Time to Think Outside the (Lunch) Box, by Anna Gass
Although it seems like summer vacation began yesterday, with a blink of an eye, our children have been loaded back on the bus and are beginning the new school year. With that, comes after school activities, various appointments and of course, homework. Every day seems like a race to the finish and early in the morning, without fail, we face a dreaded challenge…school lunch.
Now you might get a reprieve on pizza day or maybe chicken fingers are a favorite but inevitably a few days a week, your kids want bag lunch. So of course, you are given the task of figuring out how to give them something that, one, they will eat and two, is healthy. Lunchables are a processed nightmare and quite frankly, pretty much anything prepackaged has more ingredients you can’t pronounce than ones you can. So, in order to keep the kids healthy, happy (and fed) you have to think outside the box.
My first trick is the lunchbox itself. Recently, bento style lunch boxes are on the market in many shapes and sizes. One reason I love them is because the lunch remains in tact (sandwich isn’t squished and fruit isn’t bruised). And, more importantly, my kids love the presentation. Kids, even more than adults, eat with their eyes first. So, if they open up a lunch box that looks good, they are much more likely to dig in.
Now, onto the food, sandwiches can get boring and many children don’t like deli meat. Not to mention the bad rap sliced meats, loaded with nitrates, have been getting. So, a few years back I started thinking about what my kids like to eat at home and translating it to a portable lunch. My middle daughter loves pasta. So on a whim, I bought a (kid size) thermos and loaded it up with leftover pasta. She was so happy she got her favorite dinner food for lunch AND it was still warm at noon.
We began using it everyday with other items she loved. Fried rice from the local Chinese place is a family favorite. In the thermos it went and again, she was content. I’ve even heated up, tortellini, chicken soup and another favorite from last night’s dinner, chicken parmigiana. Hearty, healthy meals that stay hot and ensure my kids get a full lunch.
Now my eldest daughter loves a good sandwich. Again, I got creative with leftovers. Last night’s roasted chicken became chicken salad with dried cranberries on toast or served with crackers that she can spread and eat. You can even buy a Rotisserie chicken for this task. Bento boxes make this task easy and clean.
Bento boxes are also perfect for PB and Jelly Sushi. Yup, sushi. Take a tortilla and spread PB and J. Then, roll it up and slice. Looks like sushi rolls and is much more exciting to eat than your bland peanut butter and jelly on white bread. You can do this with cream cheese and cucumbers too or almond butter and raisins. Whatever combo your kids love; even Nutella for a dessert roll! If you grill some steak for dinner, slice that up and it will also taste wonderful on some hearty bread and a thick piece of cheese. You know what your kids crave for dinner so customizing it for lunch is a win win. Leftovers get eaten and half the work is done before you get up! Then, make sure to pack some fruit and veggies with fun dips like hummus and ranch dressing and a well rounded meal is guaranteed.
Making lunch is not an easy or fun task but knowing your child is well fed during the middle of their busy day will make us feel like we did one thing right today. So, put on your creative hat and pack away!