Think Outside the (Lunch)Box!

Fast, healthy and creative ways to pack a school lunch that your kids will actually eat. 

Story and Photography By Kerry Guice

healthy lunchbox ideas
 

When my daughter started school, I remember searching Pinterest for lunchbox inspiration and I actually walked away from my computer feeling angry. Were there really parents out there who created Hello Kitty sculptures out of deli meat or was it a conspiracy to make busy moms crazy? Perhaps it’s a bit of both, but my kids go to a school where most students bring their lunches, and I’ve yet to see any apples carved into Elsa and Anna, so I’m convinced Pinterest doesn’t have a mom’s best interest at heart when it comes to packing a lunch. It’s not a Food Network judges’ table, it’s a cafeteria full of kids who can barely open their yogurt tubes!

With all that being said, I really do want to give my kids a healthy, pretty lunch that reminds them that they’re loved in the middle of a hectic day. I miss them when they are at school, and I love knowing that they might think of me when they open their lunchboxes. When my daughter was asked during her pre-K graduation ceremony “What was your favorite part of pre-K?” her answer was “Lunchtime!” It makes me happy to connect with my kids through good food, and lunchbox love notes help, too!

Choosing a lunchbox is no easy task. My biggest concern was finding one that was truly leak-proof, as both my kids are fans of yogurt. I went through several cheaper brands before finally deciding to invest in a Yumbox. You will not find a leak-proof brand at the grocery store. You will also not find a child who will gently carry their lunchbox to class like it’s a carton of eggs. It is worth it to invest in a lunchbox that will make it to lunchtime and keep everything in its place. There are a few different configurations for the Yumbox inserts and we like them all. It helps to have options!

When designing school lunches for elementary school kids, it’s important to give them a little bit of a lot. Options are so important with teaching kids to eat a variety of foods, and when introducing a new food, you don’t want them to feel obligated to eat a lot all at once. The small compartments in the Yumbox allow you to pack several different kinds of foods, and it encourages them to try it all. My son and daughter have different tastes, so the different compartments also make it easy to customize their individual lunchboxes.

I’m not against The Sandwich. I’m really not. But I know I would get bored eating one every single day. My inspiration for packing a lunchbox is to think of what I would pack for a picnic full of food-loving friends. Packing for a picnic presents the same challenges: what will keep for a few hours, what foods are crowd pleasers, etc. This is a great guideline to keep in mind when packing lunches. I also try to incorporate what I make for dinner into their lunch the next day to save time. If we’ve made homemade pizza, I’ll pack pizza rolls. If we’ve had roasted chicken, I’ll pack cold chicken quesadillas. I try to balance convenience with making the kids feel like I’ve put some thought into their meal.

TIPS 

FREEZE YOGURT TUBES! THEY’LL ACT AS AN ICE PACK AND WILL BE THE PERFECT TEMPERATURE TO EAT COME LUNCHTIME.

PACK COLD PASTA SALADS FOR BIGGER KIDS, LOADED WITH THEIR FAVORITE VEGGIES.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SEASONAL PRODUCE. WHEN FRUITS AND VEGGIES ARE IN SEASON, THEY’RE NOT ONLY CHEAPER, BUT THEY ARE TASTIER, PRETTIER AND HEALTHIER!

GET KIDS INVOLVED! IF THEY LIKE TO BE IN THE KITCHEN, LET THEM SLICE THE VEGGIES OR PICK WHICH FRUIT THEY’LL HAVE.

DON’T FORGET TO INCLUDE SOMETHING YOU KNOW THEY LOVE. IF THEY WOULD LIVE OFF OF PB&J’S, PACK THEM HALF OF ONE, ALONG WITH OTHER BETTER SOURCES OF PROTEIN SO THEY DON’T FEEL LIKE YOU’RE TRYING TO DEPRIVE THEM. ALSO, DARK CHOCOLATE TUCKED INSIDE A LUNCHBOX IS ALWAYS A WINNER.

DITCH THE RANCH DRESSING, AND TRY HUMMUS OR GUACAMOLE TO DIP YOUR VEGGIES. TO KEEP THE GUACAMOLE FROM BROWNING, SQUEEZE A LAYER OF LIME JUICE ON TOP BEFORE CLOSING THE LUNCHBOX.

PACK NEW FOODS! WHEN KIDS ARE HUNGRY AND THERE IS FOOD IN FRONT OF THEM, CHANCES ARE THEY’LL TRY IT. ADD A NEW FOOD HERE AND THERE TO THEIR LUNCHBOX, BUT ALWAYS START OUT WITH A SMALL SERVING, SUCH AS ONE SLICE OF RADISH ALONGSIDE YOUR KIDS’ FAVORITE VEGGIES AND DIP VERSUS A WHOLE CONTAINER OF RADISHES THAT MAY SEEM INTIMIDATING.

PACK SOME GRANOLA IN A SEPARATE CONTAINER TO SPRINKLE ON TOP OF YOGURT FOR A HEALTHY CRUNCH.

CRESCENT ROLL PINWHEELS, TWO WAYS

BROCCOLI, HAM & CHEESE PINWHEELS
Makes 2-4 servings
2 triangles of crescent rolls, pinched at the seam to create a rectangle
1 slice of deli cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons chopped broccoli florets
1-2 slices of deli ham, chopped

Lay the cheese and ham on the crescent dough, then sprinkle the broccoli on top.
Roll tightly without breaking the seam.
Slice into ½-inch thick pinwheels and place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake in a 350-degree preheated oven for 10-12 minutes.

PIZZA CRESCENT PINWHEELS
Makes 2-4 servings
2 triangles of crescent rolls, pinched at the seam to create a rectangle
1 tablespoon of pizza sauce
3 tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese
6 slices pepperoni

Spread the sauce on the crescent dough, then sprinkle the cheese and lay the pepperoni.
Roll tightly without breaking the seam.
Slice into ½-inch thick pinwheels and place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake in a 350-degree preheated oven for 10-12 minutes.

 
Lunchbox pasta recipe
 

COLD ORZO PASTA SALAD
½ cup orzo, cooked, drained and rinsed
1 handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 handful of olives
1 handful of torn fresh spinach leaves
1 tablespoon of lemony salad dressing

Toss all ingredients together and serve cold.