What's in your lunchbox?

Some easy tips for packing lunchboxes

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.

There are so many options for packing your children's lunches.
There are so many options for packing your children's lunches.
Anna B. Tyson | Special to the Times

Looking back today to a column that was first published in 2010.

A lot of sandwiches will be packed up next week and sent to school alongside a bag of chips and a cookie or two.

If you have children, odds are good you’ve packed a few lunches, either as a regular thing or just for a change of pace from the school lunchroom food.

I know I’ve packed my share of sandwiches, from bologna and cheese to peanut butter.

The first week or so, it’s not so bad. But as the months go by, the child gets tired of eating the same ham sandwich, and who can blame him?

There are many ways to spice up a child’s lunch box and many opportunities to work in nutritious meals.

One of the most important things is to ask the child what sounds good to him. What are the other kids taking that looks appealing? Are you willing to try something new?

If you’re lucky, and you don’t have a picky eater at home, there are plenty of options for some delicious and healthy lunches this school year.

• For starters, be creative with the breads you use for sandwiches. Whole-grain is preferred; if your child had rather have white bread, choose a white whole wheat option. If white bread isn’t a necessity, then send lunch on different breads. Peanut butter is delicious on a bagel, either the full size or a thin-sliced bagels.

At my house, it’s a big treat to have pimiento cheese on sunflower bread from our grocery store bakery; if the sandwich has been grilled first, it’s a bigger treat. And yes, the grilled pimiento cheese sandwich is good cold.

And don’t forget pita pockets, tortillas or sandwich wraps. Spread a little mayonnaise or mustard on a small tortilla, layer turkey and cheese and roll it up. There are so many options for sandwich wraps. A little tomato and lettuce will dress up a sandwich, so would a different cheese, such as Swiss or mozzarella.

• Every now and then, forget the bread. Use a bento box or fill one small zippered bag or plastic container with crackers, another with cheese squares or cubes and a third with some meat. You can choose pieces of bologna, ham, turkey or even slices of pepperoni (I buy turkey pepperoni). Chicken salad and ham salad are also good on crackers. When lunch comes, the child can make his own cracker sandwiches.

Another fun option is hummus with whole grain crackers or pita chips. Put the hummus in a small plastic container with the crackers in a separate bag. It’s easy for the child to dip the crackers into the hummus for a change of pace.

• Hummus makes a nice dip for carrot sticks as well. If your child doesn’t like hummus, pack a little of his favorite low-fat salad dressing to dip the carrots or celery in.

• Fruit is always a lunch box favorite, but don’t limit the choice to an apple or a banana.

Strawberries are delicious for lunch, but be sure to wash them and take off the stem to make it easier for the child to eat. If it requires extra work, many kids will not make the effort.

A sandwich bag full of crunchy grapes is also a good option.

Peeled and sectioned clementines are one of my favorites for my own lunch. Clementines have no seeds unlike a tangerine, so they are especially child-friendly.

Keep individual-size containers of fruit such as peaches and pears or even applesauce on hand for those occasions when you don’t have fresh fruit in the house.

• Most kids want chips with their lunch. If you want a healthier option, check out the many baked chips on the market now or pack a bag of pretzels.

• If you have a small thermos, make a bowl of soup in the morning or a box of your child’s favorite macaroni and cheese. Spiral pasta mixed with your homemade spaghetti sauce is also a nice treat for lunch.

• If your child loves pasta salad, pack it in the thermos, but don’t forget the fork! I’ve included a new pasta salad recipe I’ve made a few times this summer. I love it for lunch.

• Some kids expect a sweet treat in their lunch box. If you’re worried about packing high-fat cookies each day, look for healthier options, such as graham crackers, or make your own treats, knowing you can control the ingredients.

• If you’ve packed items such as sandwiches made with meats and mayonnaise, pimiento cheese, chicken or ham salad, hummus or salad dressing (or anything else perishable), be sure to include a refrigerator pack or a frozen juice box in your child’s lunch box to keep the food cool until it’s time to eat.

Honey Mustard Pasta Salad

1 pound box tri-color pasta twists or whole wheat pasta twists

1 to 1 1/2 cups honey mustard salad dressing (I used Paul Newman’s Own Light Honey Mustard)

Any of your favorite mix-ins including yellow, green or red bell peppers; cucumbers; and carrots.

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and rinse. Pour into large bowl and mix with 1 to 1 1/2 cups dressing. Stir in vegetables. Store in refrigerator.