Packing Kid-Friendly Lunches: 10 Alternatives to PB&J

We realized that we've been in a total rut with packing the kids' lunches. One likes 'meat and cheese' sandwiches and the younger one is down to only accepting something with peanut butter and jelly. We're not about to go avant garde on their lunches, but we'd like to introduce them to some other flavors and some more fun at lunchtime.

In some ways kids are easy: they'll eat pizza for every meal for a week and be happy, or they'll decide they only like one thing (hard boiled eggs) and it takes the guess work out of preparing meals. But for lunch, we're committed to expanding the kids' palates and introducing them to slightly new flavors, slightly new ideas of how lunch can be. Here are some great jumping off points for breaking that PB&J rut:

TOP ROW
1 Year of the Tiger Bento: If you really want to spend some time and surprise your little one with a fantastic lunch, follow Happy LIttle Bento's lead with this tiger themed lunch. Our kids are definitely in the stage of not liking it when their food touches on a plate, so a bento box is perfect and fun for lunchtime. Skip the sandwich and fill the boxes with veggies, cheese, nuts, popcorn and a little treat.

2 Ploughman's Lunch: Disassemble that sandwich and instead give the kids slices of bread, pita, or crackers with some good quality cheese, some dip, some meat and some sliced tomatos or cucumbers and let them assemble them at school. As they get used to it, add goat cheese, hummus, radishes and some mustard.

3 Biscuits are a great alternative to regular bread and more kid-size for sandwiches. Pack them with their own butter and jam, or fill them with regular sandwich toppings to ease your child into eating something new.

4 Chicken Soup or any soup really. At the moment, Dora Soup is a favorite but they'll eat homemade soup too as long as it doesn't have pepper in it (it freaks them out). A nice mild chicken soup is perfect in a thermos when it's cold outside. Plus some teachers will heat up soup for the little ones (at least our kindergartner gets that royal treatment).

5 Fun Fruit Salad gets some fiber and a healthier dessert into lunch and with spring and summer around the corner, fresh fruit will be easier to come by.

BOTTOM ROW
6 Leftover Pasta: We recently discovered that the older one will eat sausage and loves pasta so we're trying some leftover pasta with extra sausage for protein in her lunch. She likes getting a tupperware container and a fork in her lunch--it makes her feel grown up! For more ideas, check out oodles of noodles, 4 things to do with leftover pasta.

7 The Spanglish Sandwich: It's a take on a classic BLT and might have enough familiar ingredients to not freak the kids out.

8 Different Bread: Try opening up your child's palate to rye, fresh no knead bread or a thick country style loaf. Even if it is still pb and j inside, they'll be expanding their horizons.

9 PB and Fruit Sushi: A great way to mix up the traditional pb&j and introduce them to at least the shape of sushi (we have dreams of the kids trying it, just trying the real thing) and incorporate more fruit into their midday meal.

10 Lots of small snacks can replace the need for a sandwich and can introduce kids to new flavors in small packages.

For more inspiration for cooking for kids, check out On Cooking with Kids: Cookbooks.

(Images: Top Row: Tiger Sandwich Bento from sherimiya's Flickr, Brown Bag Wednesday: Fruit, Nuts and Cheese, Sarah Rae Trover's 15 Minute Biscuits, Faith Durand's Chicken Noodle Soup with Curry and Spinach, Making Fruit Salad Fun
Bottom Row: Elizabeth Passarella's 22 Fast, Fresh Pasta Dishes, Shari W's Flickr under Creative Commons, Emma Christensen's No Knead Sandwich Bread, Joanna Miller's PB and Fruit Sushi, Emily Franklin's Granola.)