With all the anxiety surrounding back-to-school, the last thing I need to be worrying about is coming up with 180 days of school lunch ideas, especially for my sandwich-averse teen. (Seriously child? What’s wrong with sandwiches?!?) But as I was pondering what the heck he was going to eat this year, it dawned on me that all the charcuterie board feasts (and snack trays) we’ve been enjoying this past year during lockdown are now the perfect springboard for making lunches our kids will actually want to eat.
Though, as much as I love jam-packed, jaw-dropping charcuterie boards, my focus is on EASY and attainable here. No cheese stars or salami roses unless you love creating them, and your kids love eating them. I’m aiming for quick, simple tips to use the concept of delicious snack boards to help you throw together lunch before the bus arrives.
Top Image: Nourished Not Famished
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Offer a mix of flavors and textures
If you’ve made a charcuterie board or snack tray before, you already know the basics: Put together a mix of finger foods and dips onto a wooden board, being sure to offer a variety of textures and flavors. Easy, right? Just take a look at how this scaled-down version of a charcuterie board from Budget Bytes is turned into a single lunch serving with a mix of crunchy crackers, salty salami, sweet dried apricots, cheese, and nuts.
Keep in mind though that most charcuterie platters include a lot of cured meats and salty snacks which is fine on occasion but may not be how you want your kids to eat all year. Instead, come up with a list of healthier options—without totally forgoing the fun stuff!– and pick something from each food group to insure you’ve got a balanced meal. And don’t forget to consider foods that may not automatically come to mind when you think of lunch, like crunchy blanched green beans or sugar snap peas which are delicious at room temperature, especially when dipped into a little cup of dressing or hummus.
Keep crunchy things crunchy
Unlike a regular charcuterie platter which will likely be put in front of hungry faces shortly after assembly, your kid’s lunch will need to hang out for a few hours in a locker or backpack. And no one likes soggy crackers, wet pita bread, or soaked chips. That’s why I’d dig through the kitchen to find the bento boxes I used pre-pandemic and reuse them just like This Mess is Ours does with their gluten-free Charcuterie Box Lunch Box ideas. Is this how a real charcuterie board works? No. But if this means the strawberries won’t mush into the hummus or the water crackers won’t be, well, watery, I’m all for it.
Another option? Follow the lead of Nourished Not Famished and use silicone cupcake holders as little cups to hold juicy fruit or crunchy crackers to keep them away from the rest of the meal. They’re so easy to clean and can be used over and over again. (And we love this printable shopping list full of ideas!)
Look for smart time savers
Our own Kate once shared how she preps an entire week of school lunches (around 25 meals!) on Sundays using these Fitpacker meal prep containers, and we remain in awe of her. Her method really is genius though because it insures you won’t be running around the kitchen pulling out ingredients to start making lunches every morning. What’s her secret? You’ll have to go check out her post to find out!
In addition to Kate’s advice, think about ways you can save yourself time while you’re doing your shopping, especially if you don’t have the time (or patience) for meal prep. Bite-sized baby carrots, pre-sliced celery or peppers, a pint of cherry tomatoes, cubes of pre-cooked chicken, peeled hard-boiled eggs, and waxy-covered Babybel cheeses purchased from the supermarket make it so easy to get lunch thrown together in a jiffy.
Save money and waste
At the same time, buying tons of single-serve containers can get expensive fast—in addition to creating a ton of extra waste from all those pouches and plastic containers. Instead, opt for larger bags of nuts or dried fruit, boxes crackers or bags of mini pitas, and larger containers of hummus that can be portioned out as shown by My Crazy Good Life. I also love their recipes for little balls of dip and their list of mix-and-match snacks for loads of healthy lunchtime ideas.
No meat? No problem!
As a parent to a fully-committed vegan, charcuterie boards of cheese and meat are definitely not on her lunchtime menu. But, with the ideas from this DIY Vegan Charcuterie Board from The Plant Philosophy, this could be a new favorite portable school lunch. The above board is obviously too big for any one kid (even my growing 16 year old!), but could easily be scaled back to fit into a lunch-sized container. And their recipes make enough to portion out all week long which is ideal for getting out of the door early.
Almost anything that you could put in a charcuterie-inspired school lunch container can also be packed vertically into a mason jar and transformed into jarcuterie! When served as a party appetizer, these little jars are made to have everything popping out of the top, but for school lunches, I’d recommend going with taller mason jars so that a lid can be put on top. I love the layers of ingredients seen in this easy Savory Jarcuterie recipe from Mommy Snippets. Pack with a long fork or skewer so they can fish everything out of the jar and consider wrapping up crackers separately if they get too soft by lunchtime.
It’s like a party in a jar! And who doesn’t want a little fun in the middle of a long school day?