Lunchbox Challenge: 20 Ways to Feed Your Kid
In September, the kids’ lunchboxes are still clean, no one has yet lost their new water bottles and there are few complaints about lunch.
Overachieving and fun parents might be coordinating their kids’ lunches by color or theme. And even us regular parents are taking the time to cut the sandwiches into triangles and pack homemade cookies. By May we’ll laugh at this fresh-faced naivete.
But for now, here are ideas to take you through the first few weeks of school. Some of them are basic or obvious, but when you’re in a rut, you’ll be glad to have this list. Hang on to it or stick it on the refrigerator when you need a mental boost. If you have older kids, let them take a look so they can make lunch for themselves!
One Month of Lunch Ideas, or 20 Ways to Pack a Lunch
1. Tropical smoothie
Smoothies are a great way to sneak greens into the diets of picky kids. Most kids will love this sweet tropical smoothie. Blend 1 cup frozen pineapple, 1 cup strawberries, 3 cups loosely packed baby spinach, 1 frozen banana and 1 ½ cups coconut water. Pack in a thermos with a straw.
2. Tex-Mex rice bowl
Layer a container with brown rice, shredded cheese, pinto beans, veggies and salsa. Let them mix it up and eat with a fork or as a dip with tortilla chips.
3. Avocado whip dip
In a blender, mix 1 ripe avocado (peeled and pitted) with ½ cup plain yogurt and 1 tablespoon lime juice. Pack as a dip with veggies or spread on whole-wheat pita or crackers.
4. Easy Ham Rollup
Makes 1 serving
- 1 tortilla
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- Salt and pepper
- 2 slices ham
- 2 slices thin-sliced cheese
- Arugula (if they’ll eat it!)
- Lay tortilla flat.
- In a small bowl, combine mayo, mustard and salt and pepper, to taste. Spread on tortilla. Lay ham and cheese on top. Add arugula. Wrap tightly, tucking in ham, cheese and lettuce as you go. Wrap in plastic wrap, then refrigerate overnight.
- Cut into 1-inch rounds, and place in lunchbox. Fun to pack with chopsticks!
5. Turkey and cheese mini bagel
When you’re out of (or tired of) sandwich bread, make a sandwich on a mini bagel. Smear with plain cream cheese. Add turkey, cheese and sliced pickles.
6. Mini charcuterie board
Make a portable cheese board with wedges of Brie (or a soft-spread cheese like Laughing Cow), crackers, grapes, strawberries, baby carrots and nuts.
7. Ranch pasta salad
Combine cooked seashell pasta with peas, shredded carrots, cheddar cheese cubes and crumbled bacon with ranch dressing for this salad that’s a nice change of pace from a sandwich.
8. Chili cheese baked potato
This is an especially good one for middle schoolers. If they have access to a microwave, even better. Top a potato or sweet potato with cheese, sour cream or steamed veggies for a filling lunch. For kids with big appetites, pile on the protein – bacon or chili are both great.
9. Quinoa chicken salad
Roughly chop some pieces of leftover chicken or rotisserie chicken and add to cooked quinoa. Drizzle with your kiddo’s favorite salad dressing. Add cheese, veggies or nuts for crunch and flavor.
10. Blueberry Banana Smoothie Bowl
Makes 3 servings
- 1 banana, cut into chunks
- 1 cup frozen blueberries
- 1 cup apple juice
- ¾ cup vanilla yogurt
- ½ cup crushed ice
- Sprinkle of cinnamon
- 1 cup granola
- ¼ cup dried blueberries
- ½ cup banana chips
- In a blender combine banana, blueberries, apple juice, yogurt, ice and cinnamon. Blend 30 seconds or until smooth. Divide smoothie into three containers that will stay cool.
- In three separate containers, pack granola, dried blueberries and banana chips. Before serving, pour smoothie mixture over granola mixture.
11. Peanut butter pitas
When a plain old PB&J is getting boring, slice open pita bread to make a pocket, then smear the inside with crunchy peanut butter and stuff with thinly sliced apples. It makes a delicious sandwich!
12. Lunch eggs and toast
Here’s a fun twist on a breakfast favorite. Wrap toasted bread in parchment (let it cool first so it won’t be soggy). Include little restaurant condiment packages of butter or jelly. Pack hard-boiled eggs to go with it.
13. Pesto or parmesan tortellini
Boil a bag of frozen cheese tortellini. While warm, toss with pesto. For kids who aren’t into green, toss the tortellini with a little butter and parmesan. This one is a favorite for kids from toddlers to teens.
14. You dip, I dip, we dip
Kids will love an “all dip” lunch. Pack pretzels, chips, carrot sticks or any favorite dipping tool. Then fill several small containers with different dips – salsa, bean dip, plain yogurt, ranch dressing.
15. Lunchbox Banana Bread
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 stick butter, softened
- 2 eggs
- 2 bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three mini loaf pans; set aside.
- Combine sugar and butter in bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy. Add eggs, beating until well mixed. Add bananas and vanilla, beating at low speed until well mixed. Stir in all remaining ingredients.
- Spoon batter into pans. Bake 33-38 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand 5 minutes; remove from pans. Cool completely.
16. Mini pepper pizzas
Quarter a bell pepper. Spread with a thin layer of pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and mini pepperoni. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. A great gluten-free pizza option.
17. Kids’ kabobs
Your kids will love discovering lunch on a skewer. The options are endless here, but some delicious and fun examples include skewers of pepperoni, mozzarella and black olives, a kabob of cantaloupe, ham and cheddar cheese, or grapes, turkey and cherry tomatoes.
18. Pancake bites
Here’s a good one for preschoolers. Cut pancakes with a pizza cutter to make small pancake bites. Kids can pick them up with their hands and dip them in a little maple syrup or apple butter.
19. Homemade Uncrustables
It’s super easy to make your own version of this treat. Make a PB&J as usual, then use a cookie cutter to make a shape, leaving the crust behind. Heart, flowers or circles are all good choices for the best ratio. Gently push down the edges of the sandwich, then freeze. Wrap tightly, storing in the freezer until ready to use. Then pack in the lunchbox frozen, and the sandwich will thaw by lunchtime.
20. BBQ Chicken Taquitos
Makes 4 servings
- 1 cup cooked, shredded chicken breast
- 3 tablespoons barbecue sauce
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 4 flour tortillas
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine chicken, barbecue sauce and cheese in bowl.
- Spoon chicken evenly into four tortillas. Roll tightly, and place seam-side down on baking sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
- Cut in half and place in a thermos to stay warm or roll tightly in foil. Kids also like them served cold with ranch dressing as a dip!
Natalie Mikles is a mom of three – 12-year-old twin girls and an 11-year-old boy. She writes about food, sharing recipes for busy families and picky eaters. She has been recognized for her food columns as well as features on families and issues affecting local children. She loves pizza and movie nights with her family.