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It is that time of year again.....school lunches

Last school year, DH mainly did lunches. This year is my turn again. After 11 years of school, I have no fresh ideas.

Any creative/fun/new/easy ideas for bag lunches? I'm making for two teen boys. Make it themselves, you say? Good idea but still in search of inspiration.

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  1. Would they go for this French tuna sandwich?


    Or are the ingredients too 'weird' for your boys? By the time our girls were teenagers, the sky was the limit.

    2 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      *I* go for that tuna sandwich! IME, tuna is problematic in a school lunch because of the smell factor, or maybe teen paranoia about the smell factor.

      1. re: tcamp

        you're not paranoid.
        i can smell a tuna sandwich from across the courtyard.
        after a couple of hours at room temperature, it's almost a hostile act to be carrying around a tuna sandwich in a crowed environment.

    2. My kids got tired of sandwiches. So, I made the following, in bulk:

      Calzones- pizza, ham and cheese, turkey, etc
      Chili cups- refrigerated biscuit dough, muffin tins, chili, top with cheese and bake.
      Huge green salad, they liked chef salads and Caesars
      Tamales- make big batches and freeze
      Stir fried veggie rice- with egg strips and lots of vegetables, add a soy sauce packet
      Falafel PItas with and tzatziki sauce.

      A variety of raw veg and dips, bread/ cracker and spreads..mix and match type lunch. Homemade potato chips (micro) with their favorite seasoning would be nice.

      Oh, I have a young teen niece that is positively nuts over this soba noodle salad: al dente soba noodles (well rinsed) al dente green beans, lots of garlic, soy sauce, oil and sesame oil, green onion and sesame seeds. Chili flakes to their taste. Keeps in the fridge for days and is filling.

      3 Replies
      1. re: sedimental

        So they eat all those things at room temp?

        1. re: c oliver

          In their thermal lunch bag for cold stuff, room temp for salads and they used the micro at school for hot things.

        2. re: sedimental

          Calzones and chili cups, like those! Fried rice is a good one and something I do often.

        3. taco salad -- an idividual bag or doritos, a beggie of seasoned taco meat (ground beef or chicken), and a baggie of shredded lettuce. Be sure to include a paper bowl.

          Graham cracker stix with peanut butter.
          Put a banana and some raisins in the bag.

          French bread pizza

          "Sub" sandwich on a sturdy hot dog bun

          Bean and cheese burrito

          Turkey sandwich (pack a baggie of bacon strips to put on sandwich at mealtime)

          1 Reply
          1. re: laliz

            French bread pizza, thanks for the reminder!

          2. For me in highschool I never warmed anything up (I know some of you will blech at that but it didn’t bug me back then!) because I didn’t have a ton of time and the line was always long.
            Asian noodle salad
            Pasta salad (or quinoa)
            Bean salad
            Puff pastry stuffed with whatever (pulled pork, pepperoni, sauce & cheese)
            Soft taco held together with a tooth pick
            Sandwiches or stuffed pita (no fuss) – egg salad, tuna salad, curried chicken salad, cold cuts, hummus and roasted veggies, cream cheese and veggies, sliced rotisserie chicken
            Cold pizza (FAVOURITE!)
            Cold fried chicken
            Calzones / panzerotti
            Savoury muffins
            Chinese bakery buns
            If it was something my mom was concerned about, she would send an ice pack or frozen juice box to keep everything cool. (Bonus – was mostly melted by lunch!)

            3 Replies
            1. re: pumpkinspice

              Room temp for my kids - they both go to large public schools with no microwaves available.

              1. re: tcamp

                Some people (my kids included) would not have eaten certain things meant to be served warm if it were cold and at their school back then, it was hard to get to the microwave and still have time to eat. Some things are okay at room temp but I'm a big supporter of the thermos. Back in my school day (we're talking 60's) my mom packed all kinds of things in mine. I bought one for my fiance six months ago because he's a trucker that has a hard time eating a balanced meal on the road because very few places allow for parking a big rig.

                Fill a thermos with:

                Pasta - ravioli, spaghetti, tortellini, etc.
                Soups & stews of all kinds (hot & cold)
                Eggs - rolled omelette, hard boiled and deviled eggs(not offensive to others in these preparations using a wide mouth thermos)

                The thermos below has a really wide mouth; you could pack leftover burgers, chicken for sandwiches, hot dogs, sausages w/ peppers & onions, pulled pork, for example- pack bread & condiments separately.


                And of course, there are those insulated lunch bags; some come with a heating/cold pack. You can pretty much send to school whatever you want if you have one of these.

                My kids didn't really care for cold pizza but cold fried fried chicken, pork chops, bbq ribs, meat loaf sandwiches...

              2. re: pumpkinspice

                Always a frozen water bottle in my lunch bag- to this day! Keeps lunch stuff cold and the water is still super cold for drinking...

