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Five Days of Fresh Ideas for Back-to-School Lunches

Make back-to-school lunches a breeze with these new ideas from local stores.

The alarm clock blares in the early hours of the morning, your kids come knocking on your door unsure of what to wear, and your dog has her chin resting on your bed, waiting for you to take her out.

If this sounds like the beginning of your week, then it must be back-to-school time. After getting up and following the morning routine you think you remember from last year, you are faced with endless question marks of what to make for your kids’ lunches.

Here are some fresh new ideas on packing lunches for your kids, utilizing the best of our town’s resources.

Monday – Pack a Punch

Sandwiches are the go-to basic of any lunch, but they don’t have to be the same drab sandwich you’ve included in every lunch for your kids. They pick up on routine like they pick up on the outbreak of lice in the first months of school. Try another take on a familiar sandwich and change your add-ons and snacks:

  1. For a spin on PB & J, change the bread to King’s Hawaiian Sandwich rolls. A bit of sweetness mixed with the soft fluffiness King’s is known for will spruce up your kids’ day. ( deli section)
  2. Instead of string cheese, opt for Babybel Cheese. The kids will love peeling the wax off these little rounds and will appreciate the coolest cow wrapper. (Target deli section)
  3. If you can, grab a sack of “Cuties” or Baby Apples. These will last for days and, because of their small size, they will be a snack outside of lunchtime. (Apples – , outside or produce section; “Cuties” or Clementines – Target, produce section)
  4. Freeze your Capri Suns or juice pouches. I don’t have too much to say about this other than your kids will love you for it. There's something about a frozen drink that translates to feeling happy. (Target, Safeway, drink aisle.)

Tuesday – Bongo for Bagels

Some mornings I have bagels prepared for breakfast. Fast, easy to assemble and great for on-the-go. The same concept can be used for lunches, only let your kids decide what they want on the bagels. Use mini bagels for the picky eater or small appetites. That way you don’t waste.

  1. For a bagel sandwich, include a bagel already dressed with cream cheese or mayo and put into a sandwich bag. You can change the cream cheese flavor according to your sandwich. I’ll use ham as an example here. It's a great alternative to turkey and very versatile. Hillshire Farms has an option that comes in a half-and-half pack with turkey in case you want to change it up mid-week. (Target, deli section)
  2. For the belly of the bagel, put your add-ons in a reusable container, using foil to separate them. The foil will help keep any cold items from getting soggy. Use lettuce, tomato, pickle, even lox. I put my condiments like mustard or ketchup into small plastic bags and push it to the corners. Your child can cut or pinch off the corners for a piping effect to add on spreads, and then throw away when done. So easy!
  3. Put mini carrots in one sandwich bag or small container, with ranch dressing in another. Or use other cut-up veggies like broccoli or celery. 
  4. For a sweet treat, I like to put mini packs of Pocky Sticks. (99 Ranch, cracker/cookie aisle) They come in a bulk bag too for convenience. Don’t be surprised if these sticks of chocolate or strawberry cookie ignite your inner 5-year-old.

Wednesday – Go Gourmet

There is no reason in the world why our kids can’t enjoy the same food pleasures we indulge in from time to time. I like the idea of blending gourmet with convenience for kids without it being boring. 

  1. Take a sectioned Ziploc container (3-Compartment Lunch Container, Target) and fill it with things like almonds, dried cranberries, olives and cheese. You can get a variety of gourmet and sliced cheeses at your grocery store.  Brie, cheddar and goat cheese are great first tries. Slice a few different kinds up to add some variety. (Grocery Outlet, dairy section)
  2. Instead of ranch, try hummus for dipping. It goes well with most veggies and is an alternative to ranch when you want to try something new.
  3. Slice up some pita bread, making sure to keep the servings bite-sized. Or use Food for Life's Sprouted grain bread with sesame seeds. So good! (, refrigerated bread section)
  4. Pack a bottle filled with fresh sparkling lemonade. Combine lemonade and club soda to give your kids' taste buds a tingly surprise.

Thursday – Wrap it Up

Trying new things can be difficult. That is why I love the idea of doing something familiar like a burrito or wrap that kids can enjoy. Wraps can be simple, fun, and a new favorite. You can even switch it up and try flavored tortillas that add some color and vim.

  1. Pick out wheat, spinach or tomato tortillas. (Safeway, usually at the end caps or end of an aisle) Spread on some mayo. For a fresher version of your mayo, add lemon and some chives. Add turkey, salami or ham in layers. You can put in avocado, tomato, lettuce or sprouts to add a peppery green boost. Put it all together by using plastic wrap or foil.
  2. The Sprouts store has great bulk items. Take a look, when you get a chance, at the different fruit bars (similar to a Fig Newton) and choose a flavor like raspberry vanilla bars. The wholesome outer part compliments the fresh fruit filling so well, you’ll use these as your go-to emergency snack choice. Another favorite is the blueberry bar, which is just as satisfying. (Sprouts, bulk bars, nuts center console)
  3. Pick out some Pirate’s Booty which come in packs and will most likely be a constant in your kids’ eyes. Not only are they slap-your-granny good, they are a yummy substitute for all chips. (Sprouts, chip aisle)
  4. If you are at your week’s end and on your last Capri Sun or Juice box, fill a water bottle with milk or add strawberry flavor for strawberry milk.

Friday - Fiesta Fun

If you’re kids are anything like mine, they love Mexican food. Start the weekend off right with a healthy Mexican-inspired lunch, minus the work.

  1. Cut tortillas into triangles. You can use whole wheat or switch it up and use spinach or tomato tortillas. You can find some delicious alternatives to regular flour. (Grocery Outlet)
  2. In a small container, make a deconstructed version of a burrito, and instead try a layered dip. It is easy to assemble and there is a range of foods you can try. I like to use my leftover refried beans; if you don’t have them ready, simply open a can and warm them up before using as the first layer. Then, take some rice and mix that with a little bit of taco sauce for some yummy flavor. Add this on top of the bean layer. You can use anything to layer after that: lettuce strips, olives, avocado, sour cream, cheese, etc. The possibilities are endless and the more variety you use, the more your kids will love the ideas. Don’t forget to add a spoon!
  3. You can make your own horchata quickly and easily by mixing together vanilla soy milk and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Pacific Natural Foods makes soy milk that is packed with more protein than most soy milk. (Sprouts, cereal section) If you don’t want to use soy milk, you can use regular milk, but go for a vanilla-flavored one.

When packing my kids’ lunches, I like to add a note or surprise in their bag. These can be stickers, note cards or a new pencil or pen they can use in school. Little add-ins can make your child’s day, and you’ll be sure to hear their praise when they come home. 

Summer August 27, 2011 at 05:14 AM
Thanks for sharing! I love the Laptop Lunches bento boxes and so do my kids. Their menu library is a lifesaver: http://www.laptoplunches.com/bento-menus/ and helps me keep lunches fun all year!
Sarah Frank August 27, 2011 at 03:07 PM
Great ideas! One lunch my boys seem to enjoy are our own version of Lunchables--I cut up lunch meat and cheese and pack in a baggie. In a separate baggie, I put a variety of crackers. Of course, that is just the "main dish". I always add a treat to lunches like mini-cupckes from the Hostess Bread Store in Dublin (about $1.00 for a 6 pack of snack sized cupcakes low in fat and calories). Many of the real "Lunchables" have trans fat, which we don't consume, so the version I make is a winner!!! I also make our own pizza bagels either on full size bagels or mini bagels, and I do the same using pita bread, just to mix things up. Again, this is much healthier than what I could buy and so easy to make in my toaster oven!

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