When I was in elementary school, there was a girl in my class who brought the same exact lunch to school every day. I still remember what she ate at each and every lunch hour: peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cut in half; apple, cut in quarters. Yep, that was her lunch. I can’t even remember exactly what I would pack in my own lunch, but I can clearly remember what she ate every day. As I look back on it, I sort of feel a little sorry for her. I mean, how boring was that?
That’s definitely an extreme example, but perhaps you often find yourself in a rut when it comes to making lunch. I’m here to help! I’ve got some great ideas to make lunches creative and fun, so that your child looks forward to – and doesn’t dread – opening his lunchbox.
Today we’ll focus specifically on building a better sandwich. PB&J is great, but there are a lot of other options out there. And really, all it takes is a little switch here and a tiny change there, and presto, you have a whole new sandwich!
*Change the bread.
Thanks to our ever increasing exposure to ethnic foods and diets, there is a whole wide world of breads out there, each one slightly different from the next, each one creating a little variety, each one delicious, each one capable of becoming a sandwich in one form or another. Most of them can easily be made at home with a bread machine or the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes method. Or purchase them at a store, but make sure whatever kind you purchase has whole grains and no high fructose corn syrup (or other excess sugar) or hydrogenated oils (tortillas are particularly notorious for the latter).
Consider what fun sandwiches you can make out of the following breads:
-wraps (really just large, soft tortillas)
-flat bread, like naan
-rolls (dinner, sandwich, hamburger, sub)
The possibilities are almost endless! In addition, you can forego the bread altogether, and send along some healthy whole-grain crackers instead for a homemade “lunchables” kit. Kids love this idea, and I have to admit I’m fairly fond of crackers spread with tuna salad myself. I don’t know what it is, but the combination is just delicious! Of course, crackers and cheese are a perennial favorite.
*Change the shape.
You’ve heard this one before; you probably already do it, at least on occasion. Get some fun, large cookie cutters and cut out cute little sandwich shapes for the little ones.
A few other shape-changing ideas:
-Sandwich Pinwheels: Place sandwich filling on top of a wrap or soft tortilla. Roll entire sandwich up and secure with a toothpick. It helps to refrigerate or freeze it for a while to maintain its shape. Then, slice off about 1″ portions, and you’ll have little sandwich pinwheels.
-Triangles: One of the easiest things to do is simply cut the sandwich bread in a diagonal instead of straight direction. You would be amazed at how it generates conversation in a kindergarten classroom!
-Sandwich Rolls: This is a recent discovery of mine and one I’m excited to share. It’s a little more complicated, but totally worth it, at least once in a while.
Take about 2 lbs of any kind of bread dough (artisan bread, bread machine dough, or store-bought frozen bread dough). Roll it out to about a 1/4″ or 1/2″ thickness. Spread your sandwich filling (I used 2 cups diced cooked chicken, 1 cup shredded zucchini, 1 cup shredded cheese and a couple tablespoons of plain yogurt to hold it all together, as well as a few tablespoons of chopped fresh basil and a dash of fresh ground black pepper) all over the dough, leaving a 1/2″ border along the edge. Roll up, starting on the long side. Seal edges with your fingers, then slice cinnamon-roll style. Place cut side up on baking sheet and allow to rest for about 1/2 an hour. Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes.
You can fill these with just about anything. I would love to try a pizza version with pepperoni and mozzarella, served with pizza sauce for dipping.
*Change the filling.
There are plenty of options besides lunchmeat or PB&J. For example, take leftover tuna, turkey or chicken, chop them up and add some seasoning and plain yogurt. Voila! A perfect sandwich salad. The same can be done with boiled eggs.
If you do go the lunchmeat route, consider adding a little variety with some extra, fun ingredients. For example:
-thinly sliced pear or apple
-thinly sliced avocado
-tomato, lettuce, pickle (I know these aren’t extraordinarily original, but they don’t often find their way into kids’ lunchboxes. Maybe you think kids won’t like it, but have they tried it?)
As for peanut butter and jelly, shake it up a little in the following ways:
-Cream Cheese and jelly instead of PB, or with PB
-PB & Bananas instead of jelly
-Or PB & Strawberries instead of jelly
-PB & Honey (a sprinkle of cinnamon is delicious, too)
-Please oh please don’t send your child to school with PB and marshmallow fluff! A great snack, perhaps… not so great a lunch!
*Change the condiments.
Ketchup, mustard and mayo are classics for a reason. But try some other creative options, too:
-hummus (You’d be surprised at how many kids love it!)
-honey mustard (easy to make your own by stirring some honey into mustard)
-BBQ sauce (homemade or high fructose corn syrup-free)
Just a tiny little change once a week or once every couple days will keep your child’s lunch from sinking into a boring rut. Get Creative!
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