It’s that time of year again. Time to shop for this year’s school supplies and snazzy back to school outfits. A new school year often marks a new beginning for everyone, not just the kids. It’s a great time to shake up old routines: waking up 15 minutes earlier so mornings go that much smoother, packing backpacks at night, or even switching out last year’s standard rotation of school lunches. There are only so many ways to make a sandwich interesting. Here are a few fun ideas for kicking up your school lunch game.
1. Bento Boxes.
Packaging can make all the difference. I love bento boxes. They’re fun and different than what the other kids will bring for lunch. They reduce waste by providing neat compartments for both the “main meal” as well as various snacks.
2. Sushi Sandwiches.
Over the past five or so years, sushi has become pretty mainstream. Restaurants offer cooked and fried rolls with fillings delicious enough to tempt even the most timid of eaters. Surprise your kids with their own version of sushi – in sandwich form. Even familiar sandwich fillings will be more fun to eat.
3. Zoodles upon zoodles.
If you haven’t tried zoodles yet, get on it! Zoodles are zucchini that has been spiralized or shredded into noodle like strands. You can also do this with other vegetables like carrots or sweet potatoes, but zucchini has a nice neutral taste that helps it stand in for noodles in most recipes you’d normally make. They’re a fun and delicious way to incorporate more vegetables into your family’s meals. Zoodles and meatballs or zoodles with peanut sauce (if peanuts are allowed at your school) will make lunch time feel like a real meal.
4. Snacking is more fun.
Sometimes it’s more fun to sample and snack your way through a meal instead of having just one main “entree.” It’s one of the reasons Lunchables have had a enduring place in kids’ hearts for generations. But why buy the same old plastic Lunchable pack, when the sky’s the limit if you create your own. The key is to make sure that the lunch covers all the major nutritional bases: protein, carbohydrate, fruit, and vegetable. Here are some ideas to mix and match for each category:
- Protein: Sliced turkey rolled pickles, chunks of cheddar cheese, hummus, shelled edamame, hardboiled eggs
- Carbohydrates: crackers, pita triangles, rice cakes, mini whole-grain muffins
- Fruit: Grapes, berries, cherries, etc.
- Veggies: Sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, etc.
5. Mini egg muffins.
Mini egg muffins are a great protein alternative to lunchmeat. They’re easy to batch cook on Sundays for easy morning lunch time prep. The best thing about them is that once you’ve made them a few times, a recipe really isn’t needed. Throw eggs and milk together with whatever veggies you have in the fridge and you’re done! You can also customize the flavors to your kids’ tastes with pizza inspired muffins or even a little mild buffalo sauce.
6. Be bold with new flavors.
Instead of sticking with the classic American lunch flavors and combos like a turkey sandwich and Cheeze-its, try mixing things up with spices and flavors from different cultures. For a taste of India, try adding mild curry powder to your standard chicken salad recipe. Falafel can be packed with pita and hummus for a little lunch time trip to Greece. Nori sheets, popular in Japan and available at Trader Joes, are a great crunchy snack alternative to crackers. Of course some kids are more open to new tastes than others, so adjust according to your little ones. Here are a few recipes and links to get you started:
- Curried Chicken Salad (My Recipes)
- Pro tip: use rotisserie chicken as a short-cut
- Falafel (Weelicious)
- Trader Joe’s Nori Snacks
What are your tips and tricks for keeping school lunches interesting?