Courtesy of Jim Franco

Keeping kids interested in their bag lunches is easier than you think.

Elisabeth Sherman
August 17, 2017

The school year is starting up again which means that if you have kids, you’re likely getting ready for around nine months of packing school lunches. And like any good parent, you probably want to keep your kids interested and excited about eating their meals, without overloading them with the sugary snacks they would probably prefer if they had free reign over packing their lunchbox. While Food & Wine recently put together our Ultimate Back to School Meal Guide, perfect for busy families who may need quick dinner ideas and easy breakfast recipes, we also chatted with Chef Tom Colicchio who shared his tips for how to build bag lunches that are healthy without being boring.

Colicchio explains that the key to keeping school lunches fresh and interesting is actually pretty obvious: Just figure out what your kids like to eat and run with that. 

“I make lunch for my kids every morning, so I feel your pain out there,” he says. “My kids are fans of tuna fish, so I try to update it by getting rid of that heavy mayonnaise and adding some red onions, capers, and olives.”

“For the lunch box, we try to mix it up,” he continues. “We have a lunchbox that has all these little compartments, and so you have room for carrots or seaweed sheets, and then there’s a tiny little compartment in the center that we put sweets in, but sweets are raisins or dates, or sometimes chocolate kisses.”

Colicchio says that the grilled cheese is another classic lunchtime choice (a version he recently cooked up is made with walnut pesto).

Currently, the chef is judging a contest called America’s Better Sandwich: Families can enter their sandwich recipe for a chance to win up to $25,000. For every submission, Arnold Premium Breads will donate one loaf of bread to Feeding America. Colicchio explains that the contest is a great opportunity for kids to get involved in the kitchen.

“If kids are involved in making their meals, they will actually eat them. I think kids should be involved in not just the planning, but [also] the shopping.  I have a garden, and if my kids are out there picking tomatoes, they are more likely to eat that tomato.”

The contest ends on October 26, so you have plenty of time to come up a with a genius sandwich recipe to submit with your family, and you'll be contributing to the effort to end hunger at the same time.