Suzanne Tobias

New school year marks another chance to up my lunchbox game

Like many Pinterest boards, one of mine titled “Lunchbox Ideas” is chock full of ridiculous and impossible dreams.

I see things on the internet that seem quick, easy and delicious — things like mason jar salads and chipotle tuna-stuffed avocados and no-bake energy bites and homemade peanut butter granola – and I pin them to my board with every intention of adding them to my lunch rotation.

I envision packing my own lunch more often, or at least streamlining the process for my lunchbox-packing teens.

I see myself prepping ingredients ahead of time on Sunday night — pre-washing fruit, boiling eggs, slicing peppers, cutting cheese into cubes, dividing grapes into individual bags — and dedicating one shelf of our fridge to glorious towers of grab-and-go foods.

Have you seen what I’m talking about, these blue-ribbon snack stations? Neatly stacked containers brim with string cheese, yogurt cups, organic juice boxes and baby carrots. Alongside them sit decorative baskets of flax-seed crackers or quinoa wafers or whatever the Whole Foods kids are eating these days.

And don’t get me started on the Bento box works of art. One favorite shows an “Oscar the Grouch” spinach salad with cheese-and-olive eyes and carved-bread eyebrows.

As if.

When it comes to Pinterest, I dream big, especially at the start of another school year.

By the second week of classes, however, I’m spooning store-brand peanut butter into a container, searching for the matching lid and scrounging for something — anything — edible that could be used to dip it.

On a good day? Celery sticks. Bad day? Leftover fortune cookies from last night’s takeout.

School lunches hold such promise, like a new box of crayons or a blank composition book. It’s a shame the optimism fades so quickly.

This year will be different, I’m telling myself. I’ve done my research and pinned page after page of healthy lunchbox options. All it takes — as I’ve learned in the past with family dinners and making the bed — is a little planning and steady commitment.

Over the summer I found a copycat recipe for Chipotle rice, for example, a tasty grain to add to our lunchbox rotation. Add a lean meat and some salsa and cheese, and my son could recreate one of his favorite meals quickly and cheaply.

And there are always the old standbys: veggies and hummus, PB&J, cheese and crackers, pasta salad. We didn’t eat those very much this summer so they’d be more appealing at school lunch time.

We’ll see how it goes. I’ve had plenty of practice making school lunches over the years — some inspired, some awful, some forgotten altogether. Most have been decidedly mediocre.

But every school year marks a new opportunity to raise the bar, and I’m up for the challenge. Just don’t expect any works of art.

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

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