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Beyond the Boring Lunchbox: Ideas to Mix Up Your Routine

Sometimes making a fun and healthy lunch isn’t easy, so we’ve gathered some awesome tips on how to liven up this mid-day meal for your little ones and help you beat the lunch box blues. Instead of finding out they trashed the lunch you packed, you’ll be hearing how excited they were over finding their very own “Mommy McMeal” at lunchtime.

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1. Get ‘em to Pitch in
Take your kiddos grocery shopping with you to encourage them to help out with the lunch packing duties. Have them pick out different ingredients, like fruits, vegetables, and healthy snacks (maybe let them choose between plums or peaches this week), or tell them that they can select one special item from the whole store for a fun treat. Sharing the food experience with your little ones will give them the ultimate interactive meal and get them excited to see their picks appear in their lunch boxes this week.

2. Breakfast for Lunch
Schedule a midday appearance for the most important meal of the day! Your kids will love being surprised with an awesome breakfast for lunch. Use two pancakes as the bread for a sausage sandwich and serve with a side of fruit, or try wrapping up an omelette in a tortilla for an easy breakfast burrito. Try one of our 5 Easy Breakfast Meals for even more brunch suggestions.

3. Lunch Salads
It may be hard getting them to eat their vegetables, but your kids won’t complain while they’re munching away on fun salads like a Cobb salad (use spinach or dark green lettuce, a hard-boiled egg, cheese, and/or lean ham), or a Chinese chicken salad (dark green lettuce, shredded chicken, shredded carrots, sliced green onion, and toasted sliced almonds.) They can even add their own dressing if it’s packed into a small container. Your kiddo will love feeling like they helped make it, and those good green eats will stay fresh.

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4. Sample Plates
So maybe lunchtime snuck up on you today and you haven’t had a chance to hit the grocery store this week (it happens to all of us!). Sample plates are the perfect solution – grab some of those divided plates from the cupboard (a muffin tin works too!) and start digging through the fridge. Fill up each little compartment with something tasty – crackers, sliced up apples, mandarin oranges, string cheese cut up into pieces – whatever you have! They’ll love being allowed to snack for lunch (nutritiously, of course) and are sure to request this last-minute meal again.

5. Build-Your-Own-Sandwich Bar
If you’ve got creative kids that like to get hands-on with their food, try constructing a sandwich buffet bar for quick and easy lunch packing. Cut up cheese and deli meat, slice some fresh veggies, and line up the condiments to let your kids build their own sandwich creation. They’ll brag to all their friends about how their cool mom let’s them make their own lunch!

6. Dip it Up
What is it about kids and dipping? Kids love any opportunity to dunk their snacks and tend to be more adventurous if they have a tasty topping too! Next time you shop, grab some things that are great for dipping – Greek yogurt, peanut butter, ranch dressing, Nutella – and then give them some dipping foods. Try mini pitas, sliced veggies, whole-wheat toast sliced into triangles, fruit, pretzels – whatever they love! For kids on the older side, get more creative with smaller foods like blueberries, raisins, and edamame that they can use a toothpick to spear and then dip.

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7. Easy Peasy Pizzas
Pizza is always a kid favorite, but sometimes even having to wait 15-minutes for a full-sized pizza to cook in the oven is too long for hungry kids to wait. Instead, grab some English muffins or bagels, top with pizza sauce (or even leftover spaghetti sauce!), add some quickly shredded cheese and pop it in the microwave or under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Feeling brave? Try sneaking some veggies in under that cheese!

8. Announce a Lunch Theme
Surprise your little snackers by incorporating a new lunch theme for the day. Try serving all red foods—pair a strawberry jelly sandwich with cherry tomatoes and low-fat ranch dressing with cherry Jell-O for dessert. Or, try a meal with all “round” foods, like a bagel with cream cheese, an orange, and carrot rounds. If you’re feeling really creative, pick a book and make a story-inspired meal…Green Eggs and Ham anyone?

9. Provide a Playful Platter
This is a good choice for families with picky eaters. You can easily make your own hummus without Tahini, which sometimes is a flavor that pick eaters might not enjoy. To prepare, simply place 1 can of beans, ¼ cup of olive oil, 1 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tsp cumin in a food processor (you can also use a hand-blender stick) and blend until you get a nice smooth texture. Pair this with sliced pita bread, cheese slices, and favorite veggies for a Mediterranean meal that’ll spice up midday.

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10. Choices, choices, choices
For your kiddos that love having a hand in everything, try setting out different bowls filled with fruits, starches (bread, bagel, crackers, etc.), vegetables, proteins (ham, cheese, yogurt, etc.), and snacks. Then allow your hungry honey to pick one item from each food group for his lunch. This “food pyramid” model in the kitchen gives your kid choices and let’s him feel like he packed his own healthy, balanced meal. It’s quick, easy, and, since he got to pick what he eats, your little one will be happily munching away come mealtime.

11. Cookies Cutter Creations
Use those old cookie cutter shapes you have lying around the kitchen to turn sandwiches, fruit, cheese, and whatever else you can into fun shapes. Your kids will love seeing their lunches transformed into cool designs that not only look good, but taste good too.

12. Cracker Stackers
Every time you go grocery shopping, the kids beg for those pre-packed lunches in the deli section, but we all know how unhealthy they can be. Make this quick, easy alternative yourself at home with whole-grain crackers (ones they can eat in two bites are perfect), fresh turkey or ham from your local deli, and their favorite type of cheese. Stack the mini sandwiches, top with another cracker, and you’re set.

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13. D.I.Y. Rollups
For a quick and easy lunch that will also get them involved with the prep, try letting them make their own rollups. Lay out flour tortillas for everyone (warm them in the microwave for 5-10 seconds first to get them soft) then let them go to town with fillings. Turkey and cheese slices, olives, cream cheese, jelly, baby spinach, thinly sliced apples, cucumbers, and peanut butter, all make for excellent fillings. Let them pick what sounds best, layer it on, and then roll it up to eat!

14. Make It a “Mommy McMeal”
Tired of spending $10 at the drive thru? Try making a “A Mommy McMeal.” This fast food alternative consists of chicken nuggets or fish sticks, fries, chips, or apple slices, and a juice box with a toy (of your choice) that you might find way on the bottom of the toy box. Use a toy your kiddo thought they lost or one they haven’t seen in awhile to really brighten up their day.

15. Revamp Your Leftovers 
Use your the leftovers of your carefully crafted dinners for a unique and easy lunch! Leftover pasta from last night? Make a meatball sandwich with chunky marinara on a baguette. Turn leftover chicken into a brand new meal by shredding it and serving with BBQ sauce on a bun. Or, grab an airtight container and keep last night’s soup or chili warm all day for a fresh take on a delicious dinner.

We’re always looking for new great ways to make lunchtime fun and easy. Let us know your tips for making super awesome lunches for your little ones.

– Scott Wardell

photo credit: Rubbermaid Products, USDAgov, Dylan Parker, Carbon NYC, and tslane888 via Creative Commons    

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