Are you one of the many moms doing a double-shift this year between home school duties and your career obligations? If so, you might dread when your child starts in with the lunchtime refrain, “I’m hungry.”’
However, you don’t have to transform yourself into Rachel Ray and fly through the kitchen like a dervish whipping up a gourmet meal. You can get food in your baby’s belly — and yours — in five minutes or less. Here are nine easy cold lunch ideas for when you’re too tired to cook.
1. No-Cook Pita Pizzas
If you have a pack of pitas, you hold lunchtime magic in your hands. What else is round and made of dough? If you answered “a pizza crust,” you win the kewpie doll.
To be fair, you can pop these in the oven — doing so helps caramelize any veggie toppings and bring out the fresh-roasted flavor. However, when you have a cranky toddler who can’t wait five minutes for it to preheat, it’s fine to coat a pita with sauce, cheese and pepperoni and let them have at it Lunchables-style.
2. Whatever Tacos
Tacos were invented by the ancient Mayan gods and goddesses to reward humans for a bumper crop of maize. Okay, that last sentence was fictional — but taco shells offer a no-fuss way to get your kiddo with celiac disease a gluten-free lunch in a jiffy when you opt for corn shells.
Who said you had to brown ground beef for filling? Ask your local deli to give you shredded turkey or chicken instead of sliced and make a poultry version without lifting a single pot or pan. All you need to add is a little shredded cheese, lettuce and salsa.
3. Peanut Butter and Banana Crackers
A quality lunch consists of a fruit or veggie, some grains and protein. You can get all of that in a cruelty-free way when you opt for peanut butter and banana crackers. This treat is so easy to assemble, you won’t fear for the integrity of your kitchen when your 5-year-old plays chef.
All you need to do is add a generous schmear of peanut butter to a thick cracker such as a Ritz. If you want to get more whole grains in your child’s diet, you can find plenty of tasty flatbreads made from ancient varieties like quinoa that are safe for gluten-free folk.
4. No-Hassle Berry Parfait
If you care more about how your meal tastes than its appearance, keep the staples for this lunchtime treat handy. All you need are some fresh berries, such as raspberries or blueberries, a container of granola and some Greek yogurt. If you have time, go for a funky layered look in a glass — but if you mix it all in a single sloppy bowl, we’ll never tell.
The Greek yogurt provides protein, but if you want an extra dose, toss a handful of walnut or pecan pieces into the mix. This dish makes a meal on its own, but you can also use it as a dessert to wash down the salad course.
5. Chicken Cucumber Sandwiches
Who needs white bread? If your kids eat their veggies without fuss, kick the “glue of the gut” to the curb and use cucumbers as your roll.
All you need to do for this easy lunch treat is slice a cuke in half and scoop out the seed portion. Line your new “bowl” with canned chicken and a dollop of mayonnaise or sour cream. Presto! You have a chicken salad sandwich with minimal fuss.
6. Mason Jar Salad
Mason jar salads are ideal to make on food-prep day and grab-and-go throughout the week. The most crucial step to remember is to add the dressing first so that it sits on the bottom and doesn’t make your greens all soggy — they go in last.
Since there’s no oven necessary, even the tiniest tots can help assemble these lunchtime treats. Let them go a little bit crazy — but no, they can’t fill the entire container with shredded cheese.
7. Lite-and-Easy Lettuce Wraps
Another alternative to white bread sandwiches is to use lettuce as a wrap. While you can mix up a traditional Asian filling, you can include anything you have on hand.
Your kids might go gaga for lunchmeat and cheese wrapped up with a new twist. If you’re trying to get them to eat more fish, a little tuna salad works well with this meal.
8. A Little Antipasti
Who says that you need to go with anything resembling a salad? Take a cue from the Italians and fill a plate with assorted meats, cheeses and veggies.
For the healthiest meal, look at your plate as a clock and fill half of it with fresh fruits and vegetables. Leave approximately a quarter for grains and the remainder for lean proteins like chicken or eggs.
9. The New-Fashioned Sub
Who said you couldn’t get inventive like the sandwich shop folks? If you always reach for meat and bread, try mixing things up by using a sundried tomato or spinach wrap instead.
Sometimes, a new shape is all it takes to coax a reluctant child to eat. If you always cut their sandwiches into squares, try making triangles for a change. Experiment with how your “presentation” influences your kid’s appetite.
When You’re Too Tired to Cook, Try These Easy Cold Lunch Ideas
Staying at home with your kids doesn’t mean playing celebrity chef for every meal. Try these nine easy cold lunch ideas the next time you need to feed your children in a jiffy. a