New Year, New Lunchbox: Nine Cures for the Midday Blues

The following is a guest post by Jan of Family Bites. Welcome Jan!

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably always looking for new ways to jazz up the midday meal, whether your packing a lunch for work or school, or both. Let’s face it, packing lunches isn’t the most glamorous job in the home culinary world, and when you’re facing picky eaters, allergies and school policies, feeling inspired each time you approach an empty lunchbox can become quite challenging.

With five full months of lunch-making under my belt for this school year, I’ve been feeling uninspired with the daily packing of late. In order to keep myself motivated, I decided that instead of approaching lunches with a menu, I would attempt to approach them with a theme.

Nine Lunchbox Themes

It used to be that I would head off to the fridge or pantry looking for items that could be assembled quickly with hopes of creating a decent meal, but now I have learned to tackle each lunch with a theme in mind instead. Not only does this make packing the meal more fun, it also makes it easier as my focus is narrowed down to the few items that fit into my category for the day.

These nine themes are the ones we use most often, however we’ve decided to come up with special ones for holidays and seasonal celebrations.

  • The “Thermos” Lunch
  • The “Not-Lunch” Lunch
  • The “Breakfast-for-Lunch” Lunch
  • The “International” Lunch
  • The “Tea Party” Lunch
  • The “Kids’ Choice” Lunch
  • The “Wrap and Roll” Lunch
  • The “Pizza” Lunch
  • The “Pasta and Grains” Lunch


All photos by Jan Scott.

The “Thermos” Lunch

With soup and stew season upon us, doubling up on what you make for dinner one night can mean that lunch is ready in a matter of minutes the next day. I like to use a stainless steel thermos, and keep the food extra hot by pouring boiling water into the thermos and allowing it to rest, before pouring it out and adding the soup in. Serve alongside a bun and a piece of fruit, and a hearty lunch can be had in no time at all.

Sample Menus:

  1. Chicken and wild rice soup, pita wedges and cucumber rounds
  2. Parsnip and pear soup, wheat crackers, cheddar cheese and grapes

The “Not-Lunch” Lunch

We like to serve what we call a Parisian Picnic. Similar to Aimee’s “Guilt-free Non-Suppers”, this is an assortment of yummy eats and often includes crackers, cheeses, fruits, meats, veggies and dips packaged in small individual containers. This is also a wonderful way to feed a gaggle of kiddies who come over to play, or adult guests who pop by for a leisurely weekend lunch.

Sample Menu: Cheddar cheese cubes, bread sticks, turkey slices, apple wedges, grapes, carrots and hummus, dates and dark chocolate squares.

The “Breakfast for Lunch” Lunch

Omelettes and frittatas are a favorite for my boys, and so are waffles and pancakes. Each of these works well if served at room temperature and when paired with a fruit and veggies, a complete meal can be had.

Sample Menu: Sweet potato pancakes with maple syrup, celery topped with cream cheese and raisins, and apple slices.

The “International Lunch”

Perhaps one of the most fun lunches to assemble, we start by choosing a country we want to eat from and build from there. This works great for adult lunches as well and can prompt creative action from the entire family.

Sample Menus:

  1. Italian – Gnocchi with Parmesan and prosciutto, mini pots of tiramisu, grapes.
  2. French – Brie, baguette, walnuts, Dijon potato salad, strawberry cake, French mineral water.

The “Tea Party” Lunch

Fun for adults and kids alike, this is a lunch comprised of easy-to-eat finger foods. Remove the crusts from sandwiches for true authenticity and consider sending along a thermos of herbal tea for a warm beverage.

Sample Menu: Assorted tea sandwiches (i.e. tuna and egg with crusts removed), mini scones, veggies and dip, fresh fruit kebabs.

The “Kids’ Choice” Lunch

Relinquish control for a day and relish in watching your kids ponder the many possibilities of what to eat for lunch. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what they come up with, and astonished by just how creative your culinary protégés can be.

Sample Menu: Guide your kids in their endeavor by suggesting they choose one protein, one grain, one fruit, one veggie and one treat for their creation.

The “Wrap and Roll” Lunch

Give the everyday sandwich a facelift by using tortilla wraps in place of ordinary bread. Be creative with your presentation and cut the rolls into ½ or ¼’s for a different look.

Sample Menus:

  1. Black bean and feta tacos, fresh fruit salad and homemade cookies.
  2. Black bean burritos, tortilla chips, pineapple wedges.

The “Pizza” Lunch

Pizza doesn’t have to be a fast food/take-out item. When made at home it can be a healthy solution to those greasy cravings. Consider making pizzas from English muffins, whole grain pitas and flatbreads, or traditional pizza dough and use leftovers for an assortment of toppings.

Sample Menu: Chicken club pizza and tomato, bocconcini and basil skewers

The “Pasta and Grains” Lunch

This can be served as a hot lunch (use a thermos) or a room temperature one (think salads), and the possibilities are endless. Leftover spaghetti, noodles and gnocchi make for a great hot lunch, while penne is a great base for a pasta salad.

