Let’s face it: the last thing parents need to fret about when sending kids back to school during these challenging times is what to pack for lunches.
With most elementary and high schools banning peanut butter, eggs and nuts, most parents’ choices seem a little bleak. However, with a little pre-planning, you can have a two-week lunch plan on rotation, ready to throw together at a moment’s notice.
These are lunches that are tried and true in my household, having sent four kids to school over the years. You won’t find tuna or egg sandwiches on this list (apparently, they’re stinky?), so hopefully your kids’ lunch bags won’t come home with the one-bite sandwich syndrome, or with half-opened, half-spilled healthy yogurt you’ve carefully packed with an ice pack.
1) Banana muffins
Bake this ahead of time. Muffins are quicker to cook and easier to pack. Double the recipe and freeze the rest. Mom tip: freeze any bruised, overripe bananas, thaw and use when needed for baking. You may also mix in a few chocolate chips in the batter. If you don’t like baking from scratch, buy muffin mixes at the grocery store.
2) Apple and brie croissants
Peel apples, remove seeds, cut in wedges and cook with a little butter until soft. Make the sandwich by cutting up some brie, the pre-cooked apples and a bit of butter on the croissant. Add lettuce if you want. Mom tip: use the apples in the fridge that no one wants to eat — you know the kind: bruised, wrinkled skin, ‘old’ apples. You can pre-cook apples the night before.
3) Bagel with cream cheese
You can use plain cream cheese; add some jam if your child likes it. Jazz it up by using whipped cream cheese; it comes in different flavours. Mom tip: the bagels you use can make a huge difference! St. Viateur bagels are available at some grocery stores and they are divine with anything. As an alternative to bagels, you can use malt bread, whole wheat bread, naan bread or tortillas (spread cream cheese all over tortilla, roll it up and cut up into bite size pieces).
4) Tortilla wraps
Easiest way to make wraps is to buy pre-cooked, pre-sliced chicken or cold cuts, lettuce, tomatoes, and toss in a little splash of ranch dressing, or sriracha mayonnaise for a little heat. Another lunch to try is making ‘tortilla wedges’ by sandwiching shredded cheddar cheese between two tortillas, cooking until the cheese melts, and cutting into wedges.
5) Pita and hummus
If your kids like hummus, that is. Try hummus with new flavours — there’s a yummy roasted pepper version — or try packing small pita bites and hummus, or swap pita with Tostitos or crackers. Hummus are great dips as well for cut up veggies.
6) Dinner as lunch
Why not? Heat up leftover meatballs, chili, beef stew, soups (yes, even canned ones), pour in a thermos to keep hot. Your kids will love having a steamy lunch at school. Mom tip: don’t forget the spoon/fork! Leftover pizza is still good served cold, and if time’s not on your side, nuke some pizza pops and put in a thermos.
7) Breakfast as lunch
Pancakes are easy to pack (pour a little maple syrup/pancake syrup in a small container if you trust your kids won’t spill them), french toast and grilled cheese are OK eaten cold, and if you’re running out of time, pop some Eggos in the toaster and voilà! Lunch is ready.
Cut up fruit ahead of time and pre-pack in small containers. Grapes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and melons are easy to eat at school. Apples and bananas are staples in a lunch bag. Vegetables such as baby carrots, sugar snap peas, peppers and celery are also good to pack (a little dip can’t hurt, either). Mom tip: Always have a steady supply of fruit cups, mandarin cups, applesauce, rice pudding and yogurt cups (experiment to find out which kinds they like) in the fridge.
9) Kids who graze
Some kids just don’t like big meals for lunch, or they may not have enough time at recess to finish a full sandwich. Fill their lunch bags with items like Baby Bell cheese, diced chicken, cottage cheese with fruit, granola bars (ZBars from CLIF and Larabars are yummy and on the healthy side), cheese sticks, Breton crackers.
A little sweet treat (emphasis on little) will act as a nice surprise for them at school. Some good ones to toss in would be Jell-O, Rice Krispies, fruit gushers and small, bite-sized chocolate bars (just make sure they’re nut free).