10 Outside-the-Box Back-to-School Lunch Ideas

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While summer is winding down, your family is gearing up for a new school year. That means brand-new backpacks, fresh kicks and boxes of freshly sharpened No. 2 pencils. Kick off the new year with fresh lunchbox recipes your kids will love. Read on for 10 lunches they won’t want to trade.

Take-to-School Taco Bar (pictured above)

Make any day of the week #TacoTuesday. Deconstructed tacos make lunchtime a fun activity for budding chefs. Place guacamole, salsa, lettuce and sour cream into portioned containers to make measuring simple. Add a side salad like this Chipotle-Ranch Potato Salad to complete the meal. Put everything in a bento box, and your kiddo is ready to go.

Creamy Hummus and Smoked Turkey Sandwich

Kids love bagels, and this sandwich is made with a nutritious whole-wheat one instead of bread. Skip the mayo and spread creamy hummus made with Neufchatel and veggies on the bottom half of the bagel. It’s basically another layer of vegetables under fresh cucumber and smoked deli meat.

Fresh Mozzarella BLT with Pesto

Creamy fresh mozzarella appeals to even the pickiest eaters. Combine pesto with low-fat mayonnaise for a more flavorful spread your kids will love. Crispy bacon adds a salty layer to this sandwich, and crisp romaine contributes a fresh crunch. Served on a crunchy baguette, this BLT is not your average school-lunch sandwich.

Mixed Berry and Yogurt Parfait

If your student has a sweet tooth, send him or her to school with a yogurt parfait instead of a sandwich. Low-fat plain yogurt is a good source of calcium, and maple syrup and berries are natural sweeteners. Make your own granola for a healthy, homemade crunchy topping. It couldn’t be easier and the whole thing is ready in less than 30 minutes!

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Ham and Scallion Cream Cheese Pinwheel Sandwiches

Little and big kids alike can help prepare this lunch. Tiny hands can wash and spin-dry the lettuce, and more advanced kiddos can put the pinwheels together. Roasted peppers, scallion cream cheese and shredded carrots make this dish an elevated version of your classic ham and cheese.

Turkey Pad Thai

This dish is a favorite in Melissa d’Arabian’s house. Cubed turkey, pasta and carrots are familiar to most children, and ingredients they’re familiar with will help get them excited about trying something new. Make a batch for dinner the night before and send your student with leftovers the next day. It’s just as good at room temperature.

Prairie Sushi

If Sushi Night is a thing of the past now that you have little mouths to feed, these “sushi” sandwiches are the perfect addition to your mealtime repertoire (and a great way to introduce kids to the idea of trying maki rolls). Unlike pinwheels, these sandwiches are made by taking all of the meat and veggies and rolling them inside cream cheese-laden tortillas. In the morning, unwrap and slice the “sushi” before packing it in your child’s lunchbox.

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Carrot-Ginger and Chicken Noodles

Carrot-ginger sauce is the star of this dish. It’s a delicious way for kids to eat their veggies without even knowing they’re in there. Add some protein to the dish with shredded chicken, then divide it up into packable portions. Eat it soon, though! This dish keeps in the fridge for only three days.

Lemon Roasted Chicken Salad Wrap

Chicken salad on wheat bread can get messy; chunks of chicken can easily fall out of the sandwich as small hands try to pick it up. Jeff Mauro’s wrap solves this problem. A tightly rolled wrap ensures kids will get a healthy helping of creamy chicken in every bite.

Sesame-Pecan Chicken Strips

Chicken fingers are always a favorite kid-friendly food. Amp up the flavor by adding sesame seeds and finely chopped pecans to the breading. Fry the strips in vegetable oil and set them on a paper towel to dry. Peachy mustard sauce on the side is a welcome change from typical honey mustard.