Fresh ideas for kids’ lunches every day of the week

Here is a math problem that every elementary school parent knows well: Two kids times 180 school days equals lunchbox burnout. This school year, prevent the lunchtime blues before they start. Put down the white bread–with the crusts cut off, naturally–and think about lunch a little differently.

Shopping list

1 pint grape tomatoes

1 package of eight mini cucumbers

1 bunch scallions

1 bag baby carrots

1 bag seedless grapes

1 quart vanilla-flavored Greek yogurt

8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese

1 9 oz. package fresh cheese tortellini

1 dozen eggs

1-inch-thick slice of roasted turkey or chicken breast (Tell the person at the deli counter that it is for cutting into chunks for salad.)

2 packages of mini pitas or naan (eight total)

8 oz. container hummus

1 package nut-free granola such as Enjoy Life

1 bottle vinaigrette salad dressing

To avoid adding more tasks to your already hectic morning, get a jump start on lunch preparations over the weekend. Cook the cheese tortellini according to the package directions and refrigerate the cooked pasta.

Make the frittata and refrigerate until needed.

Thinking outside the sandwich requires forethought when shopping at the grocery store and some Sunday afternoon preparation. But the reward is a week’s worth of healthy, portable meals that will make your kids the envy of the cafeteria.

Once you get used to it, this kind of simple, advance preparation will seem like second nature. And when you see how delicious brown-bag lunches can be, you and your spouse may want to get in on the action.

We’ve created a shopping list, instructions and one key recipe for a week’s worth of satisfying, sandwich-free lunches for two kids.

The daily menu does not include additional items, such as chips or dessert, but you can add those if you like. The shopping list suggests buying items like salad dressing, granola and hummus for the sake of convenience, but keep in mind that these foods are easy and less expensive to make yourself, if you are so inclined.

Adjust the recipes and ideas to your family’s taste. If your kids do not care for hummus, for example, substitute a pimento cheese spread. In addition, all of these recipes are nut- and peanut-free because even if your child does not have a food allergy, many schools now ban these ingredients.

The only special equipment needed are reusable plastic containers and glass Mason jars in pint, 8 oz. and 4 oz. sizes. Mason jars are inexpensive, reusable containers for portable salads, yogurt parfaits and more. However, you can also buy specialized containers such as the Sistema Klip-It Breakfast-to-Go for packing yogurt and granola and Salad-to-Go to keep ingredients and dressing separate, both of which are available at Amazon and The Container Store.

Monday: Mason Jar Chef Salad with Pita

In the bottom of the pint-sized Mason jar, place two tablespoons of your favorite vinaigrette dressing. Chop two of the mini cucumbers and place on the bottom of the jar. (The cucumber won’t absorb the dressing and get soggy.) Chop four baby carrots and add them to the jar. Cut one-half of the roasted turkey into chunks and add to the jar. Top with four halved grape tomatoes. Pack ingredients tightly, but do not crush. Seal jar tightly with lid. Repeat with a second jar.

Include one of the mini pitas in each lunch. Advise kids to shake jar gently before opening to distribute oil and vinegar. (For more ideas like this, pick up the book Mason Jar Salads and More: 50 Layered Lunches to Grab and Go by Julia Mirabella.)

Tuesday: Mini Cheese Frittata with Grapes

Pack three or four mini frittata depending on your child’s age and appetite. Include a side of grapes and one mini pita. (Remaining frittata can be reheated for a quick breakfast later in the week.)

Mini cheese frittata recipe

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray a 12-cavity muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, beat together one dozen eggs and 1/4 cup milk. Season with salt and pepper.

Grate 8 oz. of cheddar cheese.

Divide the grated cheese evenly between the cavities in the muffin tin.

Pour the egg mixture over the cheese filling the cavities about 2/3 full.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm.

Remove from muffin tin and refrigerate until needed.

Wednesday: Mason Jar Pasta Salad

In the bottom of the pint-sized Mason jar, place two tablespoons of your favorite vinaigrette dressing. Chop one of the mini cucumbers and place on the bottom of the jar. Chop one scallions, white and light green part only, and add it to the jar. Add half of the cooked cheese tortellini to the jar. Top with four or five halved grape tomatoes.

Pack ingredients tightly, but do not crush. Seal jar tightly with lid. Repeat with a second jar. Advise kids to shake jar gently before opening to distribute oil and vinegar.

Thursday: Granola Yogurt Parfait

Place vanilla yogurt in the 8 oz. Mason jar and seal. (If desired, swirl a spoonful of your child’s favorite jam into the yogurt.) Pack granola separately in a small plastic container. Include a side of grapes.

Friday: Hummus and Pita and Veggies

Pack baby carrots and grape tomatoes in a plastic container. Spoon half of the hummus into a 4 oz. Mason jar. Drizzle top with olive oil and sprinkle with pine nuts, if desired. (Pine nuts are not actually nuts but seeds and do not trigger nut allergies.)

Include two mini pitas and a side of grapes.

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