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10 Fast and Easy Brown-Bag Lunches

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Let your kids help you take DIY lunch options to another level.
Let your kids help you take DIY lunch options to another level.

Brown-bag lunches are a breeze to make—and even more fun when kids help prepare them. Give your gang the small tasks, and for an added treat, let them personalize their lunch bags.

1. Peanut Butter–and–Apple Sandwiches

What You'll Need: Whole-wheat bread, lemon juice, peanut butter, and apples

What to Do: Peel and shred apples. Add a drop or two of lemon juice to keep apples from browning. Let your child top off the PB with the shredded apples and close up the sandwich.

Tip: This takes 2 minutes to make. It’s perfect for lunch, and it does double duty as a breakfast option!

2. A+ Pita-Turkey-Avocado Sandwiches

What You'll Need: Whole-wheat pita pockets, sliced avocado, lettuce, low-fat cheese (kid’s choice), and fresh turkey breast

What to Do: Cut the pita in half. Stuff the ingredients into the pita pockets. Use avocado as a stand-in for mayo.

Tip: Kids can help fill the pita pockets and will enjoy this tasty combo at room temperature.

3. Warm and Hearty Peas and Pasta

What You'll Need: Whole-wheat elbow macaroni, frozen peas, lean boiled ham, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese

What to Do: Boil pasta for 8 minutes. While that’s cooking, microwave peas and dice ham into bite-size pieces. Drain pasta. Toss in peas and ham. Top with Parmesan cheese.

Tip: Give your kids a whirl at mixing. To keep this warm until lunchtime, send to school in a thermos.

4. Pretty, Pretty Princess Flowers

What You'll Need: Bread (your choice), ricotta or cream cheese, jam (any flavor), and a 2-inch round fluted cookie cutter

What to Do: Spread cheese and jam on one slice of sandwich bread. Remove the center of the other slice using the fluted cookie cutter. Close the sandwich. The jam peeks through the fluted opening!

Tip: Younger kids will love making the “flower” centers. Wrap the sandwich and add it, along with an ice pack, to an insulated lunch bag.

5. Easy, Cheesy Bowtie Pasta

What You'll Need: Pasta, frozen peas, ricotta, olive oil, chopped fresh parsley, salt, pepper, and enough pasta water to make a thin sauce

What to Do: Cook pasta until al dente. Add peas for the last 3 minutes. Drain and reserve ⅓ cup of the pasta water. Ask kids to toss the ingredients together.

Tip: File this under What to Do with Tonight’s Leftovers. Make this ahead of time, serve, refrigerate overnight, microwave in the a.m., and pack for school in a thermos.

6. Honey-Glazed Chicken Tenders

What You'll Need: Peanut butter, honey, butter, and boneless, skinless chicken tenders

What to Do: In a small saucepan, heat peanut butter, honey, and butter. Dip chicken tenders into glaze. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 350°F for 15 minutes. Spoon remaining glaze over chicken, and bake until the poultry is cooked thoroughly.

Tip: Make this the night before. Pack for school in a thermos.

7. DIY Tomato-on-a-Bagel

What You'll Need: Whole-wheat bagels, low-fat mayo, and one juicy, ripe tomato

What to Do: Split the prep work. You slice the bagel, your child adds the mayo, and you wrap it up. Slice the tomato and put a few slices in a small plastic bag or covered plastic container to add later.

Tip: Let your Iron Chef add the tomatoes at lunchtime. He will love showing off his own creation.

8. Very, Very Vegetarian Sandwich

What You'll Need: Pita, hummus, chopped zucchini, grated carrots, and fresh spinach leaves

What to Do: Split the pita. Let your child spread the hummus and add the veggies, then you wrap the sandwich.

Tip: Send to school in an insulated lunch box. If your child shuns meat, this option is fiber-rich and filling.

9. Super-Duper Chef’s Salad

What You'll Need: Lettuce, grape tomatoes, cucumber, cheese, and slivers of boiled ham and roasted turkey

What to Do: Combine the above ingredients in a small plastic covered container.

Tip: Boost the crunch of this lunchtime favorite with whole-wheat croutons, and add flavor with Russian dressing—but pack both separately so the croutons don’t get soggy.

10. Egg Salad on a Burger Roll

What You'll Need: Hamburger rolls and homemade egg salad (eggs and mayo are mandatory; celery and herbs, optional)
What to Do: You boil the eggs, but let your child mash them. Then you add the mayo and greens, and build the sandwich.

Tip: Pack in a container rather than a bag so the sandwich doesn’t get squashed.