How to Pack a School Lunch Your Kid Will Eat (Slideshow)

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Ready to beat the lunch box blues? These foolproof lunch tips will get your kid packed and out the door in no time

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"Lunchables aren’t popular because they taste good. Kids like them because they like building their own lunches. So, assemble your own out of better ingredients and for less money. Pack a selection of crackers (you’ll get extra credit for whole grain), hunks of chicken or leftover steak, and sliced cheeses. Pair it with cucumber slices and fruit and you have a complete DIY meal kit. Or, do a combination of crackers, salami, pepperoni, sliced cherry tomatoes, and hunks of cheese for a build-your-own pizza kit."

— J.M. Hirsch

DIY Rules!

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"Lunchables aren’t popular because they taste good. Kids like them because they like building their own lunches. So, assemble your own out of better ingredients and for less money. Pack a selection of crackers (you’ll get extra credit for whole grain), hunks of chicken or leftover steak, and sliced cheeses. Pair it with cucumber slices and fruit and you have a complete DIY meal kit. Or, do a combination of crackers, salami, pepperoni, sliced cherry tomatoes, and hunks of cheese for a build-your-own pizza kit."

— J.M. Hirsch

Wrap That Rascal

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"Just about anything can be turned into maki-style 'sushi.' No seafood needed. Lay out a whole-wheat tortilla, then spread a thin coat of cream cheese. Top it with whatever — leftover cooked vegetables, deli meats, leftover steak, or chicken off the grill — really, whatever. Roll it up and slice it into 1-inch rounds. Or go another direction — spread peanut butter over the tortilla and wrap a banana and a slice of bacon in it. Elvis-style sushi lives!"

— J.M. Hirsch

Pasta Overload

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"Whether you make a little or a lot, pasta takes about 10 minutes to cook. So you might as well make a lot and use the leftovers as an easy building block for lunch the next day. Toss cooked pasta (any shape) in a saucepan with grated cheese, sour cream, and a splash of hot sauce for an easy two-minute mac and cheese (pack it hot in a thermos). Or toss cold with leftover vegetables (anything goes), any leftover meat (or not), and vinaigrette for an instant pasta salad."

— J.M. Hirsch

Think Outside the Sandwich Loaf

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"There are a lot of ways to make sandwiches that don’t involve sliced bread, so get creative. Everything from graham crackers, tortillas, and rice cakes to pita breads, naan, even leftover pancakes, and frozen waffles can be pressed into service. FYI, when making pancakes on the weekend, make extra. They freeze well and make killer PB&Js (make the sandwiches when they’re frozen — they thaw by lunch)."

— J.M. Hirsch

No Chip Off the Old Block

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"Oh, come on — it’s 2013. Chips these days don’t have to mean deep-fried potatoes. You can buy beet chips and sweet potato chips and rice chips and whole-grain, gluten-free pretzels, and kale chips and puffed crispy vegetables and pea snaps… and you get the idea. Crunchy, salty snacks no longer have to be total junk food."

— J.M. Hirsch

Chill Out!

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"Keep a bag of frozen cooked shrimp in the freezer. They thaw perfectly overnight in the refrigerator and can be used in sandwiches, salads or — if you or your kid is feeling decadent — be paired straight up with cocktail sauce."

— J.M. Hirsch

Stupid Themes

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"Does it matter to you what shape your food is? Probably not. But kids totally get off on this stuff. So pack an all-round lunch (hard-boiled egg, grapes, cherry tomatoes, tiny mozzarella balls, an orange, even a chocolate truffle). Or go for mini everything (mini bananas, baby bagels, mini carrots, baby cukes, mini bell peppers, sandwiches made with cocktail-size bread, etc.). Themes may seem silly, but they get total buy-in from kids."

— J.M. Hirsch

Stick It!

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"For kids, food on a stick is better than food not on a stick. Don’t know why. It just is. So get yourself some bamboo skewers and make kebabs out of whatever you have handy — fruit, leftover cooked meat (with sour cream or spicy peanut sauce to dip), even cheese and berries. One tip — use kitchen shears to snip off the pointy tips of the skewers after you thread the food on. It’s so much easier than getting a call from the principal after Little Johnny spears his friends."

— J.M. Hirsch

Don’t Fear Convenience

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"There are plenty of convenience lunch items you don’t have to feel guilty about. You pay a premium for the ease, but on crazy mornings sometimes it’s worth it. Check out the prepared cheese and meat (think salami and mozzarella) packs at specialty stores like Trader Joe’s. Or the packaged crepes (filled with fresh fruit, meat, or cheese) at the grocer. Jerky is a low-fat, low-carb, high-protein instant snack that tastes awesome (and comes in all sorts of varieties, including vegan, salmon, and organic). Popcorn — even when coated with powdered "cheese," is still a whole grain. Single-serve salsa packs — perfect for dipping whole-grain chips or vegetables. You get the idea. Smart choices are out there as long as you look for them."

— J.M. Hirsch