Whether you're new to packing school lunches or have been doing it for years, you could probably use some inspiration.
We asked three local chefs for some strategies to jazz up that daily chore. Consider their tips and recipes the next time you yawn just thinking about peanut butter and jelly.
Tanya Tandoc, owner of Tanya's Soup Kitchen, said her mom used to pack lunch boxes with dinner leftovers.
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It "made us the target of some ridicule," Tandoc says, "as we were eating cold stir-fry over rice or cold chicken adobo or spaghetti while the other kids were eating PB&J or school lunch.
"I used to beg her to make something 'normal' so everyone didn't think we were so weird," she said.
Now she appreciates things that are original as well as tasty, like the kid-friendly chilled soups she calls "smoopys." This one is best cold, so make it the day before, chill overnight in the fridge and pour it into a thermos in the morning.
Coco-Cherry Smoopy with Hidden Tofu
4 cups sweet dark cherries, pitted and roughly chopped (or 4 cups frozen tart cherries, thawed)
1 package silken tofu
1 can coconut milk
1/2 cup apple juice or water to thin (if it seems too thick for you)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons to 1/3 cup sugar or honey, to taste
Puree everything in a blender until smooth. Check for sweetness and texture and adjust as necessary. Tandoc adds: "Under no circumstances tell your children that this contains tofu."
Bobby Lane, co-owner and chef at Chester's Chophouse, doesn't have kids but he knows how to make simple dishes tasty and attractive. Lane's lunch-box tips:
* Forgo the sandwich bread and make a simple entree by wrapping deli meat and cheese around a pickle spear. Secure with toothpicks. Serve with your child's favorite dipping sauce, such as ranch or honey mustard.
* Make lettuce wraps using last night's leftovers. Chop up leftover meat — beef, chicken, pork, whatever — and toss in sweet chili sauce (available at Asian markets). In another container, place sauteed squash and zucchini (or whatever veggies your child prefers). Serve with several lettuce leaves and any dipping sauce.
* If your child turns his or her nose up at apple slices the second they turn brown, try this trick from Robert Malicoat, one of Lane's bartenders: Toss the apple slices in a little cinnamon before storing them in a plastic bag or takeout box. They taste great, and the cinnamon conceals the natural browning.
Paris-trained Melinda Burrows recently moved from Los Angeles to Wichita to become Wichita State University's new executive chef.
Her lunch-box ideas for the start of another school year are fresh, simple and beautiful and highlight summer's goodness.
Watermelon Blueberry Salad with Lime and Honey
1/2 cup watermelon balls
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
Cut watermelon in half and scoop out 15-20 balls; place in small bowl. Wash and drain blueberries; add to watermelon. In a small bowl whisk together lime juice and honey; pour over fruit and gently toss to coat evenly.
Mini Whole Wheat Caprese Pizza
1 whole-wheat English muffin
2 ounces fresh mozzarella
3 cherry tomatoes
fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Pinch of kosher salt
Split and toast muffin. Thinly slice mozzarella into eight pieces. Cut cherry tomatoes in half. Whisk olive oil and vinegar in small bowl. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the mixture onto each muffin half. Layer four cheese slices per muffin half; place three cherry tomato halves around center of muffin; garnish with fresh basil leaves. Season with salt.
A first-week menu
Need a kick-start? Here's a week's worth of lunches that take just minutes to prepare:
* Monday: Pita bread with hummus and chopped vegetables; cheese cubes; cherry tomatoes.
* Tuesday: Tuna salad sandwich; baby carrots with ranch dip; grapes.
* Wednesday: Ham and cheese mini-sub (serve on a hot dog bun); fruit cocktail; Goldfish crackers.
* Thursday: Cold pasta salad with chicken; string cheese; apple.
* Friday: Peanut butter and banana sandwich; sugar snap peas; pita chips; raisins.
* Pack only what your child will eat. If he or she regularly eats only half a sandwich, send a half.
* Keep drinks simple — water or milk are healthier than most boxed fruit juices.
* Tired of soggy sandwiches? Pack lettuce, tomatoes and other veggies separately so kids can add them to their sandwiches at lunchtime. For PB&Js, spread peanut butter on both pieces of bread and a layer of jam in between.
* For a fun kabob, alternate pieces of fruit with chunks of cheese on a skewer or plastic coffee stirrer.
* Vary your menu and presentation to spice things up, but don't get radical. Stick to foods you know your kids already like, or chances are they'll end up in the trash.
* Every now and then, surprise your child. Use a cookie cutter to cut a sandwich into a heart or star. Throw in a colorful birthday napkin. Add a note or joke from Mom and Dad.