Brown Bag Lunch Tips and Ideas

Healthy food In green lunch box

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One of the best parts of shopping for school supplies is picking out the lunchbox that your child will love to tote to school every day to hold brown bag lunches. Once you have the equipment, you need to fill it! You've all heard the famous stories about lunchbox content trading. To make sure that the lunches you pack are envied by other kids, but eaten by your child, include your child in the planning process. There's no point in making turkey salad wraps for school lunch if she or he doesn't like turkey or tortillas.

Quick Lunchbox Tips

  • The actual time for eating lunch at most schools only lasts for 15 to 20 minutes and is filled with distractions. Make sure the lunch foods you pack are easy to eat, packed in easily opened packages, and don't require peeling or special tools.
  • Small children may not eat very much at one sitting. Think about packing appetizers instead of a large sandwich and whole banana. You can also include more choices if the quantity of each is smaller. Fill a mini muffin tin with small amounts of foods, wrap with foil, and pack into the lunch box.
  • Small foods are not only easier for children to handle, but they are more fun to eat. Cut sandwiches into smaller pieces, use tiny tortillas for wraps and small sandwich buns, serve baby carrots and peel and cut fruit into smaller pieces to interest your child in the foods you pack.
  • Think about different types of bread for sandwiches and dippers. Try crackers, mini waffles, rice cakes, mini croissants, pita bread, mini muffins, small bagels, tortillas, focaccia, or raisin or cinnamon bread.
  • If your child wants the same thing day after day, go ahead and pack it, as long as the overall meal is nutritious and you are sure your child eats it. Kids don't like a lot of change in what they eat. Did you know that it takes 10 to 12 introductions to a new food before a child is usually willing to even taste it?
  • Take some time to look at the prepackaged lunches in your grocer's refrigerated section. These appeal to kids, but may have preservatives in them. You can pack the same types of snack foods, but use healthier choices for more kid appeal.
  • Salsa, hummus, bean dips, or fruit dips with baked chips and veggies or fruit are good lunchbox choices since these foods contain more vitamins and fiber.
  • Make sure to think about food safety. Freeze juice boxes or small gel packs and place in the bag. The juice will keep other foods cool and will thaw to just the right temperature and consistency by lunchtime. Use an insulated thermos for hot foods like soups and stews, and cold salads too. For best results, rinse out a thermos with very hot water to heat it before adding hot soups. Rinse it out with ice water to chill the thermos before adding cold soups.
  • If you make your own snack mixes, you can include healthy additions like dried fruits, unsalted nuts, pretzels, and baked crackers. Kids love to munch on something crunchy and sweet or savory.
  • Instead of making sandwiches, consider packing individual sandwich ingredients to let your child make their own sandwich at lunch, or eat the ingredients separately. Many children don't like to eat more than one food at a time since their sense of taste is very intense.
  • Cereal bars can pack a lot of nutrition into ​a treat that kids love to eat. Include raisins, currants, or other dried fruits in the recipe for additional flavor, color, and nutrition.
  • Make sure to include something fun—a sticker, cookies wrapped in plastic wrap with a ribbon tie, sandwiches cut into playful shapes, or meats and cheeses or fruits threaded on a caramel apple stick (which is safer than a traditional kabob stick).

How to Pack the Lunch

These recipes can certainly be packed in brown bags, but there are such wonderful and high tech insulated lunch boxes and sacks on the market that have built-in food safety features: thermoses, a space to slip a pre-frozen gel pack, even pockets for wet wipes and utensils. Take some time to browse through the selection at your store or online and your child will be well equipped all year.

Portion size is critical when planning lunches and recipes for your children. Here's a general guide for grade school lunch portion sizes:

  • Two to three ounces of meat or cheese
  • One or two slices of bread OR 1/2 cup grain or rice
  • At least two different fruits or vegetables
  • 1 cup milk or 4 ounces dairy product

Lunchbox Recipes

  • Tuna Sandwiches - These delicious sandwiches can be made ahead and frozen, then tucked into the lunch box; it will thaw to perfection by lunchtime.
  • Canned Salmon Tacos - These slightly spicy sandwiches are full of lovely textures and flavors. If your kids like Tex-Mex food, this is the recipe for them!
  • Hummus Sandwiches - Prepared hummus is a great timesaver, but you can also make your own to use in these easy sandwiches.
  • BLT Wrap Sandwiches - These delicious sandwiches can be made with small tortillas, or cut the wrap into thirds so it's easier to eat.
  • Chilled Cucumber Soup - Hey, there have to be some children out there who would like this soup! Aren't there? It's smooth, suave, and cool, just like your teenager.
  • Sour Cream Pesto Dip - Place this easy and savory dip in the lunch box along with baby carrots and tiny celery sticks and your kid will have a party!
  • Parmesan Tuna Sandwiches - Put this sandwich spread in a container, then slice a few mini whole wheat sandwich buns. Let your kids assemble their own fabulous sandwiches.
  • Chicken Chowder - If your children like chicken, corn, and potatoes, they will like this soup.
  • Waldorf Chicken Salad Sandwich - Pack the ingredients for this sandwich separately and let your child assemble it himself.
  • Updated Peanut Butter Sandwiches - Carrots, sunflower seeds, and currants update regular peanut butter; use one or all three.
  • Shrimp Salad Sandwiches - For kids who love shrimp, this is an ideal sandwich.
  • Oatmeal Cookies - Chewy, crunchy, and delicious.
  • Peanut Blossoms - For a real treat, pack these classic and delicious peanut and chocolate cookies.
  • Snickerdoodles - This classic cookie, rolled in sugar and cinnamon before baking, is a perfect lunchbox treat.
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Bonbons - This fabulous little no-bake cookie/candy recipe is good for you and so delicious.

Plan Ahead of Time

When you are planning brown-bag school lunches, one way to save time is to plan a whole week of lunches when you do your grocery shopping. Some fruits may need that extra time to ripen in a closed paper bag on the counter.

You can make sandwiches for school lunches in an assembly line ahead of time and freeze them. In fact, freezing any type of bread before you start assembling sandwiches helps stop the bread from tearing when you spread it with butter or other spreads.