All of us as parents of young children try to figure out what foods will bring enough nutrition and variety to lunches that the kids will actually eat. Lately, my 11-year old son has been very focused on pasta salad. It has become his favorite meal, and it has inspired him to cook for himself. Pasta salad is my new best friend because my son is so happy to eat it. We make it a different meal every time, and I think this could be a way for you to add variety to your child’s lunchbox.
3 Tips to Keep the Pasta Salad Idea Fresh
- Make it infrequently. Maybe it’s just me, but if I am offered even my favorite foods too often, I stop finding them appetizing.
- Make it different every time. Even if you offer some kind of pasta salad every week, make it different so it doesn’t seem like the same meal.
- Use what you already have in the fridge or garden to add color and flavor. When my kids go to the store for the purpose of getting ingredients for a pasta salad, they go overboard. It costs too much and gets too complicated. Just have enough variety of ingredients on hand that you can choose what sounds good in the moment.
Have on Hand for Pasta Improv
Each time you make pasta salad, you reinvent it. No measurements are required. What have you got? Toss it in.
- Different shapes of pasta. Let your children choose interesting new shapes.
- Different colors of pasta. Have you ever tried squid pasta (black) or striped? Fun food gets eaten.
- Different kinds of salad dressing. If you have the time, make your own. If you are trying to make this a super quick meal, just choose from the salad dressing you have on hand.
- Fresh vegetables. We usually leave the vegetables uncooked, which is quicker, but blanched broccoli might be easier for a smaller child to eat in the salad. Don’t always leave the vegetables in predictable shapes. Shred them, chop them, cut them with tiny cookie cutters.
- Different kinds of cheese. Sprinkle a little Parmesan, add chunks of mozarella, add feta and olives for a Greek salad. Change it up.
- Fresh herbs and greens. Especially if you look for ways to add more dark greens to your child’s diet, chop it up in the salad. A little mint is a fresh surprise. Baby spinach adds color and nutrition. Add what you have.
- Leftovers. If you have leftovers that might work in a pasta salad, try them out. You don’t need to create a masterpiece. Experiment surprise and delight your child.
If your child has allergies and needs to avoid particular foods, even wheat, pasta salad is flexible enough to go where you need it to go. Stock the foods your child loves, and combine them in new and interesting ways. It’s so much more likely to meet a happy child than yet another sandwich.
As I write, I hear my husband banging pans around in the kitchen. Hearing me talk about pasta salad, and looking at my photos, he just had to feed his craving for a fresh end-of-summer salad. I hope your kids will feel that same excitement when they see something new and different in their lunchbox.