School lunches made easy: Items to have on-hand for mixing and matching

Roast beef on a mini-bagel, salad greens and

Roast beef on a mini-bagel, salad greens and dressing stay separate thanks to a divided container. (Aug. 7, 2012) Photo Credit: Doug Young

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Of all the back-to-school tasks on the agenda for September, packing school lunches always feels like the most burdensome. The same turkey sandwich, apple and cookie get boring fast. But do I really want to spend time planning interesting menus for lunchboxes on top of everything else I have to do?

My kids don't want -- or even appreciate -- fancy preparations. But they do like variety. This year, I'm trying something new. To keep things quick and simple, I've made lists of the different categories of foods I want my children to eat. I'll stock my refrigerator, freezer and pantry every weekend with items from the lists, and every morning I'll improvise a new combination to satisfy their nutritional needs and tastes.

I plan to pack my kids' lunch- box items in BPA-free bento boxes and containers I've purchased at The Container Store. They keep sandwiches separate from salad without any environmental waste, and won't leach chemicals into the kids' food. And they're fun to open up, especially if you never know what they'll hold. I'll put the containers in an insulated lunch box along with an ice pack to keep everything at a safe temperature for eating.

Store a selection of the following items in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer, and you will be able to come up with a different lunch-box combination for every day of the month. Don't forget to mix in leftovers -- chicken, pizza, meatloaf -- whenever you have them.

low-salt ham
lean roast beef
peanut butter
hard-boiled eggs
hard cheese
canned beans
hummus or other pureed bean spread
low-fat yogurt
tuna packed in water
baked tofu

whole-grain bread
whole-grain pasta
brown rice cakes
whole-wheat tortillas
mini pita breads or pita chips
whole-wheat mini bagels
whole-grain crackers
whole-grain cereal croutons

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pineapple chunks
grape tomatoes
salad greens

nuts and seeds
dried fruit or fruit leather
graham crackers
oatmeal cookies
trail mix
whole-grain pretzels
whole-grain tortilla chips or baked potato chips
square of chocolate
granola bar
yogurt-covered raisins

low-fat mayonnaise
salad dressing
jam or jelly
marinara sauce
pitted olives
pickles and pickled vegetables
other pasta sauces, such as peanut sauce and pesto

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