Pack Creativity in Kids' Lunches
Jazz up meals at school by thinking beyond the lunchbox.
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Back to school doesn't have to mean back to boring lunches. Sure, there are limitations (not many microwaves in school lunchrooms), but with some planning and a little creativity, your child's lunch can be the one that's most popular on the trading block.
Here are some ideas that can help frustrated packers of lunches or fuel inspiration in those just entering the school-lunch scene.
Here are some ways to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary - or at least into something they will eat.
- Cut sandwiches into different shapes with cookie cutters or use bread crimpers to seal the sandwiches.
- Keep the sandwiches fresh and dry by packing the bread and the filling separately. Sandwiches can be assembled at lunch, and if they aren't, who cares? They still have the basics for a good meal.
- Mix up the grains. Sliced white bread can get pretty dull. There's a whole new world out there with pita bread, English muffins, tortillas and whole-grain breads.
- Use hot-dog buns - they look like submarines - for an under-the-sea adventure. You also can give the illusion of a "hot dog" by taking a couple of slices of deli ham and wrap it around a cheese stick. It looks like a hot dog, and you can even garnish it with mustard and chopped-up pickles (relish, if you will).
Not everyone is a sandwich eater, and let's face it: No one can eat sandwiches day in and day out. Here are some breadless ideas:
- Spice up things with a gourmet taco kit. Put shredded cheese, lettuce, chicken and salsa in separate bags along with a couple of taco shells for a taco treat.
- Dump the bread altogether and make "sushi." Roll sliced turkey, roast beef or ham into pinwheels stuffed with sandwich fillings.
- Build your own "Lunchable." Send sliced meat, cheese and crackers in separate containers (don't forget dessert). And there's no rule that says tuna salad has to be on bread - send large Goldfish crackers instead.
- Have fruit fondue. Chop up several kinds of fruit and send some yogurt for dipping. Ditto for veggies. Hummus, peanut butter or cottage cheese make great dipping "sauces" in place of high-fat dressings.
Play It Safe
Whether or not you're a sandwich person, you still need to remember to practice basic food-safety rules. After all, you wouldn't want to eat a sandwich that's been stuffed in a locker all morning, either. Here are some ways to keep lunches cool:
- First of all, invest in an insulated lunch bag.
- Freeze juice boxes the night before. Packed in an insulated lunch box, they not only will keep lunch cool, but also will be nice and cold for drinking by lunchtime.
- Send fresh apple slices packed in a thermos of lemonade. The lemonade will keep the apples crisp and sweet (and not brown) and the apples will give the lemonade (apple cider works, too) a tasty twist.
- Remind kids to toss perishable food items after lunch and save only shelf-stable items, such as trail mix, popcorn, granola or cereal bars, for later. If you want to go the shelf-stable route, other items include raisins, single-serve applesauce and fruit cups, dried fruit, nonrefrigerated pudding cups, beef jerky and nuts.
- Be clean. Not only should you wash your hands (and the fruits and vegetables) before packing, your child should lather up before eating. A packet of wipes in the lunch box can be a gentle reminder.
You now can consider yourself armed with ideas, but be warned: Your child could have the most creative and nutritious lunch at the table, but she might trade it all for a Twinkie. Welcome back to school.