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Who said homework is the most demanding part of the school year? Whether you’re a parent, tasked with feeding a household of picky eaters, or a cash-strapped college student attempting to go it alone, there’s a lot of effort involved in daily lunch assembly. Mid-day meals need to be portable, storable, and relatively simple to cook or construct. But most importantly, packed lunches need to contain things that kids actually want to eat.
So what can parents make that’s both healthy and tasty, that their youngsters won’t end up bartering, or chucking into a bin? And what should students consider when it comes to crafting dishes that will see them through studying, classes, and exams? We’ve got a series of A + earning school lunch ideas and easy college meals, sure to add serious spice to your back-to-school routine.
While they’ve long been lunchbox go-to’s, there’s nothing less appealing than squished and soggy sandwiches. Who said you need to default to ham and cheese on white bread? Salads make delightful stand-ins, especially if you use grains or pasta instead of lettuce. Unlike lettuce, these grains won't wilt when combined with dressings and other fun additions. In fact, kids will flip over Penne Pasta Salad with Spinach and Tomatoes, tossed with bouncy, bite-sized mozzarella balls, and flavored with olive oil, oregano, and thyme.
You can even put your slow cooker to work overnight (note to college students, they're ideal cooking vessels for your dorm), and have something hot and hearty to store in your thermos for the next day. We’re especially fond of this beefy, beany Slow Cooker Chili — sure you can pack a spoon, but chips make for much more fun scoops. You can even check out our full collection slow cooker recipes for more easy recipes.
Looking for another way to sideline bread, especially if you or your kids have gluten allergies and want gluten-free recipes? How about using Cinnamon Apple Rounds as an open-faced sandwich base? The sweet-tart rings pair perfectly with peanut butter and jelly — or chewy dried cranberries — but the sky is the limit. Try crowning them with tuna or chicken salad instead if you want a savory option!
Besides having real "kid-appeal," chicken is an ideal protein when it comes to brown bagging, especially if you’re looking to expand beyond cold cuts. It’s quick-cooking, versatile, inexpensive, and tastes great hot or cold. And if you’re hoping to avoid those greasy, preservative-laden nuggets at the cafeteria or dining hall, Gluten Free Oven Fried Chicken is an awesome alternative. Coated with cornflakes and seasoned with paprika, onion powder, and sea salt, it can be enjoyed as is, teamed with a zesty dip, or sliced and folded into wraps.
Want to take meal-prep to the next level? Check out our latest video that’ll show you how to make 3 easy chicken recipes using rotisserie chicken. Meal prep done in minutes!
What kind of wrap, you ask? Didn’t think we’d leave you hanging, did you? Crispy Chicken Caesar Wraps have all the flavor of your favorite salad, but the hand-held appeal of a sandwich, perfect for on-the-go meals. Use either of the above recipes, and tuck that crunchy poultry into a flour tortilla, along with romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, and plenty of creamy dressing.
If you want to ensure your kids sidestep the vending machine, you’ll have to be pretty clever when it comes to selecting snacks. We suggest flipping the script on veggies and dip, by transforming candy-sweet carrots into a smooth spread. Spiced with cinnamon and ginger, Roasted Carrot Yogurt Dip makes a great companion for graham crackers and fruit slices.
Ah, tacos…they have just as much kid-appeal as skewers. But tacos aren’t the easiest items to keep fresh in a lunchbox. Get your hands on some of our classic taco seasoning and whip up an addictive Taco Snack Mix that has all of the flavor without any of the mess!
What school lunch is complete without a treat? And no, we’re not talking candy. These Nutty Oatmeal Ginger Cookie Sandwiches are utterly indulgent, made from all-natural ingredients, and make for a wonderful alternative to candy and other sugary snacks.
Apple Pie Energy Bars provide another (comparatively virtuous) sugar fix. Instead of refined sweeteners and flour, they contain applesauce, coconut, nuts, dates, oats and McCormick® Good Morning Brown Sugar Vanilla Breakfast Seasoning. Good thing they’re intended to provide an energy boost throughout the day, because somehow, we don’t think they’ll last until lunch.