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School is officially in session, which means that for the roughly nine months ahead, you’ll be facing an almost daily challenge of deciding with what lunch to send you child to school. This year, instead of finding kids’ half-eaten sandwiches and untouched celery sticks at the end of the day, guarantee a happier lunchtime — and, more importantly, full bellies — with these three easy strategies for building a better lunchbox. Check out Food Network’s suggestions, then start the conversation about your child’s favorite school lunches in the comments below.
1. Embrace Little Helpers
To improve the lunchbox-packing process, start at the beginning: the grocery shopping for lunch ingredients. Invite your kids to come to the supermarket with you and let them suggest what kinds of foods you buy. It may be as simple as asking them if they prefer apples or orange segments as the fruit of the day, deli turkey or ham on their sandwich, and carrots or cherry tomatoes as the veggie of choice, but the idea is to make kids feel included in the building of their lunches. Ultimately, if kids are invested in their food, they’re more likely to eat it. (This notion holds true come dinnertime, so if you struggle with picky eaters at supper, consider these grocery shopping trips as a means of getting kids excited about all of their meals.)
2. Think Beyond Sandwiches
Sandwiches may be easy to pack and relatively inexpensive, but, like adults, kids crave variety in their meals, and no one wants to open his or her lunchbox day after day to find yet another between-bread creation. Switch up your usual sandwich routine with other meals you know your child enjoys, like pastas, soups and salads.
Filled with colorful vegetables for both visual interest and nutrition, Ellie’s Rainbows and Butterflies Pasta Salad (pictured above) is a 20-minute meal featuring whole-grain pasta, plus carrots, edamame, bell peppers and corn. She finishes the mixture with a sprinkle of Parmesan for a touch of kid-approved cheesy goodness.
For soups and hot meals like Ryder’s Turkey Chili (a favorite of Guy Fieri’s son), it’s important to invest in a quality thermos, so that food doesn’t get cold come lunch. If you heat up the meal in the morning and ladle it into the thermos while it’s still hot, the chili should stay warm for at least a few hours.
When it comes to sending kids to school with such green salads as Food Network Magazine’s Mediterranean Tuna Salad (pictured right), it’s best to pack the lunch in separate components and let your child assemble on his own. For this salad, separate the romaine, tuna salad, pita and dressing into four compartments to prevent soggy lettuce and bread.
3. Let Dinner Do Double Duty
Consider this: If your child enjoyed what you made him for dinner last night, chances are he will eat more of it at lunchtime as well. In most cases, any traditional supper can be repurposed into a midday meal, so look to chicken, pasta and rice remnants as the first step in filling the lunchbox. The Neelys’ top-rated Cheesy Chicken Empanadas or Giada’s comforting Lemon Chicken Soup with Spaghetti, for example, are go-tos if you have rotisserie chicken on hand, while Food Network Magazine’s 15-minute Corn Fried Rice gives cooked rice a second chance.