Lunch Box SOS 4

Pack Creative School Meals With ‘Out-of-the-Box’ Ideas

How many times have we stood in our kitchens the night before, or the morning of school for our children, silently pleading with ourselves to come up with a lunch that’s both healthy AND creative? For those who would like their children to be delighted when opening DIY school lunches, read on!

  • Roly Poly Sandwiches: One of the easiest ways to impress grade schoolers with a homemade lunch is to flatten a regular piece of bread with a rolling pin, then pile on toppings. Some options: hazelnut spread, peanut butter and jelly, bologna, lettuce, turkey, ranch dressing or veggies. Roll up the layered concoction, and slice it into chunks or bite-sized pieces with a bread knife. With a permanent marker, draw a version of the armadillo-like, roly poly insects on sandwich bags.
  • Butterflies in My Stomach Pasta Salad: Did you know the fun-shaped bow tie pasta in Italian is called farfalle, which means butterfly? This colorful, cold pasta dish can be chock-full of fresh carrots, corn, edamame, red peppers and sprinkled with shredded Parmesan cheese or Italian seasonings, to change things up from time to time.
  • Hum Along With Pita Bread: Either store-bought or homemade hummus from chickpeas makes one of the creamiest, tasty spreads kids can ever see in lunchboxes. Shhh—just don’t remind them it’s also nutritious. Some pita breads come as pockets; these make excellent partners with hummus and allow kids to decide how much filling with which to engorge sandwiches.
  • Kooky Kebabs: Skewer—while being mindful of age-appropriate safety and not providing pointy-end sticks—grilled chicken chunks with cherry tomatoes, onions, peppers, whole black olives and yellow squash. Or go the fruit route and line up kiwi, apple bites, strawberries and grapes, perhaps with some cheese cubes. To mix it up, create a breakfast kebab with mini-pancakes and fresh blueberries, along with yogurt dip.
  • Mac ‘n’ Cheese Mini Cups: Baked macaroni and cheese in smaller lunch proportions done in muffin tins gives students something to which to look forward. Add broccoli, spinach, pinto beans or various cheeses, such as blue, cheddar and Parmesan.
  • Crunchy Turkey Salad: Give basic turkey and cheese sandwiches a new twist by combining smoked turkey breast with sweet grapes, crunchy almonds and small pieces of provolone cheese.
  • Mini Fruit Pizzas: Purchase sugar cookies, lather them with a layer of one of three mixtures: cream cheese/sugar/vanilla or icing or yogurt, and sprinkle on top favorite fruits, such as raspberries and blueberries. Brush apple jelly over top of fruit.
  • Meat and Cheese Dunks: Pack crackers or pretzels, along with chunks of cheese, tangy mustard and deli-style turkey or Black Forest ham. Raw veggies round out this ultra-easy lunch.
  • Tuna Canoes: Cut celery stalks into 4-inch lengths. Make tuna salad and stuff inside “the canoes.” Dot the canoes with individual peas. Accompany with pretzel sticks to replicate “paddles.”
  • Pickle and Beef Rollups: Skip bread and roll up pickle spears within thinly sliced cold cuts, such as corned beef. One version of this contains cream cheese inside. Mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup or sauces can be added before rolling.
  • Lunch Box Tacos: Send small tortilla breads with containers of meat chunks or hamburger crumbles, shredded cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce, sour cream, guacamole and salsa. They can make their own fiesta!

To avoid school lunchbox boredom, here are a few other tips:

  1. Convert sandwich bread, fruit and meats with cookie cutters into interesting patterns for lunch items.
  2. Access free lunchbox love notes to tuck into meals at or create your own.
  3. Secure some face-related stickers and googly eyes that enable decorating some of the lunch baggies or sacks, giving children something to wonder what will greet them next.
  4. Send lunch items you know kids and teens will eat, not just what you “want” them to eat. School staffers report so many lunches are simply tossed into the trash, uneaten; they remind parents and caretakers that just because an empty lunchbox arrives home doesn’t always mean it was eaten.
  5. Try not to repeat the same meal within the same week, making yourself a lunchbox hero!