This year we had a revolution in our kitchen! After 8 years of packing school lunches in the morning, my husband Andrew and I switched to packing the lunches at night while we’re cleaning up from dinner. This seismic shift was inspired by our son Solomon’s early departure for middle school (his bus comes at 6:55!!), but now that we’ve changed our routine, our mornings are so much calmer that we doubt we’ll ever go back to our old habits.

Solomon and Celia usually bring their lunches to school, and while it’s extra work for Andrew and me, we’re glad to know that they’re eating something nutritious mid-day.  But sometimes we get into a rut of packing the same foods day after day, and it gets pretty dull for the kids.

Here are 10 creative ideas that might bounce you and your kids out of the lunch rut:

1. Tuna, chicken or egg salad with whole grain crackers

2. Leftovers like pasta, tortellini with tomato sauce, pizza, chicken, turkey sausage or steak (kids don’t seem to mind eating them cold).  Save little condiment packages from takeout food to use as dip

3. Black beans and rice or other rice salads

4. Healthy soup or chili in a thermos (see my Simple Chicken Noodle Soup recipe below)

5. Trail mix made with raisins, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and chocolate chips (or your kids’ favorite items

6. Healthy dried cereals (milk is optional)

7. Baby carrots, celery, sliced cucumbers, red bell peppers and pita chips with hummus or other dip

8. Popcorn (a kid-friendly whole grain), alone or mixed with raisins and nuts

9. Proteins like cheese sticks or cubes, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, chickpeas, edamame, or other legumes

10. Steamed corn on the cob

You and your kids can have a great time together learning about healthy lunches at Fizzy’s Lunch Lab (http://pbskids.org/lunchlab/#/food).  Each week The Lunch Lab  releases a new animated short video as well as a corresponding recipe for kids and parents to enjoy.

See what children all over the world eat at school:  http://whatsforschoollunch.blogspot.com/

Get 365 lunch ideas for every season from Laptop Lunches: http://www.laptoplunches.com/bento-menus/

This simple recipe is perfect for soothing winter colds and coughs.  Making it isn’t that much harder than warming a can of soup, but you’ll probably feel better knowing that your family is eating your homemade elixir.  Make sure to slice the vegetables thinly, which helps them cook faster.

We’d love to hear what your kids’ favorite homemade lunches are! Please share them in the comments below.

Recipe: Simple Chicken Noodle Soup

  • Prep Time: 10 min(s)
  • Cook Time: 20 min(s)
  • Total Time: 30 min(s)
  • Servings: 6 servings, about 2 cups each

A perfect, simple recipe is perfect for soothing winter colds and coughs.

Ingredients

    • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or use diced shiitake mushrooms or extra-firm tofu)
    • 48 oz. low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
    • 2 carrots, thinly sliced
    • 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
    • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
    • 1/4 tsp. herbes de Provence (or use 1/4 tsp. dried thyme)
    • 2 cups fine egg noodles (or use 1 cup alphabet noodles)
    • 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

    • In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, combine the chicken, broth, carrots, celery, onions, and herbs.  Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to medium and simmer it until the chicken turns white, about 10 minutes. (For a meatless version, stir in diced shiitake mushrooms or tofu with the noodles.)
    • With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside to cool, keeping the broth at a low boil.  After the chicken cools slightly, shred or dice it into bite-size pieces.
    • While the chicken is cooling, add the noodles to the boiling broth. Cook them for 8 minutes, or until the noodles are tender.  Stir in the chicken and parsley.

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  • Diana

    Many of my greatest lunch creations came home untouched – maddening! We decided to give the kids short menus with different groups – a sandwich group, a fruit group, etc, and each evening they get to “order” their lunch, one item from each group. I just have to keep their favorites on hand each week. We found that they prefer familiarity over variety, so we keep the new food introductions to dinner time. Aviva, your top 10 is a great place to start for making a kids’ lunch menu!

  • Aviva Goldfarb

    Diana, I know, it’s so frustrating when the kids don’t eat what we pack for them, but we should consider if we might be giving them too much food if that’s the case or make sure one of their school friends isn’t sharing too much. I also just learned of a new lunchbox (packit) that keeps the food cold all day, so if they bring it home it’s still safe to eat.

  • http://sarahscucinabella.com Sarah Caron

    Great ideas! Another idea for those leftovers? Heat them in the AM and send them in a thermos to school — it keeps them warm for up to 5 hrs or so. But my favorite lunch to send right now is slices of cheese, a meat, crackers and red peppers. I pack them in a resealable container inside little silicone cups. It’s cute and healthier than the premade versions.

  • http://inspiredrd.com Alysa Bajenaru, RD, CPT

    Creative ideas! If your kids will eat leftovers, that makes it so nice to be able to pack their lunches at night while cleaning up. Great timesaver!

  • Aviva Goldfarb

    Love those ideas, Sarah! I also pack leftovers in a thermos and I was told to keep it warmer by filling it with boiling water for 10 or 15 minutes before adding the food.

  • http://www.traytalk.org SNA President Nancy Rice

    Before you pack a lunch from home, take another look at your school cafeteria menu. A recent survey found that school meals include more whole grains, vegetarian options, fresh fruit and vegetables, and that schools are reducing the sodium and added sugar in the foods they serve. Check out http://www.TrayTalk.org for more information about school meals and how to get involved in your school nutrition program.

    School Nutrition Association President Nancy Rice, M.Ed., RD, LD, SNS

  • http://www.bordencom.com Lisa Borden

    Aviva – thanks for suggesting that I share my Eating-On-The-Go Guide here – hope everyone can find some inspiration inside (I’m a working mom of 3, so i get “it” :) –> http://www.scribd.com/doc/34332859/Eating-On-The-Go-Guide

  • Aviva Goldfarb

    Thank you, Nancy and Lisa for that really helpful additional information and the links. Great resources!

  • http://www.lakebreeze.org/blog3 DawnK

    My 18yo daughter loved getting fresh fruit in her lunch a few years ago, after she was confirmed. We’d had a fruit salad at the party and had a variety of fresh fruit on hand. I cut it up and got it ready the night before, because mornings are just too hectic.

    Most of the time she took sandwiches to school, but we did change it up a little bit by putting the same meat/cheese, into pita pockets with hummus instead of mayo.

  • http://www.mommydietitian.com Angela Lemond

    Ahhh, Aviva. You did it again! Great ideas for families. This goes along with what I just posted on my blog about brown bag lunches. If you don’t put the time into making a quality lunch, is it really better than the school lunch they would be served? Food for thought at: http://tinyurl.com/2aeepkc Thanks for helping families everywhere prepare a quality brown bagged lunch!

  • http://savorysweetlife.com alice

    Great post, Aviva! I love all your ideas and I am loving the comments with helpful links.

  • http://www.twokidscooking.com Kelly

    These area great ideas, I particularly love the popcorn idea. My kids usually just want a sandwich, fruit and chips, but I could swap the chips with popcorn and I know they wouldn’t bat an eye.

    Great ideas, thanks for sharing!

  • Aviva Goldfarb

    Thanks, Kelly. For popcorn, we like to make it from scratch using real kernels rather than the bags of microwave popcorn. Hope your kid enjoy the special treat!

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