Nostalgic for creamy PB&J sandwiches, crispy chicken nuggets and mac and cheese straight from the cafeteria? It’s the stuff of childhood dreams, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon these once-essential eats the second we enter adulthood. We can, however, do you one better. Read on for dressed up versions of your favourite back-to-school lunches that are just as easy to throw together (and arguably way more delicious).
Winning Bento Box Meal
Bento boxes have a way of making lunchtime more delightful. And they’re not just for kids (hello, weekend meal prep). Swap childhood snacks for adult-friendly additions like veggie stir-fry, rice and any tasty toppings that’ll have you itching for the clock to strike noon.
Ham, Apple and Cheese Quesadilla
Ham and cheese sandwiches are a brown-bag essential. And as mundane as they may have become after unwrapping our 365th one, we still remember them fondly. Go gourmet and transform the ubiquitous sammy into a grilled quesadilla with apple and mustard. Your taste buds will be thrilled.
Veggie Stack Pita Pockets
Kid-friendly lunches and pita pockets pretty much go hand-in-hand. The secret to this veggie-packed recipe is in the sauce: a quick homemade hummus blended with a handful of manchego cheese.
Chicken Parm Pizza
What would grade school have been without weekly pizza lunches, or college without pepperoni slices on display behind the cafeteria sneeze screen? Not nearly as delicious, for one. The only thing that could have used some improvement were the toppings on offer. Make up for it with this drool-worthy chicken parm-inspired pizza.
Egg Salad Sandwich with Avocado and Watercress
A quick and tasty no-heat lunch idea, the egg salad sandwich is another ubiquitous meal choice that has stood the test of time. Fancy it up with the addition of sliced avocado and watercress.
Instant Pot Chicken Noodle Soup
When the cold weather hits, so too do bright, stainless-steel thermoses enter lunch bags everywhere. While their contents (like classic chicken noodle soup) certainly kept us warm and cozy, canned soups have nothing on homemade versions. Try a healthy Instant Pot recipe instead. This one is almost as easy to prepare as its store-bought equivalent.
The Pioneer Woman's Leftover Cheese Dip
Cheese and crackers in sweet little cut-out shapes is a slam-dunk lunch most kids would never think to trade. This creative spin on the snack pairing presents cheese in dip form (the secret addition of dry white wine makes it all the more adult-friendly).
Creamy Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Whether served at the school cafeteria or packed from home, mid-day mac and cheese was always worth salivating over. While it’s hard to mess up this carby comfort food, you can make it even tastier by adding multiple cheeses (cream cheese, Gruyere and sharp cheddar) before topping it off with breadcrumbs.
The Pioneer Woman’s Cowboy Nachos
Oh, cheesy nachos, a forbidden meal we always scrounged up enough lunch money to buy, while our parents were none the wiser. Thankfully, adulthood means eating nachos mid-day whenever a craving strikes. Make it worth your while with Ree Drummond’s easy recipe topped with shredded beef brisket, enchilada sauce, beans, cheese and more.
Indian-Inspired Corn Dogs with Mango Dipping Sauce
It was always a sign of a great day ahead if corn dogs were in our lunch future. Get nostalgic, and flex a little creativity in the kitchen, with these 25-minute Indian-inspired meals on a stick. The secret, time-saving ingredient? Pancake mix!
If spaghetti and meatballs were on the dinner menu, chances are the leftovers would appear in our lunch box the following day. A definite win-win. Meal prep for the work week ahead and whip up the pasta classic in comforting, casserole form.
Bobby Flay's Southwestern Pasta Salad
So long as a pasta salad was dressed in a delicious sauce and sprinkled with cheese, we were all for it. Nowadays, we’ve come to appreciate the addition of more fresh produce, such as peppers, corn and tomatoes, which star in this bright and flavour-packed dish.