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Cafeteria food hacks you can pack

Back to school is tough enough without the added pressure of packing a unique and gourmet school lunch every day.

Reality check, though: Just about every mom relies on school cafeteria food from time to time. Try to remember that pizza, tater tots and nachos have their place in childhood — but if you feel particularly guilty about machine-separated chicken, try these easily-packed hacks to dress up your child’s cafeteria food.

1. Send those tater tots south of the border

Super Bowl guacomole recipe

Tater tots make a yummy appetizer, but they shouldn’t stand alone as the focus of a meal. Turn your child’s tots into a Mexican fiesta by packing homemade guacamole and a small container of black beans so she can build a tasty tater tot casserole right there on her tray. The flavors blend well, and the guac and beans provide extra protein.

2. Twice-baked potatoes, anyone?

Twice baked mashed potatoes

Mashed potatoes and gravy are the highlight of many a cafeteria lunch, but they’re so much better with toppings. Those mashed potatoes easily turn into twice-baked potatoes (minus the skin, of course) with a container packed full of classic toppings, like bacon, chives and grated cheese.

3. Gourmet additions for a bland hamburger

 Super easy homemade pickles

Remember cafeteria hamburgers? They come with cheese and ketchup, if your child is lucky. Send a few gourmet toppings to school so your child’s hamburger can go from bland to boss. We suggest packing freshly sliced tomatoes, romaine lettuce and pickles for nutritious flavor. Feeling wild? While you can’t pack a fried egg as a topping, you can boil an egg and slice it for a tasty burger treat.

4. Crispy veggies for soggy pizza

Meatless Monday: Zucchini “spaghetti” with easy marinara sauce

Kids love pizza day, no doubt about it. Balance the chewy sogginess of cafeteria pizza by packing a few sliced, crispy veggies to sprinkle on top. We like the idea of fresh red bell peppers, purple onions and black olives. If you’re feeling full of pizzazz, pack a small tub of homemade marinara sauce (since we know the pizza sauce has no real tomatoes in it).

5. Funky dips for chicken nugget day

Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders

Play with dips when chicken nugget day rolls around, so your kid won’t be stuck with boring ketchup and mustard. Not sure where to start? Check out this recipe for sweet and tangy dipping sauce.

6. Fresh berries for dessert

Chocolate stuffed raspberries

Chocolate and vanilla pudding are great by themselves, but they’re also a fantastic opportunity to showcase your ingenuity. If pudding is on the menu, send your child to school with fresh blueberries, sliced strawberries and little cookie crumbles to mix in. Better yet? Pack raspberries, and stuff each one with a tiny chocolate chip for extra fun.

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