Fun (and Healthy!) School Lunch Ideas

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips and juice boxes have been boring kids while not being particularly healthy for generations. It doesn't have to be this way. With the new school year in full swing, you can make school lunches that are exciting, unusual and nutritious, making opening the lunchbox an adventure that brings a thrill to your child's day. Here are ten ways to make school lunches both fun and healthy.

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1. Involve Your Child

Perhaps the best place to start is by involving your child in deciding what goes in the lunchbox. Offer a series of healthy choices, or take your child to the grocery store, and let him or her pick. For example, head to the produce section of the grocery store and consider more than just apples or grapes, but also pineapple, cherries, cucumbers and more.

2. Do-It-Yourself Salads

While salad may not seem like a winning idea for a school lunch, the fun is in the assembly. Use small, reusable plastic containers to send your child off with a variety of ingredients for a quick-assembly salad. Include a mixture of healthy ingredients, such as lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, and more kid-friendly ingredients, such as bacon pieces, cheese cubes and corn kernels.

3. Rethink the Sandwich Filling

Peanut butter and jelly and cold cuts are the old standbys, but they're not your only options. Try mixing up your sandwich ingredients. Use avocados instead of mayonnaise or grated zucchini instead of a condiment.

4. Abandon the Bread

If your child is adamant about getting peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese, try swapping out the bread for an interesting alternative. Tortillas, bagels, pita pockets and many other foods work just as well. Also, if you have leftover hamburger or hot dog buns, use these for a sandwich.

5. Lunch Kabobs

A big part of making an exciting lunch is in providing foods that are fun to eat. Use toothpicks or segments of wooden skewers to make different types of kabobs. You can use many types of food, including grapes, pineapple, chicken cubes and cheese. You can even make the skewer edible by using a pretzel stick.

6. Overcook at Night

If your child is bringing home a lunchbox full of half-eaten food, but devouring dinner, try making extra food for dinner and sending the leftovers for lunch the next day. Since mornings before school can be hectic, involve your child in the process of choosing and making dinners. This is a great way to involve your child in his or her food decisions.

7. Make Your Own Trail Mix

Experiment with your own trail mix, using items such as peanuts, M&Ms, pretzels and cereals. Find fruit that your child enjoys, such as raisins or dried bananas. By playing with the proportions of snack foods and healthy foods, you may be able to sneak in extra dried fruit that your child doesn't even notice.

8. Yogurt as a Sauce

If your child will only eat carrots or celery if you send unhealthy, store-bought salad dressing, consider yogurt as a dipping sauce. Yogurt tastes great and is full of probiotics, calcium, protein and several vitamins.

9. Get Sneaky with Vegetables

Does your child balk at carrot sticks? Try grating carrots and adding them to a sandwich, or mixing them into muffin batter. Sometimes vegetables just need to be presented in a more palatable and unconventional way, such as cucumbers cut into Pac Man shapes. Also think about vegetables that are fun to eat, such as baby corn.

10. No More Square Sandwiches

Finally, if you're looking to quickly spice up a lunch with the ingredients you have on hand, consider making shapes out of sandwiches. While you can purchase specially-shaped sandwich cutters, you can also just get creative with a knife, making stars, letters and more.

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