Back to School Guide

I'm a newbie to the ins and outs of public school, and in combing CafeMom and the Web for new ideas and recipes for my son's brown bag lunch, I've come to a conclusion: Most of the time, we're still going to pack the same old thing anyway.

The Cafe Cynthia Take-Out Menu is pretty much in sync with those of other moms in the Elementary Mommies group: PB&J, ham and cheese, crackers and cheese, fruit, yogurt.

Last school year, I felt like a bad mom for packing the same-old every day. So I experimented. Avocado with cheddar on whole grain fell flat. My pasta salad came home picked through. A boiled egg? Yuck!

So, on days he's not buying lunch in the cafeteria, I always go back to what I know he'll eat.

Now I think that it's not so much what you pack for lunch, it's how you pack it. Here are three essential school lunch tips I picked up in my travels:

1. Buy an insulated cooler  These open up the possibilities a lot, especially when used with a frozen juice box or small ice pack. Though a lot of us do it anyway, we're not supposed to send in perishables like a ham and cheese sandwich that will be unrefrigerated for more than two hours, after which the chance of food-borne illness really explodes.

2. Pack up cold leftovers  Many kids are fine eating their favorite meals cold, even though you may never consider it yourself. ThriceAMommy serves cold chicken fingers and dip. Come to think of it, my daughter loves room temperature pizza and mac and cheese. Definitely worth a try ...

3. Give it a different twist  KidsHelper says, "My kids tend to like PB&J but they like it when I use different bread. It's amazing how much more fun a sandwich is when it's on pita bread, a tortilla, or even a hamburger or hot dog bun."

ThriceAMommy does the same thing with tortillas, and also "I make PB&J with chocolate chips."

rkoloms has created PB&J roll ups: She cuts crusts off a slice of bread, flattens it out, puts on peanut butter and other toppings, and rolls it up. You can slice it into fours with toothpicks to keep from unrolling.

If you're really in need of new recipes, though, check Food & Party Buzz tomorrow -- rkoloms is a family food genius and she's going to share her extensive brown bag lunch list! It's easy yet different ...

What are your ideas for making school lunch special, easy, different? Share your specific meal suggestions, pretty please!