Thinking Outside the Lunch Box

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Yes, I know my little ones are too young to need cold lunches for school but someday they will so it is never too early to get lots of good ideas. Additionally, I have a friend with a daughter who doesn't like the traditional sandwich lunch and I am willing to bet she is not the only one. So I looked up ideas for brown bag lunches you can send to school with your kids that are healthy and can be eaten cold.

21 Alternatives to Sandwiches

1. Cold Pasta Salads:
Any cold pasta salad your child will eat is a great option to send in a lunch. Just make sure they are filling and loaded with veggies for maximum results. Here are two options I found online that are quick and easy. Plus, I loved the idea of adding nuts to the mix for health fats.

Tomato, Mozzarella, and Pasta

8 oz. of your child's favorite cooked pasta
4 large ripe tomatoes, diced
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, diced
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic
¼ cup pitted olives
Pine nuts
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, combine tomatoes, basil, garlic, mozzarella cheese, olives, and olive oil. Add cooked pasta. Toss and divide into lunch portions. Garnish each container with pine nuts.

Cold Spaghetti Salad

2 cups leftover spaghetti
1 tsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup cashews, chopped
Toss. Portion out into two individual containers. Add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

2. Rolled Tortilla Wraps:
Yes, wraps take the bread out of the equation, but they are still quite sandwich-like. So these may not be out of the box enough for some kids but I still felt they were worth mentioning. Here are some fun wrap ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Mexican Wrap
Go Mexican by wrapping up some grilled chicken with black beans and spiced rice, topped with grated cheese, guacamole, salsa and sour cream. If your kids like tacos, make them transportable by opting for soft tortillas over hard shells.

Veggie Wrap
If your child is a veggie lover make a wrap using grilled zucchini, red and green peppers, eggplant and sweet onions. Spread the wrap with goat cheese, add a little salsa or chutney and top with vegetables.

Chicken Caesar Wrap
Make up your favorite Caesar salad and put it in a soft tortilla wrap along with strips of sliced grilled chicken.

Roast Beef Wrap
Layer thin slices of roast beef on a flour tortilla. Spread with mayo and top with lettuce and tomato.

Bean Burrito
Spread refried beans on a soft tortilla, sprinkle with shredded cheese and wrap up. (Serve with a side of salsa for dipping if desired)

Turkey wrap
Cream cheese, Cheddar cheese, and a turkey slice

Fruit Wrap
Cream cheese, apple slices and honey

Classic PB&J Wrap
Nut butter and jam

3. Ploughman's Lunch:
A chunk of bread, some fruit, some cheese. Easier than a sandwich and it keeps longer without getting soggy. For best results, cut bread, fruit, possibly cheese on site. Apples, pears, grapes all go well with pretty much any cheese.

4. Chili and Corn Bread:
Cook the cornbread in muffin tins with liners for easy transportation and serving. Make sure you know your child will eat the chili cold or this is really just a wash of an idea.

5. Salad and Crackers:
Whether it is egg salad, chicken salad or tuna salad If you serve it alongside crackers it is sure to be a hit.

6. Kabobs:
This is one of my personal favorites. Your kabobs can either be fruit and cheese or meat and cheese. You could even add a dense bread on there, the possibilities are endless. For fruit kabobs cut melon, apples, pears, grapes, strawberries (or whatever is in season) into big chunks, and spear them on short bamboo skewers alternating the fruit with cheese. You may want to cut the sharp ends snapped off of the skewers for safety. For meat kabobs put cut pieces of ham or roast beef, you could even to hot dog pieces if your child will eat them.

8. Turkey Strips:
Turkey strips make a great kid lunch recipe that is easy to put together when you’re pressed for time. Cut leftover cooked turkey or chicken into strips and pack alongside a container of cranberry sauce for dipping.

9. Cheese Quesadilla:
Quesadillas are the ideal kid lunch recipe for cheese lovers. Sprinkle grated cheese on the top of one tortilla. Top with the second tortilla. For cooking you have two options - microwave on high for one minute or place in a non-stick frying pan and cook 2-3 minutes on medium high or until cheese is melted. Flip over once using a spatula. Let cool and cut into wedges using a pizza cutter. Pack with a container of salsa for dipping.

