Perhaps the reason that the basic brown bag combo of sandwich, chips, fruit and drink has remained popular is not simply because it's easy, but because in the right portions it's a nutritionally sound lunch for both children and adults. However, we don't have to limit our bag lunches to the same tired cold cuts and sliced apple with the unappealing brown edges for the sake of nutrition. Whether you're packing a lunch for yourself or your kids, there is a variety of ways to keep a bagged lunch nutritious, tasty and convenient to make.
Raise Your Standards
Recreate your standard lunch bag sandwich by experimenting with new ingredients. Try a new kind of bread such as rye, pumpernickel, a bagel or pita bread. Skip the bread all together and throw all of your favorite sandwich fixings into a flour tortilla with a little ranch dressing over the top for a custom wrap sandwich. Kids will love the super colorful red, orange and green wrappers available in the tortilla section at most supermarkets. They don't have to know that vegetables add the bright hues to their lunch.
Swap out the mayo and mustard for condiments that add both flavor and nutrition such as hummus or mashed avocado. Sprinkle a little balsamic vinegar on your bread, or drizzle on a flavorful extra-virgin olive oil and top it with a pinch of salt and pepper for that deli touch.
Instead of tossing another boring apple or orange into a lunch bag, include a serving of melon balls with chopped mint or apple slices (toss them in lemon juice to prevent browning) and yogurt for dipping. Since bite-sized fruit is more likely to be eaten that whole pieces, slice up new, visually interesting fruits you or your children haven't had before such as kiwi, star fruit or pomelo.
For variety, replace standard, oil-fried potato chips with healthier, tastier options such as pretzels, baked potato chips, popcorn, or dehydrated vegetable chips.
There's nothing appealing about a warm, soggy sandwich no matter how many delicious ingredients you pile on it. Help keep the contents of your bagged lunch cold by making sandwiches on frozen bread (it will thaw by lunchtime) and tucking a small, re-freezable ice pack or frozen juice box into the bottom of the bag. Be sure to wrap the ice pack in a paper towel so that it doesn't sweat through the brown paper bag.
Love Your Leftovers
If you or your children have access to a microwave oven, taking some of last night's dinner for lunch is an easy task, but there are many leftover foods that you can enjoy cold or at room temperature.
You can pack frittatas, savory tarts, meat pies, pizza and quiche into your lunch bag the night before then enjoyed at room temperature or slightly chilled. Make bow-tie pasta with a creamy sauce for dinner, and toss the leftover onto a bed of crisp romaine salad for lunch. Use leftover meatballs from spaghetti night to make an Italian meatball sandwich the next day.