A picture of lunchtime in the life of a busy homeschool mom:
By Beth Cranford, Contributing Writer
The morning has gone by way too quickly and your kids are wondering what’s for lunch. All you know is that it needs to be quick. Morning lessons took too long and you’re about to be late for swim lessons. You run through that list you keep in your head of the quick, easy lunches you know how to make, eliminating most of them because you don’t have the ingredients. So it’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches again, and you’re off to the pool.
While at the pool, (still a little bit nauseous from your 5th peanut butter and jelly this week) you pull out your phone and head to Pinterest for some new lunch ideas. It can be fun sometimes to add a new lunch idea to your repertoire, but it’s not always practical. Instead of scouring the internet looking for entirely new ideas, why not just change up those tried-and-true lunches just a little to make them new and fun, but still super quick?
Here are some classic lunches with some ideas on how to jazz them up a little:
Sandwiches are probably the easiest lunch to make but let’s admit it, too many sandwiches can leave a person pretty bored. But we don’t have to abandon sandwiches altogether, we just need to add some interesting twists!
If you’re tired of sandwiches but still love the convenience, try one of these variations:
- Grill it: You can totally change any sandwich by buttering the bread and tossing it in a frying pan for a few minutes!
- Roll it: Reduce carbs or add a fun twist by rolling your sandwich fillings into a tortilla instead of stacking it onto a piece of bread. (The pic at the top of this post is my favorite wrap ever. Click the picture for the recipe.)
- Plate it: Skip the bread altogether. Serve rolled-up deli meat, cubed cheeses, and sliced fruits and veggies. Kids love it and it’s super easy (and often healthier than other quick options.)
- Make it a salad: If I have to eat one more turkey sandwich… If you ever have that thought, just take that turkey and cheese and use them to top a big green salad. It’s actually better for you and just as quick and easy. (And you’ll feel like a grown-up at lunch time!) You can do the same thing with tuna, chicken strips (grilled or fried), even leftover steak! I was going to say anything you’d put on a sandwich you can put on a salad. But I’m not so sure I’d love peanut butter and jelly on a green salad, so, some level of discernment is in order here.
Perhaps America’s #1 favorite go-to food. But really, how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can a person eat in a week?
You could cut them into triangles this time, that would be fun.
You could serve an apple with it, apples go so nicely with peanut butter.
Oh… fresh, whole wheat bread helps! But…hmmm… it’s still a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
How about something besides jelly? I bet your kids would love any of the following:
- Fluff: Peanut butter and Fluff sandwiches are a classic where I come from (Maine). If you’ve never tried it, you simply must. If you’re concerned about all that sugar on your child’s sandwich, I assure you that Fluff has considerably less sugar than jam or jelly. If you try it, be sure to get the Fluff brand of marshmallow cream. You usually find it near the ice cream toppings in the grocery store.
- Chocolate chips: When my daughter brought a peanut butter and chocolate chip sandwich to a homeschool outing when she was in the first grade (my how time flies) I received a phone call later that evening from one of the moms. She wanted to know about this sandwich my daughter had. Yeah, she thought it was a bit strange but I assured her that indeed, just like with Fluff, there is a lot less sugar in a handful of chocolate chips than there is in jelly. And who doesn’t love peanut butter and chocolate?
- Chopped walnuts or pecans: My husband chops up walnuts or pecans and adds them to smooth peanut butter. He likes the health boost from the nuts and the complexity of texture and flavor as compared to buying crunchy peanut butter. Me? I’m a smooth PB kind of girl.
- Honey: I have to admit, at the risk of extreme scoffing and strange looks… I’m not a big fan of honey. But I know lots of kids love peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Try making a roll-up by spreading the peanut butter on a tortilla, topping it with a little bit of honey, and rolling it. Then cut it into cute little bite-sized discs.
- PB & banana rollup: And who doesn’t love a banana with their peanut butter? Spread peanut butter on a tortilla, lay a (peeled of course) whole banana on top, and roll. You’ve got a PB and banana burrito!
It’s healthy, it’s relatively inexpensive and it’s so very quick!
But it gets a little boring doesn’t it?
That’s why we seldom have tuna on sliced bread.
Here are some of the ways we make tuna more fun at our house:
- Hot dog roll: Toasted or plain, a hot dog roll is a whole different experience from plain ol’ bread!
- Toasted English muffin: My sister introduced me to making tuna sandwiches on a toasted English muffin. You’ll be surprised how much this changes a regular tuna sandwich.
- Toasted bread and avocado: Two small changes to a regular tuna sandwich take it from boring to fancy! Serve it on a fancy plate and you might think you’re at at trendy little bistro! (Too bad there isn’t a friendly worker bringing you refills on your sweet tea and offering to take your tray while you linger a while over a good book…)
- Throw it on a salad: See the list of ideas for adding life to a boring sandwich!
- Add it to pasta: Bet you never thought of tuna as comfort food. Well it can be when you mix it with pasta!
I promise, tuna can be fun. Just get creative about how you serve it.
P.S. When I say “tuna” I mean tuna from a can; drained, broken up with a fork, and mixed with Miracle Whip. I know, Miracle Whip is not on anyone’s list of “clean foods,” but we operate under the question of “Is it healthier than take-out?” and the answer in this case is “Yes.” So we’re good with it for now.
The best part about making boring lunches fun is, you probably have lots of the ingredients it takes to take any ordinary (boring) quick lunch and turn it into something delicious, fun, and still quick enough to get you to swim lessons on time!
I have to admit, I don’t really feel like I’m eating a meal if I just have a grilled cheese sandwich. Maybe you’re getting bored with this American classic, too.
Here are a few ways we change up our grilled cheese to make it a little more exciting:
- Add soup: I know it’s not genius, but a bowl of tomato soup does wonders for a grilled cheese sandwich. At dinnertime we enjoy my homemade vegetable beef soup alongside a grilled cheese sandwich. (If you happen to have just made some bread, make your sandwich on that… oh yeah, now we’re talking!)
- Make it a pizza sandwich: Just change the cheese to mozzarella and add a spoonful of pizza sauce.
- Add something fun: like bacon or avocado. Or both!
- Make it a quesadilla: One of our favorite lunches is a bean and cheese quesadilla. It’s so easy to make and kids love them. If you serve them with some salsa and sliced avocado you increase the nutritional value and you’ve got a beautiful lunch (something you could have paid a nice chunk of cash for) that took minutes to make. You could make it even more special by using enchilada filling (that you have in your freezer from one of your freezer- cooking-sessions). So yummy and quick but such a satisfying meal!
- Use homemade bread: Just like the difference between homemade and store-bought with any other kind of food, grilled cheese is no exception. Make it on two thick slices of fresh homemade bread and you’ve got an entirely different food in your hands!
- Change the cheese: My daughter made these sandwiches (below) one recent Saturday afternoon. Not only was it a huge relief to have her take care of lunch, but it was delicious and such a nice change of pace. (They’re called Lasagna Grilled Cheese. Click the pic for the recipe.)
Mmm – grilled cheese – my favorite! Thanks for the tips, Beth!
My kiddos really enjoy quesadilla pizzas. We usually just use some tomato sauce sprinkled with garlic salt and dried basil, mozzarella and pepperoni and then fry them on both sides and cut with questions pizza cutter. Viola, the best kid-lunch ever.