10. Leftover Pizza:
Ask any kid how they feel about cold pizza and chances are they love it. You can beat the simplicity of this kid lunch recipe idea. Consider ordering or making extra and wrapping a slice or two in plastic for lunches the next day.

11. Hard Boiled Eggs:
The key here is to plan ahead and boil a few eggs at the beginning of the week so you have a fresh supply on hand. For young kids, shell the egg first and pack it in a sealed bag. Supply some salt and pepper packet.

12. Pigs-in-a-Blanket:
Wrap a hot dog in Pillsbury crescent roll dough. Bake according to directions.

13. Cold Hot Dogs:
Like cold pizza, you may be surprised how many kids like cold hot dogs. (After all, they are already cooked.) Just put the condiments and bun in the lunch box and let your kids assemble themselves.

14. Homemade Lunchables:
Cut up a variety of your child’s favorite meats and cheeses (chicken, ham, Kielbasa, cheddar, Monterey Jack, Gouda, etc...) into cubes and pack in a multi-sectioned plastic container. Send along a selection of crackers.

15. Yogurt with Granola:
Look for granola with little to no added sugar or consider making you own.

16. Taquitos:
To make homemade taquitos use leftover rotisserie chicken, salsa, cumin, grated cheese. soften tortillas in a little hot oil, fill, roll and bake. Serve alongside avocado slices, salsa, or sour cream.

17. Stuffed Pita Pockets:
Again these are pretty close to sandwiches so they may not be an option but they are healthy and have lots of variety so they made the list. You can use any ingredients your child will eat but here are two recipes I liked.

Nuts and Berries in a Pita

3 tbsp. cream cheese
1 tsp. orange juice
2 tbsp. walnuts, chopped
1 tbsp. celery, diced
2 tbsp. sweetened dried cranberries
1 whole wheat pita
Slice top half of pita. In small bowl, mix together cream cheese and orange juice. Spread on cream cheese mixture. Prepare walnuts and celery and toss in pita pocket along with the cranberries. Add lettuce and wrap up.

Apples and Peanut Butter in a Pita

1 whole wheat pita
creamy peanut butter
finely chopped apple, not peeled
Slice top half of pita. In small bowl, mix together peanut butter and applesauce. Spread mixture on pita. add apples and walnuts in pita

18. Fruits or Vegetable Salad
These are meant to be served cold so you really can't go wrong with a fruit or vegetable salad. As I was thinking about it the thought occurred to me that really any cold side dish you serve alongside your dinner would go great in a lunch ... cooked carrots with sour cream, cucumber dill salads, potato salad, hmmm ... now I'm hungry.

Tomato and Corn Salad

1 large tomato, diced
3 tbsp. black beans
3 tbsp. frozen corn
2 tbsp. salsa
Toss and pack in a single portion container

Carrot, Raisin and Pineapple Salad

2 cups carrots, grated
1 small can pineapple tidbits, drained
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup mayonnaise or whipped salad dressing.
Combine ingredients. Pack in individual containers.

19. Breads and Spreads:
Obviously, if white sandwich bread and PB&J are out this may not be enough of a difference to fool your kids. But maybe if you change up the type of bread and the type of spread you are using you may be able to trick them into eating a sandwich with a brand new face lift. Two options that come to mind are banana bread with cream cheese and banana slices or cinnamon raisin bagels with strawberry cream cheese and fresh sliced strawberries.

20. Quiche:
If your kids will eat eggs this is a versatile and very reliable option. The are tons of quiche recipes out there so you can customize one to include meats, cheese, and veggies that your kids like. Another plus for quiche is it can be eaten cold.

21. Dippers:
Dipping sauces making veggie stick a lot more fun and they add variety to a lunch if you kids wont eat a variety of veggies, they can eat a variety of dips instead. Here are some options I found online:

Home-Style Hummus with Roasted Red Peppers

1can chickpeas, drained (and rinsed)
½ cup roasted red peppers, drained (from a jar)
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp. plain yogurt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
Using a food processor or blender, process all ingredients until smooth. To ensure that everything is evenly blended frequently scrape down sides. Serve with pita wedges, veggies, crackers or nacho chips.

