7 Options to Step Outside the Usual Lunch Box

Back to school means lots of things for parents: checking homework, school supply shopping ... and the dreaded nightly packing of the lunch. Nothing's more frustrating than spending loving time preparing a nurturing, nutritious meal, than to find it at the end of the day, mushed, mashed and totally rejected. This school year, think outside the lunchbox and pack a brown bag that'll blow them away.

Say goodbye to soggy, shunned sandwiches and crushed bags of grapes that makes it look like your kid has taken up backpack winemaking.

Fact is, kids are more likely to eat food they've helped make, so bring them into the kitchen to pitch in with their lunch. It doesn't have to be messy or time consuming; just designate a couple of options each night and let them get their lunch ready while you clean up from dinner. Efficient and a fun way to create a little extra bonding time in the kitchen before they head to bed.

The key is to break out of the traditional sandwich-apple-juicebox routine and shake things up with these 7 clever, simple-to-make options.  

Wrap Up Bites: Set out small bowls of healthy ingredients like shredded chicken or cheese, sliced veggies, some hummus or ranch dressing. Hand each kid a whole wheat tortilla and let them pile on the goodies. Once they've selected and added the ingredients, help 'em roll it up tight and slice it into sushi-like bites. 

Mini-Make-It-Yourself-Pizzas: Use sandwich thins, English muffins or small pre-baked pizza crusts as the base for their favorite toppings. Think marinara sauce, pesto, shredded cheese, ricotta, pepperoni and diced veggies. Then just toss them in the toaster oven to melt a bit and let cool before packing. Who doesn't love cold pizza?

Dippin' Sticks: Buy mini containers of hummus or ranch dressing, offer the kids healthy dippers like cucumber slices, baby carrots, grape tomatoes, pepper strips, whole wheat pita, and chicken strips to pack into sectioned storage containers for a cool crudité lunch. 

Loads of Layers – Let kids build gorgeous yogurt parfaits (Greek yogurt, granola and chopped fresh fruit) or shake-n-serve chopped salads (diced veggies, shredded cheese, chopped lettuce and chicken with dressing at the bottom) into small jars. They're a fun, flavorful way to go.

Tot-Sized Tapas: Some kids prefer a heartier meal for lunch, so let them pack their own mini portions of dinner leftovers to take to school. It's the easiest option for you, and the only help they'll need is with choosing which storage container to use. 

Pack a Picnic: Packing a school lunch isn't that different from pulling together a picnic basket. Give 'em a piece of baguette along with hunks of cheese, salami slices, grapes and apple wedges.

Pinwheels: Give kids a choice from a variety of deli meats and cheese, then let them make little layers as they like. If they're into condiments, spread on a little mayo or mustard, roll them up and cross slice with a knife. Add a side of fruit and crackers and they’re ready to go!

With these easy tips, you can make brown bagging a blast for your little scholar ... and maybe perk up your own lunch at the same time. 

What was your favorite lunch to find in your brown bag?