Even as an adult, I’m a self-proclaimed lover of a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich. No shame here! Your kids may share my love for the classic pb&j, but perhaps you’re one sandwich away from losing your mind when it comes to having to make another sandwich for your kiddos. Should we even be giving our kids the same lunch every day of the week in the first place? What other options are there that don’t require a culinary degree? Let’s break it down!
Changing up our kids’ lunches ever so slightly will help them not only get more exposures to a variety of foods, it’ll also help them become more flexible and adaptable at the table. When kids only see the same macaroni and cheese every time it’s served, they’re going to be more resistant to trying it somewhere else when it looks a little differently (re: not from the blue box). Changing up a familiar food—like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich—in small ways helps your kiddo expect to see some variation at meals and be more adventurous at the table.
Perhaps you’re not quite to the point yet where the sight of a sandwich has you cringing. You’re busy, the go-to turkey sandwich is reliable, and even thinking about preparing something else seems out of the question. There’s no need to have mom guilt for resorting to the same couple meals for your kids! There are some easy ways to add in variety that don’t require much added effort.
If you’re currently making pb&j sandwiches on repeat, use different jams, nut butters, or breads to make small changes. Instead of using a jam, mash up fruit or slice up bananas for varied texture. When making a meat sandwich, select different types of meats, cheeses, and spreads (avocado or guacamole makes for a great spread on sandwiches).
When it comes to sides, change up what you offer and how you offer the fruit or veggies. If your child loves baby carrots, make small adjustments. Buy sliced or grated carrots or look for rainbow carrots so they see that carrots can be other colors besides just orange. Do this for other fruit or veggies, too, like selecting different varieties of apples, pears, or grapes the next time you go shopping.
If you’re tired of preparing a sandwich for what seems like the millionth time, then you (and your kids) may be ready to change it up—even if it’s just one or two times per week to break up the sandwich routine. It doesn’t have to be complicated; start by picking out a grain, protein, fruit, and vegetable to include with the meal.
7 Ways to Pack the Fun in Lunch
- mini whole grain bagel (grain) + smoked salmon & cream cheese (protein) + pear slices (fruit) + pickles (veggie)
- mac and cheese (grain) + tuna (protein) + freeze-dried strawberries + peas
- tortellini (grain) + mini meatballs (protein) + kiwi + leftover roasted veggies
- pita bread (grain) + tzatziki or black bean dip (protein) + fruit cup + cucumber slices
- whole wheat pancakes (grain) + peanut butter (protein) + banana slices + mini sweet peppers
- brown rice (grain) + edamame and peanut sauce (protein) + avocado slices + sugar snap peas
- dry cereal (grain) + yogurt (protein) + berries + beet chips
These examples all do well eaten cold or warmed up and can be compartmentalized individually in a bento box (here are a couple bento options: WeeSprout or Bentgo). Of course, there’s nothing wrong with leftovers for lunch or combining the food groups into one meal, such as sushi rolls, mini pizzas, chicken salad, an egg frittata, or tacos.
And let’s not forget every kid’s favorite: Dips! They’re an excellent way to add fat, flavor, and variety to the meal. Ranch, salsa, ketchup, guacamole, yogurt, cream cheese, and pesto are all great options to offer with the lunch to help add in a familiar food.
No matter what your kids’ lunches look like these days, a small switch and added variety can help you raise a lifelong adventurous eater!
Kara Hoerr is a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in family and childhood nutrition. She’s originally from Iowa, but has called Madison home for the past 7 years. When she’s not helping families and individuals end mealtime battles or quit diets for good, she’s usually baking or cooking in her kitchen (she started making sourdough before it was the cool thing to do pre-Covid!), running or biking on the Madison trails, or relaxing with a good book. She never expected to start her own business, but here she is with Kara Hoerr Nutrition. She offers nutrition coaching and online courses to help moms (and dads!) out at the dinner table. To learn more or to set up a free discovery call, email Kara at kara@ , or find her on Instagram.