From less food waste to more confidence in the kitchen, there are lots of reasons to give hungry learners a say in planning and making their mid-day meals.

It’s that time of year again — that time when every morning means packing a lunch for school. It’s also a time when our gardens and farmers’ markets are brimming with juicy tomatoes, crispy red and green bell peppers, and crunchy carrots. So why not pack some of that bounty into the lunch box?

But if enticing your kids to eat fruits and vegetables is a struggle when faced with less healthy lunchroom temptations, shake up their tastes and let them take the lead in preparing their own meals.

Start by changing your shopping routine. Instead of hitting the supermarket to stock up on lunch supplies, send your kids out to the garden or take them to your local farmers’ market and let them pick out seasonal fruits and veggies to add to their lunch boxes. For a little encouragement, give them some pocket change and make it a game: let them search for a rainbow of goodies to buy and bring home (they can use this list from my new book as a guide). From fresh-picked apples to a wedge of local cheese, they’re sure to find plenty of options that are healthy, delicious, and require very little work to make them lunch box-ready.

Back at home, encourage your kids prepare and pack their own lunches. Letting them experiment with fresh ingredients and use simple kitchen tools allows them to have fun, express and expand their personal preferences, and practice cooking skills that will inspire future confidence in the kitchen. They’ll also learn how to assemble something good to eat when they’re in a rush — an important skill that will come in handy throughout their lives. Another added benefit of putting kids in charge of lunch prep? It cuts down on food waste: when they’re invested in making their meal, they’re more likely to eat it all up, too.

If you’d like to get your children into the habit of making school lunches, start with these recipes from my cookbook Cooking Class. Depending on their age, you can let the kids do most of the cooking on their own with a little guidance from you. Stay nearby for questions, and then, step out of the way and let them get creative!

Sandwich Shop

Avoid sandwich fatigue with these fun, favorful ideas. Let fresh, seasonal ingredients serve as inspiration!

Turkey Club

Toast + Turkey + Bacon + Lettuce + Tomato + Mayo

Photo © Julie Bidwell, illustration © Emily Balsley, excerpted from Cooking Class

Funny Face

Carrot Stick Hair + Olive Eyes + Red & Yellow Pepper Nose & Mouth + Cream Cheese + Bagel

Photo © Julie Bidwell, illustration © Emily Balsley, excerpted from Cooking Class

Super Sub

Sub Roll + Olive Oil + Salami + Provolone + Lettuce + Tomato

Photo © Julie Bidwell, illustration © Emily Balsley, excerpted from Cooking Class

Scary Sandwich

Wheat Bread + Cheese & Peas for Eyes + Bell Pepper Eyebrows + Sunflower Seed Teeth + Ham Tongue

Photo © Julie Bidwell, illustration © Emily Balsley, excerpted from Cooking Class

Tea Party Sandwiches

Thin White Bread + Mayo + Dill + Cucumber

Photo © Julie Bidwell, illustration © Emily Balsley, excerpted from Cooking Class

Lunch-on-a-Stick

If you’re tired of boring old sandwiches for lunch, try this twist: Make a sandwich on a stick! You can cut a slice of meat into strips, roll it up, and slip it on toothpicks. Mix and match to make your own favorite combos.

Makes 4 to 6 lunch sticks

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces lunch meat (ham, turkey, or salami)
  • 2 sticks string cheese or 6 small fresh mozzarella balls
  • 2 large leaves red or green lettuce
  • 2 slices bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 8 cherry tomatoes
  • Mayonnaise, ranch dressing, and mustard, for dipping
Special Equipment
  • Toothpicks

Directions

  1. Roll up sliced meat and cut it into strips or cut it into chunks, depending on the thickness. Cut the string cheese into 1-inch pieces (you can leave the mozzarella balls whole or cut them in half). Tear the lettuce into small pieces.
  2. Thread the toothpicks with the bread, meat, cheese, lettuce, and cherry tomatoes.
  3. Make patterns or alternate colors! Serve with mayonnaise, ranch dressing, and mustard on the side for dipping.
Cool Combos

Try these sandwich stick combos:

Fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, French bread cubes, basil leaves

Ham, cheese, lettuce, and bread

Grapes and strawberries

Lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers

Easy-Peasy Applesauce

Sure, you’ve eaten plenty of applesauce, but have you ever tried cooking it up from freshly picked apples? All you need is a pile of apples and a little patience while they cook.

Makes about 5 cups

Ingredients

  • 12 medium apples
  • 1 cup apple cider or water
  • Juice from ½ lemon
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (optional)

Directions

  1. Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Chop the quarters into chunks and place them in a large pot. Add the water or cider, lemon juice, sugar, and cinnamon.
  2. Cook the apples over medium heat until they are soft, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir well with a large spoon or a potato masher to mash up the apples.
  3. Cool the applesauce before spooning it into small jars with lids. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Recipes excerpted from Cooking Class © 2015 by Deanna F. Cook. Photos © Julie Bidwell. Illustrations © Emily Balsley. All rights reserved.

Deanna F. Cook

Deanna F. Cook has written dozens of award-winning books for kids, including the best-selling Cooking Class and Baking Class, as well as Farmers Market Create-and-Play… See Bio

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