Healthy Lunchbox 2012: Cooking with Elise

Today on Healthy Lunchbox 2012, fellow FoodNetwork Summer Fest blogger, Elise Johnson from Cooking with Elise shares her tips for packing healthy and fun lunches for children of all ages.

Elise is well-known for her Cooking with Elise television segments, her blog and is also a Chef Spokesperson for BJ’s Wholesale Club. Additionally, Elise’s first cookbook: You Never Cook Alone was released earlier this year!

With such a busy schedule, I am grateful Elise took the time to share her brilliant healthy lunchbox ideas.

Thanks, Elise!




My one-stop shopping destination for all my needs is BJ’s Membership Club! With 30% off of organic fruits, vegetables and dairy, BJ’s makes lunch preparations fun, easy and healthy for your whole family! I enthusiastically accepted the challenge when BJ’s asked me to create some exciting, flavorful and nutritious lunch ideas. The lunchbox makeover was born!

Remember the days when your mom brown bagged your lunch? Most likely it consisted of the typical P B & J, chips, a cookie and a sugary drink. With all the processed foods, allergies and hunger pains kids have today, a boring, uninspiring (and not to mention less-than-nutritional lunch) just won’t cut it!

My mom, Mary, is so organized. As a child I remember her getting our lunches ready the night before school. She would lay the brown bags with napkins and any non-perishables she was including in our lunches for the next day such as raisins or rice cakes on top of our microwave which sat in one corner of our cozy kitchen. Our sandwiches were usually tuna salad, ham, turkey or peanut butter and jelly.

Mom knew a quick, easy and affordable lunch would keep her kids (and her, too) happy as well as energized all day long. I have some great ideas that will help you make your kids lunches go from “blah” to “oohh la la!” by sprucing up sandwiches and helping your kids embrace their fruits and veggies. Here are some strategies to keep your kids happy, healthy and well fed!

The Main Course

Reinventing the SandwichSandwiches are the quintessential lunchbox staple, but there are so many simple ways to sneak in nutrients while providing variety and great flavor.


  • Peanut Power:      With all of the different types of spreads available these days, choose      your child’s favorite like almond, cashew or even sunflower. If you are      going to use peanut butter, be sure to use a brand with less sugar and no      preservatives. In place of jelly (which can be loaded with sugar) add a      sliced banana. Bananas are full of vitamin B, manganese, potassium, and      fiber. Here a heart-shaped cookie cutter was used to show how loved your      child is.


  • Here I used two different kinds of bread, cut the      sandwich in nine pieces and then turn every other piece over to create a      checkerboard effect. Imagine the reaction your child will have when he or      she opens their lunch box to see this cute sandwich looking back at them!


Wrap it up and pump up the protein — Use hummus instead of processed deli meat. It’s full of protein and you can add slices of crisp cucumber and chewy, sweet grated carrots. You can also use tomatoes and avocado, especially now when they are readily available. You can get my hummus recipes here. Use a colorful paper napkin to wrap…well, your wrap in! It’s like giving a big hug to your little guy or gal! (Sunny’s note: Rudi’s Gluten-Free Tortillas would be perfect for these!)



  • The deconstruction of a sandwich equals fun for your      child– I love the high-quality deli      meats offered at BJ’s. The nice folks who work behind the counter are so      helpful, too! Ask them to simply slice your favorite deli meats in      one-inch slices. You will have enough cubes of deli meat to make several      sandwich skewers. Thread pieces of bread (can be omitted), grape tomatoes,      turkey, ham and lettuce onto your skewer. Make certain to cut the sharp      tip off of your skewer for safety. Serve your sandwich skewer with a      tiny container of yellow mustard!


  • You can also use sectioned off containers for your      deconstructed sandwich. Kids love playing with their food and finger food      is FUN!

Start Snackin’


Super Simple Creamy Fruit Dip (for dairy eaters)

In a blender combine 1 cup fat-free or Neufatchel cheese (1/3 less fat than regular cream cheese), 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (you can use any fruit) and 1 tablespoon of raw honey or agave nectar. Blend together and watch the beautiful color it makes! Kids (and adults, too) will love dipping their fruit into this creamy dip! (Sunny’s note: I bet this would be delicious with some cashew cream cheese!)

  • Kids eat with their eyes, so choose colorful fruits and      vegetables. And remember that fresh is always best — Here I’ve made a rainbow by cutting up a strawberry      or two, a couple slices of orange, a couple chunks of pineapple, a few      green grapes, two slices of kiwi, a few blueberries and a few red grapes.      I’ve paired it with the super simple and creamy fruit dip.
  • Kids love playing with their food Healthy dips and yogurts are great choices for the      lunch box because children love eating with their hands!
  • Serving sizes      — All types of snacks such as chips and natural popcorn can be found in      easy to send to school small packages. You can also create your own snack      bags of plantain/banana chips, freeze dried fruit chips and rice cakes.
  • Know your children’s schedule – Choose snacks that are low in saturated fats and      sugar and are in high in protein, nutrients like nuts, colorful veggies      like carrot sticks, red, yellow, orange or green bell peppers strips, fruits      salad and guacamole with blue corn chips


  • Filled with veggies, a good quality salsa is a great      choice! Get a double dose of veggies and fiber by serving the salsa with      slices of fresh zucchini and yellow squash instead of only corn chips.

Beverages keep them goin’ all day long

  • Water — Kids should have a bottle or two for the day.      If your children are not water drinkers, send an individual Crystal Light      Pure package for your child to bring with their water bottle. They can      create their own fruit flavored drink without all of the sugar as in      juice.
  • Send organic milk (dairy      or non-dairy) vs. a juice box. Milk has 8 times more protein than a      juice box. If you send a juice box send healthy options made with fruits      and vegetables or 100 % juice.


  • For those children who don’t like to eat fruits and      vegetables, make a smoothie with celery and carrots in a reusable thermos.      Children won’t even taste the celery or cucumber!


Blueberry Smoothie

So easy…

Celery – clean and organic, if possible. Two small to medium stalks
Blueberries – frozen and organic. As many as you like to sweeten the celery
Fresh Water
Agave (optional – to further sweeten if you desire)

Whirl it up, drink it up, and soak up the nutrients!

Pack it properly

  • Make your child’s lunch in a reusable lunch box with      food stored in sectioned off containers. This is not only eco-friendly,      but is fun and will keep everything separated and fresh. You won’t have      any squished sandwiches or broken snacks. Eliminate the need for      silverware by sending items that can be eaten with your child’s hands      (what fun!)
  • Choose foods that can be left out at room temperature      or get an icepack for your child’s lunch box or bag. In addition to the      thermos, companies are now making insulated sandwich sacks, too.
  • Last, but certainly, not least, pack a loving      handwritten note to add the final ingredient to your child’s      lunch!

Happy packing!

From our hearts to yours,

Elise and family


  1. Thank you for asking me, Sunny! It was my pleasure!


  1. […] Rudi’s Gluten-Free Tortillas to make these tasty wraps  from Cooking with […]

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