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School Lunch Help

CDKitchen Cooking Columnist Christine Gable
About the author: Christine Gable
Culinary enthusiast; kids cuisine and slow cooking; magazine recipe developer; professional writer. Her simple recipes are great for family dinners.
Do your kids buy lunch in the school cafeteria? Or do you face the 180-day-pack-the-lunch daily challenge? And a challenge it is—if you’re not going to rely on Lunch-ables, that is (And who can afford pre-packaged convenience these days?!). If you would even want to.

There’s always peanut butter and jelly. But everyday? Boorrriing. Well, if your kids like variety and a packed lunch, it’s a sure thing that you could use some help, eh? Life has become so speedy and hustle-bustle that it’s challenge enough to make sure there’s money in the account and food in the refrig. And forget creative lunch packing when the coffee has barely kicked in.

But the other half of the equation is “who is doin’ the packin.’” Yep, if your kids are 5th grade or older, how about suggesting they do the packin’ … you could even start with one day a week (“Fridays Mom just needs a break!”) or Mondays (“Help Dad get the week started on the right foot!”). There really is no better way to help your kids build their kitchen skills and grow their confidence than to have them dig right in. Even if it seems like a small job, start delegating. Even if it’s first thing in the morning.

That’s not always easy. I know. I tend to try to “get it all done myself” and it can sometimes seem like too much time and bother to put the training time into a new recruit. But when this newbie is your own kid, think of it as growing their education and skills for a lifetime. For who wants their kids to grow up and not know their way around a kitchen—much less how to pack and prepare their own lunch? For any way you slice it, good home-cooked packins’ are better than what you’ll find at the minute mart anytime. Cheaper on the wallet too.

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So in the interest of helping everyone make it through the rest of the school year with less pain, here are some pack-able lunch ideas that most kids should like. Hey, I know not everything on this list is gonna be a green light—but it’s open to adaptation and customization. I’d love to hear your ideas too … what’s your favorite kid lunch combo? Share a comment!

And who knows, in the end your kids might like packing their own lunch so much that you might lose that job for good (One can only dream!).

Sandwich Fillings:
• Deli meat: ham, roast beef, turkey, salami
• Vegetarian: baked, marinated tofu, phony baloney, tempeh
• Eggs: Egg salad, with or without olives, sliced hard-boiled eggs sprinkled with salt and pepper
• Leftover dinner: chicken or turkey salad, sliced meatloaf
• Canned: tuna salad, salmon salad—add mayo, pickle slices or carrots and green onions
• Cheese: Farmers, muenster, American, hot pepper/olive loaf

Sandwich bread:
• Wheat
• White
• Rye
• Rolls
• Pita bread
• Flour tortillas
• Lettuce (use large leaves like a tortilla)
• Go open-face

Toss in some Veggies:
• Green tossed with cottage cheese
• Pasta salads
• Potato or macaroni salads
• Veggies with dip
• Celery with peanut butter
• Broccoli or cauliflower with ranch dip

Add Crunch in a small ziploc bag:
• Corn chips with salsa
• Baked potato chips
• Baked veggie chips
• Pickles or olives
• Pretzels
• Crackers with cheese
• Crackers with peanut butter
• Fresh apple slices

End with a Sweet Treat:
• Bar cookies
• Granola bars
• One or two freezer cookies (yes, those Christmas leftovers come in handy)
• Small fruit yogurt
• Applesauce
• Canned fruit

And if you’ve got a bit more time …

Go Thermos-bound:
• Soup—vegetable, creamy vegetable, tomato or their fave
• Ramen noodles (undercook a bit so they don’t get too mushy)
• Leftover Dinner casserole (re-heated)
• Hot Beverage: Tea or cocoa

Next week: Go Gluten-free … with Kids?
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