20 Fast and Healthy Brown-Bag Lunches

Chow on 08.15.11
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Photo: Aubrey Hart/Getty Images

I have to be totally upfront and say that I loathed sending lunch boxes to school. Making sandwiches drives me up the wall. I invested in a couple of thermoses and I would make hot lunches for them, but on more than one occasion I would get up in the morning to discover that my husband had been foraging through the refrigerator and discovered my tasty cache and left too little to make up a lunch. He eventually learned not to do that, but it still took awhile. Even when they were old enough to pack their own lunch, I often cooked it in advance. Two of the things that made me supremely happy when they graduated from high school: I never had to go to another parent/teacher interview and I never had to pack another lunch.

Having the snappily packed lunch these days is all the rage and there are all kinds of things like bento boxes and tiffins and adorable animal bags to pack them in. There is a very wide range in price for these items, and I would suggest you stay on the cheaper side of gear, because, as I bet you already know, kids loose stuff all the time. If you have the energy and the desire to make your kids fun lunches, then here are a bunch of ideas for you. On the other hand, if your kid loves bologna sandwiches everyday, you know, give them bologna sandwiches.

Photo credit: Kelly Rossiter

1. Salami Pinwheels: This variation on a sandwich takes no time to make. Just lay a tortilla on a board, cover the bottom with salami, or ham, or any other type of cold meat your child enjoys, add some mustard, a bit of grated cheese. Then roll them up and slice them into pinwheels that are fun to eat.

Photo credit: Kelly Rossiter

2. Tomato Basil Pinwheels: Speaking of pinwheels, this is a nice treat that you can make the night before. They are great right out of the oven, but they are still really good room temperature the next day.

3. Jamaican Patties: My kids loved these. Don't be alarmed by the long list of ingredients, these patties don't take that long to make. If you like, double the recipe and put some in the freezer for those days when you are running behind and don't have time make a lunch.

Photo Credit: Kelly Rossiter

4. Chicken Wrap: Most kids are familiar with wraps now, and you can put just about anything you like into them. This wrap was maded with leftover grilled chicken, some red pepper strips, lettuce, and a bit of mayonnaise to bind it.

Photo Credit: Kelly Rossiter

5. Couscous with Corn and Peas: I'm a big fan of using leftovers for lunches and I do it any way I can. I took the leftover couscous, added some leftover grilled chicken, added a bit of mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon juice for a delicious salad.

Photo Credit: Kelly Rossiter

6. Corn Cakes: If your child likes corn, these are a great treat. Of course, it's corn season right now, but if you want to make them later in the year, you can always use frozen corn for this. If your child also likes tomato, you could make a little salsa to go with it to dip the corn cake into.

7. Pancakes and Fruit: Don't throw leftover pancakes away, use them as a base for an open-faced sandwich. Spread a bit of cream cheese over a pancake and top with your child's favourite fresh fruit.

Photo Credit: Kelly Rossiter

8. Chicken Fingers and Plum Sauce: I've never met a kid who didn't like dipping chicken fingers. Make your own, baking them in the oven, rather than buying frozen which have tons of fat and salt in them. Here is a recipe for plum sauce that isn't as sweet as store bought. This photo of plum sauce is actually with pot stickers, which are also pretty fantastic.

Photo Credit: Kelly Rossiter

9. Potato Chip Frittata: These are terrific little frittatas that your kids will have fun eating with their hands. And how often do you let them eat potato chips?

10. Chickpea Salad Sandwich: Chickpea salad makes a nice change from tuna salad. It has lots of vegetables in it, too.

Photo Credit: Kelly Rossiter

11. Fried Rice: On more than one occasion I ended up tossing a bunch of rice in a pan and frying it with whatever I had on hand. This needs to go into a Thermos or container that can keep it hot.

Photo Credit: Emma Alter

12. Cheese Biscuits: This is the best cheese biscuit recipe I have ever used. Tuck one of these into the lunch box with some fresh vegetables, or cut one in half and add some ham to it.

13. Soda Bread: Like the cheese biscuits, soda bread is something that you would put a slice in with cheese and vegetables or maybe some homemade pickles. It's too dense for a sandwich, but one slice with butter is perfect for small tummies.

Photo Credit: Kelly Rossiter

14. Quesadillas: I was first introduced to quesadillas by my daughter and my son's girlfriend who made them for us one night. Mine always seem to be a bit squishy, but otherwise, they make for a great lunch. You can cut them into quarters to make it easier to eat.

15. Fruit and Yogurt: Make your own fruit bottom yogurt by taking a jar, putting some fresh fruit on the bottom and topping it with yogurt. Let you child stir it up themselves at school. You can also make smoothies to send along.

16. Hummus and Pita: This was one of my daughter's favourite lunches. Add some carrot and celery sticks and some olives or pickles.

17. Mini Pizzas: Get yourself some individual flatbreads and add the toppings you know your kids love. The variations are endless.

18. Mini Quiche: This is another individual dish that you can send along in the lunch box. It's best if you can keep it slightly chilled.

19. Broccoli Cheddar Soup: This is a great soup to send in a thermos when the weather starts to get a bit colder. Lots of great flavour to this soup, and the kids will love the cheese.

Photo Credit: Kelly Rossiter

20, Kebobs: I'm adding this because I think kids would love to find something like this in their lunch box. However, their lunch room supervisor may not be so crazy about pointy sticks, so you'd have to find something blunt to use. It's a pretty easy thing to come up with in a hurry, and no doubt it's fun to eat.

Most of these recipes have appeared over the years on TreeHugger and Planet Green, but I also took a lot of inspiration from the book The Lunch Box by Kate McMillan and Sarah Putman Clegg, which is a huge amount of fun

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