Good to Go: Give your brown bag lunch a makeover

Five days of school. Five different lunches. For parents of picky eaters, packing lunch can be a nightmare. WTOP's Katie Howard offers ideas to jazz up your child's lunchbox so meals are nutritional and fun.

Katie Howard,

WASHINGTON – Five days of school. Five different lunches. One picky eater. Then add to the mix school cafeteria rules about nut-free zones, and I had no idea what to send in my kindergartner’s lunchbox.

A sandwich a day fits the bill for most lunches, but I have noticed my daughter, like a lot of kids, appreciates variety. So I came up with a five-day plan for her discerning palate and invested in some of the latest food storage and utensils to jazz up her lunch during the school week.

I also wanted to pack foods that are nutritious and energy-boosting and would keep her full and focused during a long day of learning her A-B-C’s. So I created theme days for the lunches. For example, an Asian or Italian-inspired menu helps me plan out my weekly grocery shopping list.

A typical week of lunches looks like this:

  • Monday: Steamed brown rice, edamame and clementines or orange slices with milk.
  • Tuesday: Mini-bagel with cream cheese, fresh fruit salad (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries) and milk on the side.
  • Wednesday: Pasta, cucumber and tomato salad, mozzarella cheese stick with water thermos or juice to drink.
  • Thursday: Turkey or tuna fish sandwich on Goldfish-shaped bread by Pepperidge Farm with individually-sized orange juice box by Tropicana.
  • Friday: Ants on a log (sliced celery with cream cheese and raisins), carrots, sliced grapes and a special treat or surprise to mark the end of the school week.
  • A Chobani Champions Yogurt for kids or a packaged applesauce is often a welcome substitute or addition to any of the lunches.

It helps that more schools are offering healthier hot lunch options to students, and as a result, saving parents time. But if hot lunch is not an option or your child doesn’t like the menu, maybe this Asian-inspired lunch combo will make the cut in tomorrow’s lunch box.


  • Uncle Ben’s steamed brown rice
  • Frozen bag of edamame
  • Clementines


1. Rice should take no more than 10 minutes to prepare.

2. Most frozen bags of edamame can be prepared in the microwave or stovetop in less than five minutes.

3. Peel one to two clementines.

4. Present in a sectional food storage container.

Other ways to make lunchtime even more fun before recess:

  • Invest in fun food storage containers. Most are dishwasher and microwave safe and affordable. I invested in some great finds recently at Target and Pottery Barn for Kids, and The Disney Store sells character-inspired utensils.
  • Be on the lookout for fun-shaped ice packs to keep lunches cool and safe for eating. Many schools don’t have ample refrigeration storage so lunch bags often have to be kept at room temperature.
  • Send a napkin with a theme of an upcoming holiday. Local grocery stores like Giant as well as Party City, Five Below and Target have fun paper napkin selections.
  • Write a surprise note to your child.
  • Send stickers to your child to share with classmates.

It’s wise to check with your student’s teacher first or the school policy as to lunchbox protocol if you want to make any of the mentioned suggestions to your student’s menu or lunch sack.

Have fun mixing it up a little at lunch. Some new changes might come as a welcomed surprise, especially when there are many weeks remaining in the school year. Share your ideas for added fun at lunchtime in the comments section.

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Editor’s Note: WTOP’s Katie Howard is a mom on the go. With two children under age 5, she’s always looking for ways to provide her family fast and healthy snacks, meals and activities. Katie shares her go-to food and family fitness tips every Tuesday on her blog “Good to Go.”

Follow @WTOPLiving on Twitter.