Thursday’s Dish: Quick, Easy and Creative Lunches for Camp

Bento lunch - photo by

With summer almost here, many families are preparing to send their kids to day camps. Packing a lunch for camp can be a challenge, since refrigeration is usually not available, and belongings can sometimes sit out in the hot sun all morning. So how can you pack lunches that are fun, delicious and safe? Read on for some tips, tricks and ideas from around the web.

Bento lunch - photo by

Keeping Lunch Safe

The safest strategy is to use foods that are shelf-stable and don’t require refrigeration, but that’s just not always possible (or appetizing). Invest in a good insulated lunch box and a couple or reusable ice packs. You can always make your own ice packs with ziploc bags (be sure to double-bag them to prevent leaks), or even use a frozen drink, which will mostly melt over the course of the morning and provide a refreshing beverage at lunch time.

Keeping Lunch Tasty
The key to providing your kiddo with a delicious lunch day after day is variety… tempered, of course, with a few old favorites. Here are some ideas to spice up your lunch box contents:

PB&J: This is a beloved standby for a reason! It’s shelf-stable and tasty. For variations, use honey or banana slices instead of jelly, and substitute Sunbutter for peanut butter if your camp has a no-nut policy.

Black bean rollups (from Ladies’ Home Journal): Process black beans, cumin, oregano, lime juice, garlic and cilantro in a food processor, spread on a tortilla and roll up. Or, check out this recipe from Dash for a similar wrap using black beans and rice.
AdvertisementHomemade “Lunchables”: Pair crackers with cheese slices and lunch meats. Use hard cheese and cured meats (like pepperoni, salami and cured ham) if you can’t use ice packs, as they are safe without refrigeration for a longer period of time.

Sandwiches: Good ol’ lunch meat and/or cheese sandwiches are an option, too, as long as you prep them right. Freezing the bread can help keep the filling cool until lunchtime (hat tip to an LHJ commenter for the idea), and if you want to use condiments like mayo, either sandwich it in between the filling (so it’s not touching the bread) or include a packet that your camper can squeeze on at lunchtime, so the bread doesn’t get soggy. Mix it up by packing sandwiches on pita bread or mini bagels instead of regular bread.

Pasta salad (from the Daily Comet): Opt for an oil-based dressing for longer staying power in the heat, and make sure to toss in some veggies. Add cubed mozzarella cheese for protein.

Other Ideas: Tuna kits (which come in shelf-stable packs with mayo and relish or flavored tuna with crackers) and yogurt (freeze the night before) make good lunch box additions. For veggie punch, pack grape or cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, grapes or sliced apples (toss with lemon juice to prevent browning).

Keeping Lunch Fun
Bento box lunches are always a hit. Check out this article from Parenting or (to name just a couple of the plethora of bento resources on the web) for a wealth of ideas. You can use cookie cutters to cut sandwiches or pitas into fun shapes like hearts and stars, include a special treat every once in awhile to keep it interesting, and a note from mom or dad is always a nice surprise. Packing lunch the night before is your best bet, since you really won’t have time for such antics during the morning rush.

Happy camping — and lunching!

Lauren Walz is a freelance writer and editor and mama to a two-year-old girl. While she’s quick to brag about being a fifth-generation Texan, Lauren moved to Northern California in 2004 after graduating from UT Law and lived in the Silicon Valley area until last spring, when she and her family were drawn back to Austin. Lauren is busy getting re-acquainted with her old stomping grounds and is astonished by how the food and wine scene has changed in Austin in the past 8 years. Lauren also blogs about cooking and parenthood on

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