For parents with school-aged children, it’s the question that dominates many weeknights: What do I pack in my kid’s lunchbox? It’s so easy to get in the rut of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (hey, squares are different than triangles!) or—heaven forbid—eye the rows of easy-peasy Lunchables in the grocery store. But kids need variety—and healthy options—to keep them focused for the afternoon. So when your child scoffs at hearing, “But it’s pizza day in the cafeteria!” here are some inventive takes on the classics.

[beyond the brown bag sandwich]
There are countless options beyond PB&J or ham and cheese. And the following ideas might spur your own creative ideas!

Spread a slice of toasted raisin bread with peanut butter (or nut butter) and a jam of your choosing. Top with bacon and another piece of toast.

Cream Cheese, Pear & Honey
Forget those plastic containers of diced fruit and put the real thing on multigrain bread! Spread on cream cheese and top with thinly sliced pear (or apple) and a drizzle of honey.

>> For an easy way to spruce up sandwiches, use a cookie cutter to make them into fun shapes. Dinosaurs, hearts and flowers are always big hits!

[snack ideas]
For a ‘side’ to go with lunch or a snack in the classroom, these easy options are nutritious and delicious!

Banana with Fixins’
Pack a banana, peanut butter and cornflakes. Transform a Ziploc bag into a pastry bag (twist the top and secure with a twist-tie) and fill with peanut butter so kids can drizzle it onto the banana and then dunk that in the cornflakes.

Sweet Apples
Sprinkle apple slices with cinnamon. (Bonus: Kids won’t notice the browning this way!)

Veggies with Hummus
Fill a couple of compartments in a lunch container with different flavors of hummus and pack a variety of crunchy veggies: carrots, cucumbers and celery.

bento-3[bento box it up]
Fun colors will have your child excited about the food, but fill a bento box container with yummy goodies, and you’ll double their interest!

Tacos—Any Which Way
Pack one or two small tortillas and include different toppings for them in the compartments of a sectioned Tupperware container to spice up their day. Ideas include black beans, corn, diced red pepper, cherry tomatoes, shredded cheese, lettuce, and cooked chicken or beef from last night’s dinner. Ole!

Antipasto Platter
This one will take no time at all. Divide sliced salami and cheese, olives and cherry tomatoes. Pack their favorite cracker, and voila! Healthy with a little bit of glam. (For older children, you could even add fun toothpicks so fingers don’t get messy.)

[hot and toasty]
Cold weather calls for a warm lunch. Choose a thermos that will keep food hot for hours, and load it with their favorites (try chili, soup, spaghetti or mac and cheese).

Tomato Soup
Make a pot for a weeknight dinner to knock out another meal, and send the kiddos to school with the leftovers. Pack cheddar goldfish for a crunchy topping or a grilled cheese sandwich cut into strips for dunking!

Noodles with Cheese
Spend a few minutes boiling noodles in fun shapes and colors, and pack them to stay warm. Drizzle on some olive oil or add a little dab of butter. Put in grated parm or shredded mozzarella for a flavor boost.

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