Sample Menu: Honey-glazed chicken and penne salad, orange slices and mini muffins.

These are the themes that work for our family, but please feel free to adapt them to what will work for you. I know several families who try to offer a vegetarian lunch each week and I know of others who make a “fast-food-at-home” lunch each week.

Be creative and have fun, and I guarantee your lunch making blues will be banished.

Which lunch theme(s) will you integrate into your week?

About Jan

Jan Scott is a Canadian food writer, party planner, and mom of two active tween boys. She is the home cook and creative behind Family Bites, a blog inspired by the simple recipes and party ideas she’s put to the test on her family. Prior to making the transition to freelance writer, Jan spent five years as a party planner for a private catering company, but shifted to working from home in order to spend more time with her growing family.

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Comments

  1. I like the “not lunch” lunch myself, it’s easy and nice to be able to nibble at a few different things rather than having to put something together.
    Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen’s last post: french vegetable soup the soup that changed my mind

  2. My kids love “Breakfast-For-Lunch” (and breakfast for dinner for that matter) and we do the “Not-Lunch” idea quite often as well. They both work really well for school lunches.
    Kelly @ Mom’s Kitchen Gadgets’s last post: Vinturi Wine Aerator – Best Price Found!

  3. LOVE the not-lunch lunch. What a fun idea! And a great way to introduce super-healthy options to the family. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Awesome post and at such a great time. I’m also feeling very uninspired with lunch packing right now.

    Karla

  5. Even on the days that I don’t have to pack lunch, these are great ideas! I love the “not-lunch” lunch and the parisian lunch. Can’t wait to spice up my mid-day meal!
    (Mostly) Healthy Mom’s last post: Tu BShevat Seder

  6. Great ideas!
    Amanda’s last post: Cake Decorating Ideas Valentines Day Edition

  7. YUM!!

    You’ve officially made me hungry this morning….great ideas :)
    Cookbook Queen’s last post: Blueberry Breakfast Cookies

  8. I don’t pack lunch boxes (both my hubby and I work from home)… But, I am always getting bored with the “usual” lunch foods. Love all of these great ideas!

  9. Super ideas! I’m taking my lunch more often to work, and I love the creative spark you’ve given me.
    Chris @ The Peche’s last post: Chocolate Kahlua Pie via Matt Lewis and Chocolate Bar Pie Month

  10. Thank you for this post. I work full time, but my kids are not in school yet. I have been trying to figure out how to eat lunch with out the use of a microwave.

  11. Great ideas, thanks! My struggle is that my 6 year old doesn’t want to take anything “different” since his friends ask him about what he’s eating. But one breakfast for lunch that he does like (and passes the peer pressure test) is yogurt and granola. I send them in different containers and he mixes them at lunch. Add some fruit and a whole wheat muffin and he’s got a filling, healthy lunch.

  12. Great ideas. Love the not-lunch lunch which we sometimes do for dinner!
    susie bee on maui (Eat Little, Eat Big)’s last post: PICTURE THIS- Winery Lunch- Colchagua Valley- Chile- February 2010

  13. Great ideas. Seriously, we can never have enough ideas for lunch – especially for healthy school lunches! Our kids love taking hot lunch so we get a lot of mileage from our Thermos food jars for leftovers. I haven’t tried soup in the food jar but your Chicken & Wild Rice soup sounds hearty enough to get them through the day.

    We call Not-Lunch Lunch “Snack Lunch” around here and it’s one of my kid’s favorites. Here’s how we do it. http://ht.ly/3I73w

  14. Great ideas! I am a big fan of the not-lunch lunch!
    Jamie | My Baking Addiction’s last post: Chocolate-Peanut Butter Torte

  15. Magic and Mayhem says:

    What fun! These are good ideas for serving lunch at home too. :)
    Magic and Mayhem’s last post: Science Nifties!

  16. The Tea Party lunch sounds like so much fun! I love little crustless sandwiches!

  17. My favourite lunch is the Not lunch, lunch. Easy and fun. Thank you for the ideas.

  18. We always do the not-lunch-lunches! Love these ideas to help us change it up. Bought each big kid a thermos today… I see lunch packing getting way more interesting. Thanks!

  19. Jan, you are the consummate, patient Mom. Wow, those kids are loved… and lucky!
    Sanura at MyLifeRunsOnFood.com’s last post: Roast Garlicky Butternut Squash with Chicken and Wheat Pasta

  20. Loved this post! I’m going back to school tomorrow and I love the not lunch lunch. Sounds delicious and is a great idea!
    Amanda @SomethingSavory’s last post: Playing with Food

  21. Great post Jan! So glad to see you featured here.

  22. I have read countless posts on making balanced school lunches, and yours has been the single most helpful list of suggestions. My daughter just turned 4 and is quite a picky eater, so its great to have some realistic ideas for things to send to school. Thanks for your post!

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