New Ideas for a Better Packed Lunch
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches may be an American classic, but seeing a squished version in the bottom of your lunch box day after day gets old, fast. Throw in some baby carrots, apple slices and a granola bar, and your packed lunch will elicit an even bigger yawn.
Thankfully, lunch doesn't have to be like this! With so many unique products on the market now, and so much delicious Orange County produce available year-round, packing a lunch that both you and your child will be excited about is pretty easy. Even parents whose mornings are too busy to devote much time to food preparation can take advantage of these easy and exciting brown bag lunch ideas.
First, a few principles for tastier, healthier lunches:
- Think outside the sandwich. Plenty of other foods offer similar or better nutritional value, and can be prepared in an equally convenient format. Try a yogurt parfait, mini frittata, pasta salad, leftovers, or even a Bento box full of different little nibbles. And if you do pack sandwiches, change it up occasionally by making a wrap, burrito, stuffed roll, or panini (pressed sandwich).
- Prep on the weekends or while making dinner. If you're required to come up with new lunch ideas at 6 a.m. when the house is in choas and you're lacking sufficient coffee, it will be difficult. Instead, spend some time on the weekend shopping, cooking and organizing food for the week. Or, set aside some ingredients when you're making dinner. Even washing and chopping fruits and vegetables ahead of time can make lunch-packing a much quicker task.
- Take help from the grocery store. There is a lot of packaged junk out there, especially when it comes to "kid food." But even healthier food companies are also starting to make convenient, pre-packaged foods for busy, health-conscious parents. Look in the natural or organic section of your grocery store for fun snacks from brands you trust.
- Invest in a Bento box and ice pack. Any lunch box/tray with separate containers will allow you to pack a real meal, and an ice pack will allow you to pack perishable items. Both of these will greatly increase the number of food options for packed lunches.
9 Great Food Ideas for a Better Packed Lunch
- Yogurt parfaits. Mix applesauce, canned pumpkin, or a spoonful of jam into plain yogurt, then layer it with fresh chopped fruit or berries (use frozen in wintertime) in a jar or clear portable container. Then pack a separate bag of granola, cereal and/or nuts that your child can sprinkle on as he/she eats.
- Homemade frozen waffles. If you make pancakes or waffles on the weekends, make some extra and freeze them in Ziploc baggies. 20-30 seconds in the microwave and you'll have a kid-friendly lunch-on-the-go. You could even add some nut butter and jelly in between 2 pancakes or waffles for a new take on the PB & J.
- Chicken or tofu fajitas. Sliced, leftover grilled chicken or store-bought seasoned tofu + sauteed veggies, shredded cheese and a tortilla = make-your-own-fajitas. Pack each ingredient separately so your child can assemble at lunchtime.
- Black beans and rice. Most kids like beans and rice. Add a little mild salsa and some shredded cheese and you have a balanced meal that your child can enjoy warm or cold.
- Finger food Bento box. No need to have a main dish. Edamame, cheese cubes, cherry tomatoes, blueberries and whole grain animal crackers make a complete meal that kids enjoy and moms feel good about.
- Veggies with dip. Not a unique idea at first glance, but if you pack a variety of veggies with 3 different dips and give your child the task of choosing a favorite dip (he/she has to give you the verdict after school), suddenly, lunchtime is a lot of fun. Use homemade or store-bought hummus, tzaziki, yogurt dip, bean dip, salsa or guacamole.
- Skewers. Kids seem to like foods that surprise them, like food on a skewer. Whether you serve the traditional meat and veggies, or offer fruit, tomato-mozzarella-basil or potato and cheese kabobs, your child is sure to love eating food off a stick.
- Flatbread pizza. Despite it's bad rap, you can add all sorts of healthy ingredients to a pizza, and it can be happily eaten cold or at room temperature. Cut it into little squares for easy eating.
- Salad shaker. No, salad isn't the first thing you think of when you think "kid food." But layer your child's favorite veggies - finely chopped - along with diced turkey, cheese, and rice in a mason jar or other clear container. Provide their favorite dressing on the side, then instruct them to shake it all up come lunchtime. The shaking is fun and the salad is unique enough to be a hit.
Still not sure you can pack a unique and healthy lunch this new school year? Take some help from The Hot Lunch Lady. Her San Juan Capistrano kitchen prepares great lunches for both kids and adults around Orange County.