Easy Back-to-School Lunch Ideas

By Sandy Hu
The latest from Inside Special Fork

It used to be that kids went back to school the Tuesday after Labor Day—that bittersweet time when summer is officially over, and the excitement of a new school year begins.

These days, school is in full swing by Labor Day. Little Miss T. returned to preschool two weeks ago, and I am back to the grandma routine, fixing the Friday bento lunch. (Mom and dad do the other days.)

You may remember that I started to make the bento lunches because my grandchild is such a picky eater and lunches were returning home uneaten. I started out armed with great tips from bento expert Sheri Chen.

Here are my bento pics, as posted to Instagram. Click on each photo for a brief description. You’ll see that mostly, I just use vegetable cutters to add eye appeal.

I get it that not everyone has the time nor the inclination to cut carrot or cheese flowers and thread them on picks. Or to make a deviled egg that looks like a chick or bake bear-shaped pizzas.

So below are some more realistic tips and a recipe from “Best-Ever Lunchbox Ideas!” I wrote the brochure for Kerrygold a few years ago, and the tips are still as relevant today as they were then.

I love this Irish brand and I think it’s so appropriate for kids, because the cheeses and butter are made with milk from grass-fed cows raised on small family farms. No artificial growth hormones are used. To be transparent, I want to acknowledge that I have had an occasional PR assignment from Kerrygold, but I no longer represent the brand as their agency of record, as I did when I produced this brochure.

Some helpful tips:

  • Buy and freeze a variety of breads so you can change up your sandwiches—pita bread, tortillas, bagels, seeded breads, sourdough rolls—create instant variety. Be sure to wrap breads airtight before freezing and defrost only as much as you need for the day.
  • Make a grilled cheese sandwich the night before and refrigerate to pack the next day; like pizza, it doesn’t have to be hot to be tasty.
  • Recycle dinner leftovers for lunch.
  • Make flavored butters to dress up a sandwich. Season butter with chili powder and lime juice for a Mexican butter; add Italian herbs and garlic powder for an Italian twist.
  • Freeze juice boxes to use as ice packs. They’ll defrost by lunchtime.
  • Cut sandwiches in small triangles or strips—they’re cuter and more fun to eat that way.
  • Decorate sandwich bags with stickers and add a colorful paper napkin instead of a plain white one.
  • Pop a few cheese sticks in the lunchbox for added calcium. Or include a bite-size, prewrapped cheese. My grandchildren love Kerrygold Dubliner wedges—the perfect size for little appetites.

Here’s a lunchbox recipe that has been child-approved by Little Miss T. Artichokes are one of the more expensive canned foods, but it’s one of the few vegetables my grandchild will eat. I use the remainder of the artichokes in a tossed salad.

Ham and Artichoke Cheese Spread

2 ounces (1/4 of an 8-ounce package) Neufchâtel or cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon milk
½ cup (2 ounces) shredded Skellig or Dubliner Cheese
½ cup (2 ounces) chopped fully-cooked ham (I use the Costco extra lean ham slices)
¼ cup chopped, drained canned artichoke hearts (not marinated)
Pinch of garlic powder (optional)

In a small bowl, beat Neufchâtel cheese with a wooden spoon until creamy. Beat in milk. Add remaining ingredients and mix until combined. Spoon into 2 small containers, dividing equally. Refrigerate until completely chilled.

Pack in an insulated lunchbox with ice packs. Accompany with crackers or thin baguette slices, and vegetable sticks. Kids can spread this mixture on crackers or use it as a dip for vegetables. Or spread it on bread to make tasty sandwiches.

Makes a little over ¾ cup spread, about 2 servings.

Recipe adapted from “Best-Ever Lunchbox Ideas!” by Kerrygold.

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Posted: Sep 10th by Sandy_Hu