What’s for lunch?

Family-friendly meal ideas for back to school.

Photo by Bree Hester

The back-to-school madness is upon us. As someone with no kids of her own, I get to observe this stressful and often expensive period of preparation from afar, while breathing a sigh of relief and saying a little prayer for the parents taking on a new school year. For those courageous mothers and fathers who will have to make hundreds of school lunches, I’ve rounded up some ideas on what to pack for the kids, and still keep it fresh and creative throughout the seasons.

Bree Hester is a Cape Cod–based food blogger (bakedbree.com) who lives in Falmouth with her husband Wes, who works for the Coast Guard, and her three children with three distinct palates,  ages 7, 10, and 11. “One eats everything, one eats most things (at least one bite anyway), and one eats [almost] nothing at all,” she says with a smile.

When it comes to packing school lunch, Bree says it’s not about the quantity but the quality and variety: “I often skip the sandwich altogether and make a cheese tray with fruits and nuts, yogurt, or lots of little snacks. I try my hardest to bake a homemade treat to pack during the week. Cookies, granola bars, banana bread, or muffins. They really like that, it makes them feel special, and I know what is in them. I can sneak in some whole grains and fruits and vegetables too.”

Need some sandwich-free lunch box ideas? Here are some of her kids’ favorites:

  • String cheese wrapped in deli turkey, sliced apple, Nutella, graham crackers for dipping
  • Mini broccoli quiches (recipe below), crackers, blueberries
  • Hard-boiled eggs, crackers, homemade hummus, baked tortilla chips

Mini Broccoli Quiche

Makes 8 servings

1 pre-made pie crust
dry/baking beans or pie weights
4 large eggs
1 cup half-and-half
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 head broccoli, chopped
1 cup shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 400°. Cut pie crust into 3½-inch circles. Use a knife or a cookie cutter. Gently push the crust into a muffin tin. If the dough is hard to work with, put it back in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes. I also used some of the extra dough to patch spots that broke. Place a muffin liner on top of each so that it fits. Fill with beans (this will help the dough hold its shape before putting in your filling). Bake for 10 minutes. Remove liners.

Add the eggs, half-and-half, nutmeg, salt and pepper to a blender. Blend until smooth and frothy.

Add broccoli to the cups. Pour the egg mixture over. Top with cheese. Bake until puffy and set, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Here are some more tips and ideas from local parents

Guinevere Cramer, mother of Charlotte, 5, and Anderson, 3

“My hubby and I pack their lunches — though with Charlotte attending kindergarten this year, she might get a school lunch here or there depending on what it is and the quality of it. Having Island Grown Schools in the public school system here has really upped the ante of a number of school lunches. I love to get inspiration from other moms — there are amazing moms here, working on creative recipes and ways to provide healthy and yummy options to our kiddos!”

A kid favorite: PB&J on whole wheat is the winner, along with strawberries, apples, organic yogurt, whole milk, and a new favorite: “Yummy Balls.” They’re no-bake balls with old-fashioned oatmeal, chia seeds, agave, chocolate chips, coconut, and peanut better — they’re actually energy balls.

Jeremy Dunham, father of Connor, 5, and Alexander, 2

“Connor and I have always enjoyed cooking together; we both find inspiration in the simple action of ‘making in the kitchen.’” From the time he was 2, he has been cutting and mixing his own creations right by my side. A few years ago, when Connor was 2 or 3, he saw a Lunchable in the supermarket and wanted it. I bought it for him, and when I opened it, I realized I could do the same thing at home for less money and with a wider variety of things. Sometimes that may include a small container of hummus or peanut butter, usually cheese and a deli meat, always veggies and fruit.

A kid favorite: “Bento boxes” filled with veggies, meat, and cheese are his favorite lunch.

Rebecca Rabeni, mother of Nick, 8, and Clara, 5

“We mostly pack, but also have their favorite meals cooked by Chef Gina at Edgartown School: spaghetti and meatballs, pancakes, and pizza. When packing lunches, we always make sure we give them something that we know they like, along with new things to try.”

A kid favorite: Yogurt in the tube is always a hit; we freeze them so they are still nice and cold by lunchtime, and the old standby, PB&J, although I have one who prefers to “hold the jelly”!