              3. I’m on a summer roll kick lately, quick and easy, and there’s really no limit to what you can fill them with. Lately I’ve made them with thinly sliced red peppers, shredded pickled carrots and red onion, rice vermicelli, and whatever leftover meat is in the fridge. Make a dipping sauce with hoisin, ketchup, honey and soy sauce. Or a peanut sauce as in this Chow recipe. http://www.chow.com/recipes/10641-vie...
                Quesadillas – my favorite recipe is from ATK. http://wegottaeat.com/chef_linzi/reci...
                Tortilla Espanola filled with vegetables, ham, potatoes and shredded cheese - good hot or cold.
                Taco meat or chili with tortilla chips, shredded lettuce, diced onions,cheese, sour cream
                Leftover baked potatoes topped with anything else leftover - chili, baked beans, etc.
                Until grilling season comes to an end, leftover grilled vegetables, corn on the cob, ribs, etc. from weekend bbq’s.

                2 Replies
                1. re: EM23

                  For the summer roll, wrap tightly in plastic to keep from drying out?

                  1. re: tcamp

                    From the Chow piece:
                    Store the summer rolls in a dish or plastic container that’s roomy enough to hold them without their touching. Place a damp paper towel in the bottom of the container to keep the rolls moist. Cover tightly with plastic wrap.

                2. A good thermos is worth its weight in gold, especially in the winter if you're in a cold zone.

                  There are various designs of bento lunch boxes and tiffin sets available now. My kids really took to those.

                  Mini cold packs and insulated containers keep cold food appealing.

                  Sometimes having different container options helps with food inspiration. It worked for me.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: jammy

                    There are short thermoses with wide mouths that are great for eating right out of.

                    I think those bento boxes are so cool.

                    1. re: jammy

                      I agree with the notion of different container options. One kid refuses to eat out of metal thermoses, says he can taste the metal. <insert eye roll here>.

                    2. I started packing and making my own lunch in elementary school, so i'm sure your boys can handle that part.

                      Strategy is important here. If making pasta for dinner make double for a pasta salad lunch a day or two later. Make a bunch of hard boiled eggs for the week on sunday- add sliced to sandwiches and salads, or send unpeeled with a side of salt for snacking (pack next to the frozen water bottle).

                      Make ahead and freeze a bunch of muffins- like turkeyloaf or meatloaf muffins, eggy frittata muffins, mac and cheese muffins, you name it bake it in a muffin tin.
                      They can defrost overnight in the fridge and will be room temp by lunch. If grilling chicken and veggies for dinner cook extra and set aside for lunches- chop and add to a pasta salad, use as sandwich filling, add to a burrito etc.
                      frozen cups of yogurt are ready to eat and still cold by lunch- great with granola and fruit for a snack or lighter lunch.
                      A hearty salad can be great, add edamame/lentils/chickpeas, sunflower seeds (assuming their school is nut free), chopped veggies, and a side of dressing. A panzanella or grain based salad would work well too. Sunflower seed butter or soynut butter with raw carrots are a tasty filling side.

                      IMO its very important your kids participate now since in the not distant future they will be responsible for making all of their own meals (or at least all non-pizza delivery meals... ;)

                      1. My kids aren't teens yet (8 and 10) but I do pack lunches for them every day. I do simple bento style lunches (no elaborate veggie carvings or anime characters made out of nori!). They don't have access to microwaves at school so everything is to be eaten at room temp or kept warm in a Thermos food jar. They have an ice pack in their lunch boxes as well.

                        I don't necessarily follow the "main, side, dessert" rule of thumb. Sometimes I'll do several side items, like sliced cucumbers, leftover roast chicken, sliced strawberries and a mini banana muffin.

                        Some room temp main ideas I pack bento style:
                        Cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches
                        Frozen mini samosas from the indian market, baked, with a container of ketchup for dipping
                        Pasta salad with veggies and cheese/meat for protein
                        Hummus and pita, cut into wedges for easy packing
                        Homemade "lunchable": Crackers, cheese and sliced ham
                        Sandwich wrap: Whole wheat tortilla spread with a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese, rolled with sliced ham or turkey and cheese. Cut into halves or thirds.
                        Tortilla chips with refried beans and salsa for dipping
                        Ongiri: a Japanese finger food of rice pressed in a mold with some sort of filling in the center. I do a fusion ongiri, so I do rice in the mold, but I fill it with things like chicken or ham salad, leftover chicken curry, etc. My kids love these.

                        Things I put in the food jar:
                        Leftover pasta/spaghetti
                        Mac and cheese
                        Chili (pack shredded cheese and crackers on the side)
                        Taquitos - bake and then cut in half to fit in the jar. Salsa on the side for dipping.
                        Soup/Stew - bread or crackers on the side
                        Fried Rice
                        Chinese style noodles
                        Rice mixed with chicken curry, orange chicken, etc. I cut the meat and veggies so they can eat them easily.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: boogiebaby

                          Both of mine take their lunch to school. She is a snacky eater so I make sure to have cheese sticks, individual yogurts, applesauce cups, crackers, pretzels, fruit snacks, fruit, and vegetables like carrots and celery. The boy likes to take a dinner leftover (which is sometimes upsetting for his father, like the day the boy took the ribs and left the sloppy joes for dad). At least once a week I make a point of making some sort of pulled pork or baked pasta or shepherd's pie-type meal, something that makes a lot of fairly stable leftovers. Neither one of them uses a microwave, and they're still alive (though anything left at the end of the day is off-limits for everyone but the dog). A big baked spaghetti will carve off lots of lunchtime hunks, and it is just as good at room temperature, and they both love calzone and stromboli for the leftovers.