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Back to school lunch recipes & ideas

Diana De Cicco is a food editor and writer based in New York City. She has a master's degree from New York University in Food Studies. Her passions are eating, traveling, and eating while traveling.

Lunches your kids will want to eat

Instead of sending them back to school with the same old sandwich and chips, pack the kids one of these delicious back to school lunch recipes.

Packed lunch1Ask your kids what they want

Come up with a list of lunches together and you will have a go-to arsenal of healthy lunch ideas for the whole school year. You should even bring them food shopping and let them pick out some of their favorite lunch items and let them explore new and interesting foods.

2Plan dinner around the next day's lunch

Leftovers work perfectly for school lunch the next day, especially items you can reinvent. Things like grilled chicken, steak, or fish are great in sandwiches or turned into salads. Even leftover pasta can work if there is an accessible microwave, or if you kid doesn't mind room temperature pasta. If you made your own taco bar at home the night before, repurpose it for a school lunch by giving your kid a few tortillas, meat, and a choice of a topping or two. Put each ingredient in separate containers and your children can have fun making their own lunches. And, a bonus for using leftovers, you can pack them the night before and save time in the morning.

3Make better prepared foods

There are a lot of simple prepared foods out there that are easy to pack in your kids' lunches. But things like Lunchables, with tuna salad and crackers or pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, are not always the healthiest ways to go.

Many pre-made items can be made at home much cheaper and will turn out to be much healthier. Make your own Lunchables by giving your kids small slices of lunch meats and cheeses, along with crackers and a small container of mustard or mayonnaise (just be sure to keep it cold). You can also give them vegetables like lettuce and tomatoes to add to their own Lunchables.

4Introduce a new take on an old classic

If your kids love bologna and cheese on bread with mayonnaise, then try introducing one new flavor to that classic sandwich. For example, adding just a little bit of wasabi to the mayonnaise will give them an unexpected flavor that they may like. If they have ever eaten sushi, chances are they have eaten wasabi anyway and may already like the flavor, so why not try adding it to spice up their daily lunch routine.

Add cranberry sauce to a plain turkey and cheese sandwich for a Thanksgiving-style meal or even adding avocado to ham and Swiss cheese will give them something new and creative. Make a simple sandwich more fun by making a roll-up sandwich like sushi or a kebab form.

5Don't forget the snacks

Add some fun and healthy snacks to your child's lunch box, such as homemade trail mix or granola. When making a homemade snack mix, be sure to keep it healthy by adding dried fruit and whole grain cereal. Of course you can add a little sweetness with some chocolate morsels or M&Ms®. Fruit is always a good option and a quick homemade fruit salad is easy and healthy. You can even give a nice snack of plain yogurt and fruit for dipping, or mix peanut butter with plain Greek yogurt and dip apple slices into it (this also works with celery).

If your child likes something crunchy, homemade potato chips are a much better choice than store bought because you can bake them instead of frying them and also add a lot less salt. Even items like graham crackers topped with strawberry jam and cream cheese are a terrific and healthy sweet treat.

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