Thinking Outside the Lunchbox

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Want to save both time and money? Use last night's leftovers to build your child's school lunch sandwich. With a little finesse, they'll never notice it's a rerun. Dice a boneless chicken breast and mix it with corn and canned black beans (rinsed and drained) and roll up into a tortilla, or use the meatballs from last night's spaghetti to create a mini-meatball sub.

Skip the Sandwich Altogether

Your child's lunch doesn't have to revolve around a sandwich. At least once a week, try replacing the sandwich with something a bit unexpected, but equally satisfying:

  • Pack a Thermos of homemade vegetable soup, made with pasta in fun shapes and a pack of crackers;
  • Hummus or vegetable puree (roasted pepper, for instance) with fresh vegetables and pita triangles;
  • A smorgasbord of cheese cubes, grapes, crackers, sliced apples, pears and peanut butter-and-cracker "sandwiches";
  • A slice of homemade pizza or bagel pizza cut into small pieces; or
  • Rollups made with lean, low-sodium sliced turkey, ham or chicken rolled with cheese (like a wrap, but minus the bread).

Lunch Accompaniments and Fun Sides

Your child's outside-the-lunchbox midday meal isn't complete without a side or two. But instead of throwing in an apple, a juice box that's loaded with sugar and a baggie of processed cookies or crackers, choose side items that are more natural and are fun to eat:

  • Homemade trail mix (cashews, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, granola, etc.);
  • Frozen grapes;
  • Carrot sticks, grape tomatoes and sliced bell peppers with a small container of light ranch dip or cottage cheese;
  • Lightly salted unshelled edamame (or soy beans, found in the frozen vegetable section). Kids have fun "popping" the soy beans out of their pods;
  • Celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins, otherwise known as "ants on a log";
  • Sliced and diced fresh fruit with homemade fruit dip or vanilla yogurt; and
  • Cheesy popcorn (mix shredded cheese with warm microwave popcorn).