need for plastic bags which are costly and not environmentally-friendly.  Our family also uses stainless steel water bottles (found inexpensively at Target and other stores) and small plastic containers with lids for fruits and other snacks (grapes, pretzels, etc.).  Sometimes it’s a challenge to fit all the containers within a lunchbox—it can be like a puzzle—but you develop a knack for it.

Pre-Package Lunch “Staples.”  My kids all pitch in around the house with tasks like dishwashing, unpacking grocery bags, etc.  So when the stainless steel water bottles get washed, they also get refilled with cold water and stashed in the fridge, so they’re chilled and ready to be popped into lunchboxes.  When groceries are being unpacked and there’s an item like grapes, one of the kids washes the grapes right then and there, and prepares 7-8 small plastic containers full of grapes, so they’re ready for school mornings.  This is a great time-saver!

Prepping grapes for the lunchboxes

Include a Touch of Home.  If you have a leftover, homemade biscuit, why not use it for a chicken salad sandwich?  Have a leftover cup of homemade soup?  It takes some effort, but pack it in a microwaveable container or warm it the next morning to pack into a thermos.  The same idea applies to leftover fajitas, a bowl of chili or homemade pizza.  Be creative and think outside the sandwich box.  Sometimes, these are the most popular, sought-after lunch items in our house!  Of course, fighting over them is a subject for another blog… Hey, at least they are eating well!