School’s Out—Now What’s for Lunch?

For the Love of Lunch

Get inspired with easy lunch hacks for home or school.

You’ve probably spent the summer winging lunch, and now it’s time to buckle down with the lunchbox routine. But there’s no need to abandon creativity and leave your summer-fun ideas behind. Here’s how to reinvigorate lunch now, says Laura Davis, a mother of three and a food blogger at Tide & Thyme.

Prep Smart

The more food on hand that is washed, sliced, diced, and ready to eat, the better. Use color-coded storage containers—for example, red for protein (grilled chicken, shrimp, beans), green for veggies (peppers, cucumbers, shredded carrots, leafy greens), yellow for grains (quinoa, rice, couscous). From these, you can assemble lunches and encourage your kids to choose items from each container on their own. Even the youngest and least adventurous eaters will be tempted by the culinary possibilities.

Batch Cook

“I like to make a big batch of quinoa or pasta salad in the beginning of the week,” Davis says. “Mixing vegetables with pasta is a good way to make sure that kids eat their veggies without having to be forced.” Depending on the size of your family, you may want to double recipes so you are sure to have enough to last a few days. 

Go for Variety

Keep individual-serving containers of yogurt, string cheese, hard-boiled eggs, tuna, and grilled chicken cutlets readily available. Lean on leftovers, too, creating sandwiches out of last night’s meatloaf or adding veggies you cooked yesterday to salads today. 

Boost Your Breads

Variety is not only good for the inside of sandwiches but also for the outside. For example, plain-old PB&J gets a big lift on slices of Cinnamon Raisin Swirl from Panera Bread®, and grilled ham and cheese is even cheesier on our Asiago Cheese Bread. Flatbreads can be great sidekicks to salads. On days you’re just not into bread, roll sandwich ingredients in iceberg or Boston lettuce leaves and secure them with a toothpick.

Sweeten the Box

Wait, who says you can’t pack in a sweet treat along with all that healthy lunch fare? A now-and-then yummy surprise eases the transition from summer to school, celebrates a good grade or a great day, or just says “I love you.” Next time you bake cookies, freeze a batch and pull one out to surprise your student at lunch. What also goes down well at the lunch table: a Panera Flip Flop cookie, as a reminder of the days your toes were actually in the sand.