Of all the back-to-school tasks on the agenda for September, packing school lunches always feels like the most burdensome. The same turkey sandwich, apple and cookie get boring fast. But do I really want to spend time planning interesting menus for lunchboxes on top of everything else I have to do?
My kids don’t want — or even appreciate — fancy preparations. But they do like variety. This year, I’m trying something new. To keep things quick and simple, I’ve made lists of the different categories of foods I want my children to eat. I’ll stock my refrigerator, freezer and pantry every weekend with items from the lists, and every morning I’ll improvise a new combination to satisfy their nutritional needs and tastes.
I plan to pack my kids’ lunch-box items in BPA-free bento boxes and containers. They keep sandwiches separate from salad without any environmental waste, and won’t leach chemicals into the kids’ food. And they’re fun to open up, especially if you never know what they’ll hold. I’ll put the containers in an insulated lunch box along with an ice pack to keep everything at a safe temperature for eating.
Store a selection of the following items in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer, and you will be able to come up with a different lunch-box combination for every day of the month. Don’t forget to mix in leftovers — chicken, pizza, meatloaf — whenever you have them.
• low-salt ham
• lean roast beef
• peanut butter
• hard-boiled eggs
• hard cheese
• canned beans
• hummus or other pureed bean spread
• low-fat yogurt
• tuna packed in water
• baked tofu
• whole-grain bread
• whole-grain pasta
• brown rice cakes
• whole-wheat tortillas
• mini pita breads or pita chips
• whole-wheat mini bagels
• whole-grain crackers
• whole-grain cereal
Fresh fruits and vegetables
• pineapple chunks
• grape tomatoes
• salad greens
• nuts and seeds
• dried fruit or fruit leather
• graham crackers
• oatmeal cookies
• trail mix
• whole-grain pretzels
• whole-grain tortilla chips or baked potato chips
• square of chocolate
• granola bar
• yogurt-covered raisins
• low-fat mayonnaise
• salad dressing
• jam or jelly
• marinara sauce
• pitted olives
• pickles and pickled vegetables
• other pasta sauces, such as peanut sauce and pesto
Mix and match lunch ideas
Some combinations of lunch items make more sense than others.
To get you started, here are two weeks’ worth of ideas.
Increase portions for older children.
1. Mozzarella balls, grape tomatoes, breadsticks, square of chocolate
2. Whole-wheat pasta with pesto, grape tomatoes, olives
3. Sliced turkey or chicken chunks, romaine lettuce, caesar salad dressing, croutons, dried apricots
4. Hard-boiled eggs, carrots and celery, whole-grain crackers, oatmeal cookie
5. Whole-wheat tortilla, sliced banana, peanut butter, dried cranberries
6. Hummus, whole-wheat pita, cucumber spears, yogurt-covered raisins
7. Cheddar cheese and crackers, grapes, pumpkin seeds
8. Ham and cheese on whole-wheat bread, strawberries, pretzels
9. Tortilla chips and salsa, jack cheese, black beans, pineapple chunks
10. Roast beef on a mini bagel, salad dressing, salad greens, baked potato chips