It's All in the Lunchbox

One of my favorite challenges is finding well-rounded choices for my toddler’s lunchbox. The daughter of a dietitian, I strive for healthy chow. Providing Jack with all the goodness of fruits, veggies, whole grains and dairy is a Top Five parent goal. Plus, it ensures he’s able to jump off the coffee table without breaking a leg. My husband and I have also benefited from this healthy fixation. Fresh fruits are always available. Cooked dinners are regular protocol. And I can’t even remember what Fruity Pebbles taste like.

Jack’s at daycare, aka “school,” two days a week. One workday with Nana. The others with me, weekends with Justin & me.  Speedy, effortless lunches are a necessity with little ones. Their patience lasts three seconds. There’s no time between coloring books and crashing toy trucks to chop/prep/cook a cuisine. We need quick, easy and delicious.

Grilled cheeses, quesadillas, pastas and potpies are a cinch at home. The true test is daycare. Packed lunch. Something I’ll be doing for 18 years. Well, most days.

I’m determined not to crumble to the simplicity of the school’s “hot lunch.” It includes fruit, but usually paired with nuggets or pizza. Jack fancies the nuggets. Yesterday, his report even boasted, “Jack loves the hot lunch!” Explanation point. I refuse to give in – well yet. We’ll see how I feel when little miss baby arrives, right? For now, such a statement pushed me to get even more creative.

When Jack arrived in the toddler group several months ago, the teachers gushed over the range and substance of his lunches. But I’ll admit. I’ve slacked. Summer’s been enormously hectic. But now I’m back in the game.

A few old favorites include ham & cheese pinwheels, peanut butter whole-wheat crackers, avocado and/or flavored cream cheese tortilla rolls, bagel sandwiches. Of course, the ol’ favorite peanut butter & jelly. All paired with a cup of Jack’s fabulously favorite fruits (bananas, strawberries, Clementine’s, peaches, grapes or blueberries) and a tiny side (string cheese, muffin, banana bread, carrots, pickle, etc.).

After some digging, I found a few new recipes to try. A few also uncovered inspired creations of my own. Here are some clever & delicious lunchbox solutions (summer-themed of course!):

Typical Italian Pasta Salad
(Inspired from creation I learned in college by my bff and former roomie, Kelly, aka Jack’s Godmother)
- Spiral, tri-color or favorite pasta
- Salami and ham lunch meats
- Block of cheddar, mozzarella and/or Colby cheeses
- Black olives
- Green and/or red pepper(s)
- Onion
- Italian salad dressing

One of my favorites (and Justin’s). Make as much or little as you want. Prep on a Sunday night and refrigerate. Add ingredient variations, your kid’s favorites or different dressings. Easy as cook pasta, drain, add ingredients, drench with Italian dressing to taste.

Egg & Bacon Roll
(From a lunchbox recipe book I picked up at Kohl’s)

- Slice of bacon
- 1 egg
- 1 roll
- Half a tomato, seeded (optional)
- Black pepper

Recipe is for one serving, but double/triple recipes for later use (or you!). Make egg/bacon filling the day before and refrigerate overnight. Prep/cook time: 17 minutes total. Cook bacon until crisp, let cool. Boil egg for roughly 6 minutes until yolk is very slightly runny. Cool egg under cold running water. Peel egg, place in bowl and roughly chop. Cut bacon into small pieces, stir in egg. Season. Cut roll, squeeze/rub tomato onto one half, then spoon in egg/bacon mix. Sandwich!

Apple Coleslaw

- 4 oz. red or white cabbage, grated
- 1 large carrot
- 2 scallions, finely sliced
- Apple, cored & grated
- 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 2 tbsp. mayonnaise

Serving for four. Make in advance and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Prep time: 10 minutes. Mix cabbage, carrot, onions and apple together. Whisk oil and lemon juice together, then stir in mayo. Spoon dressing over salad and stir until combined. Easy right?

Mini Pizza

- English muffins
- Jar of marinara sauce
- Steamed broccoli, spinach or other fav of child (optional)
- Shredded mozzarella cheese

Make as many as you desire! Best made the night before to save morning time. Spread marinara over English muffin halves. If desired, add chopped broccoli/spinach to sauce. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes. Let cool, then wrap up.

My Fav Resources: Healthy Child, Healthy World, Disney's Family Fun, Parenting Magazine Online and good ol’ family traditions.

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