Getting creative with kids' lunches can be a bit of a minefield. It can be hard enough to get them to embrace new foods at home, never mind when they are surrounded by friends at school.
But that doesn't mean you can't break free of the same-old-sandwich routine. It's just a matter of using foods already in your children's comfort zone, but working with them in new and creative ways.
Leftovers are a great place to start (assuming they were well received the first time around). Plenty of thick stews and chilies can be repurposed as chilled fillings for wraps, especially when topped with shredded cheese. Ditto for salads, including the pasta and potato varieties.
Or consider deconstructing something, such as pasta salad. Put it back together in a way that's fun for kids, as we did for the tortellini veggie skewers. Also, breakfast is great for the beginning of the day and makes a fun supper, so why not also consider it for lunch, too?
COLD HAM AND CHEESE CASSEROLE
This "casserole" is a great way to use up leftovers. Feel free to play with the ingredients. Chicken, steak and even chopped leftover hamburgers are fine substitutes for the ham.
Start to finish: 10 minutes
1 teaspoon mustard
2 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup cooked rice, white or brown
1/4 cup cubed cooked ham
2 tablespoons shredded cheddar
1 scallion, thinly sliced, to garnish
In a small bowl, stir together the mustard, mayonnaise and vinegar. Add the rice, ham and cheddar, then mix well.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 280 calories; 110 calories from fat (38 percent of total calories); 12 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 35 mg cholesterol; 32 g carbohydrate; 11 g protein; 2 g fiber; 660 mg sodium.
This easy pancake and bacon breakfast-lunch lets kids assemble their own meal. You just need to give them the basics — tiny pancakes, cooked bacon slices, blueberries and maple syrup for dunking.
Start to finish: 15 minutes
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon butter
2 slices cooked bacon
1/2 cup blueberries (or favorite fruit)
Maple syrup, for dipping
To make the pancakes, in a medium bowl whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, sugar and salt. Add the yogurt and milk, then whisk until just smooth.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Drop spoonsful of batter into the pan, leaving space between each to allow for spreading. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, flip and cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, or until golden and cooked through. Allow to cool thoroughly before packing.
Pack the pancakes with the bacon, fruit and maple syrup on the side.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 660 calories; 290 calories from fat (44 percent of total calories); 33 g fat (14 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 65 mg cholesterol; 79 g carbohydrate; 14 g protein; 3 g fiber; 750 mg sodium.
TORTELLINI VEGGIE SKEWERS
Start to finish: 20 minutes
1/2 yellow bell pepper
12 cooked tortellini
6 whole black olives
6 cherry tomatoes
1 slice deli turkey
1 slice provolone cheese
Cut the yellow pepper into 6 strips. Using each pepper strip as a skewer, push 2 tortellini onto each strip.
Use a paring knife to poke a hole into the top of each cherry tomato and cap the end of each pepper strip with a tomato and an olive. Cut the slices of turkey and provolone into 6 long strips, then wrap one of each around the skewers. Serve the skewers with a side of your child's favorite salad dressing.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 390 calories; 140 calories from fat (34 percent of total calories); 15 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 55 mg cholesterol; 46 g carbohydrate; 20 g protein; 4 g fiber; 750 mg sodium.