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Beyond Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches: Back to School Lunch Bags

What do you pack your kids to eat that's reasonably healthy and they'll actually enjoy?

School starts Wednesday!

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the summer with my kids. We had great fun together and they were happy with the relaxed pace and spontaneity of summer vacation. Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to having them out of the house for several hours a day so I can do at least some of the other things I’m supposed to somehow accomplish even when they are home.

There are two aspects of the back-to-school routine that I know will present some challenges. The first is getting everyone up and out the door on time. I know it will not be easy to convince them that I really mean it when I say, “Go get dressed and brush your teeth.”

The other challenge is what to make for lunch. Although I know that LA Unified is making a serious effort to reform its meal programs and provide better nutrition, I’m not ready to let my kids buy lunch at school. So, back to the eternal question: How do I find something healthy and easy that travels well, will taste good four hours after I've made it and that the kids will like?

Of course my three children each have various preferences, which means that I often make three different lunches every morning. My oldest son would be completely carnivorous if he was allowed to be, and my youngest is a borderline vegetarian with a strong taste for simple carbohydrates and dairy.

Last year I bought all my kids lunch boxes that look like solid plastic bento boxes with snap-on lids. They come with different compartments of varying sizes and they’ve made it easier for me to send several different small things for lunch as opposed to my fallback plan—a sandwich and a piece of fruit. I’ve found that they are more likely to eat if there are a few choices in their lunch boxes. They’ll even eat vegetables if they come in small quantities and have something like hummus or tzatziki to dip them in.

My favorite school lunch plan is to send leftovers. I can’t always get away with this, but often, if dinner the night before was something they liked, my kids will be happy to eat it the following day for lunch. These meals tend to be both the easiest and healthiest because dinner is where I try to pack in some vegetables.

Some of the things I make that work well as leftovers are spinach and cheddar quiche, turkey meatloaf with spinach and cranberry sauce, almost any pasta dish, and baked chicken with sweet potato oven fries. Any of those along with some sliced apples, berries or other fresh fruit make a great lunch and help clean out the refrigerator.

A friend suggested sending out an email to fellow parents at our school with each parent suggesting things their children will eat for lunch. I thought I might ask readers to do that below in the comments section. Please tell us what you send your child to school with for lunch that’s a little more adventurous or healthy than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I for one am eager for some new menus.

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Jeanne Kuntz September 07, 2011 at 04:09 PM
My kids are grown but I used to take cooked brown rice and insert cucumber and carrot and a dash of soy and sesames seeds and a spoon and send them off. I began to make lunches for my husband a few years ago. His favorite is a Stuffed Baked Potato (carmelized onions, broccoli and sometimes cheese) which he micro-waves. Big kids need good lunches, too.
Ruben February 27, 2012 at 12:33 AM
Jeanne. I have a question for you. It's Ruben. Hope you remember me. We met through Project Angel Food and I was a school counselor. gogreen5@mac.com Sorry everyone for the intrusion. Peace.

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