Chunky Cheese and Apple Dip

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup mayo (or whipped salad dressing)
1/2 cup finely chopped apples
Combine cream cheese and mayo. Blend well. Stir in cheddar cheese and apples until just mixed. Serve with crackers, celery, bread sticks or pretzels.

Peanut Butter and Cheese Spread/Dip

1/4 cup cream cheese
1/4 cup peanut butter
Whip cream cheese and peanut butter together. Serve on crackers or bagels or use as a dip for celery or bread sticks.

Spinach Dip

1 pkg. chopped spinach
1 cup sour cream
1 cup of mayonnaise
1 pkg. Knorr vegetable mix
Mix sour cream, mayonnaise and vegetable mix together. Drain and add spinach. Serve with chunks of pumpernickel bread.

Peanut Butter Apple Dip

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
4 apples cut into wedges
In a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, peanut butter, brown sugar and milk. Mix well. Serve chilled with apples.

Pumpkin Dip

4 cups powdered sugar
2 pkgs. 8 ounce cream cheese, softened
1 30 ounce can pumpkin pie filling mix
1 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Blend together sugar and cream cheese. Add pie filling, ginger and cinnamon. Use as a dip for gingersnaps or cinnamon cookies.

Peanut Butter Fruit Dip

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup unsweetened orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/2 cup plain yogurt
Beat together all ingredients until fluffy. Cover and chill. Serve with assorted fresh fruit.

Ideas for Making Lunch Fun:

Tic Tac Toe Snacks:
Pack your child a small piece of paper with tic tac toe grid on it and a snack bag of raisins and sandwich sized bag of Cheerios or round shaped cereal. Encourage your child to keep the game supplies in her knapsack for playing and eating whenever she has the opportunity at lunch or during an indoor recess.

Mystery Lunch:
For a young child who loves a good mystery, consider wrapping up her lunch items in foil and making her guess what each individual package holds. Add to the fun of this creative lunch recipe by attaching a note or riddle to each mystery package e.g. for broccoli you might want to write, “I am a green vegetable that grows in bunches above ground. I am a good source of iron and fiber.” Make sure any hints are age appropriate.

Hidden Shapes:
Sometimes how something looks offers greater appeal than ordinary menu servings. When thinking of a creative lunch recipe for young children consider some shape variations e.g. melon balls instead of melon slices, slicing grapes in half, cutting cucumbers into squares and offering up carrot circles instead of ordinary carrot sticks. You can take this idea one step further and include a note that asks your child to count up the number of different shapes that were hidden in her lunch.

Sandwich Filled Ice Cream Cones:
Send your child’s favorite sandwich filling to school in a container along with a spoon and an ice cream cone. Your child can spoon the filling into the cone and enjoy as if eating an ice cream cone.

Bagel Faces:
Make friendly characters out of bagels by adding with cream cheese (spread to fill hole), black olives (eyes), bell peppers (mouth), shredded carrots (hair), blueberry (nose)

For other "out of the lunch box" ideas you can check out this great site here were I pulled a lot of my ideas from -

Summertime Salad

Friday, September 2, 2011

This salad is light, delicious, and fresh. Perfect for a Saturday lunch or a side dish to an outdoor summer dinner. I say it serves two to four because 2 people can easily polish off the entire dish even though it is meant to serve 4. The bacon adds a nice saltiness to compliment the sweet vegetables. The dressing is light and doesn't overwhelm the fresh flavors that you want to shine though. (Photo from Taste of Home magazine)

Serves: 2-4
Start-to-Finish: 35 minutes
Recipe By: Betty Fulks


2 cups uncooked spiral pasta (I like to use rainbow spiral pasta)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 cup sliced green onions
6-8 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
1 cup fresh sugar snap peas, trimmed and halved
1 cup fresh cauliflower, chopped
1 cup fresh broccoli, chopped
1 large sweet red bell pepper, chopped


1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, sugar and garlic powder; set aside.
3. Wash and chop green onions, romaine lettuce, sugar snap peas, cauliflower, broccoli,  and red bell pepper.
3. Drain pasta and rinse in cold water.
4. In a large salad bowl combine pasta, mayonnaise dressing, crumbled bacon, green onions, romaine lettuce, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, and red bell pepper.
5. Toss to mix.
6. Cover and refrigerate until serving.