Cool for school: Could one of these 10 school lunch ideas replace the ol' PB&J?

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/ Source: TODAY
By Laura T. Coffey

School lunches can be a touchy subject. The topic can exhaust and overwhelm parents for so many reasons: their schedules might be jam-packed, their budgets might be stretched to the limit, or their kids might be extremely picky eaters.

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Still, wouldn’t it be nice to make lunchtime a little bit less of a drag for all involved? It really is possible, and the TODAY Parenting Team is here to help!

We asked the TODAY Parenting Team to share tips and tricks for surviving back-to-school season, and many contributors shared lunchbox hacks, shortcuts and yummy innovations. We’ve compiled 10 of those ideas here.

Please feel free to join in this ongoing conversation by becoming a member of our team, and stay connected to TODAY Parents updates on our Facebook page. If you’ve got other suggestions for spicing up the lunchtime routine, please share them with us!

1. DIY lunch. (Keeper of The Fruit Loops)

Voila! Handy, healthy snacks at the ready!Courtesy of Amanda Mushro

“Teach your kids to make nutritious lunches to save time. My kids have been making their lunches in the morning for years. Yes, you read that correctly. I keep the fridge and pantry stocked with easy to pack food and five items go into the lunch box: 1 protein (yogurt/cheese stick), 1 fruit, 1 veggie, 1 carb (crackers/crunchy item) and 1 treat. They can count on their hand and make sure they got all five. Throw in a juice box at the end and voila, the kids are independent, you can enjoy a cup of coffee and everyone is happy with their lunch selections.”

2. 'Cookie dough yogurt.' (Laura Fuentes)

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'Cookie dough yogurt'?! Yep — and it's healthy!Courtesy of Laura Fuentes / MOMables

“Simply add a little ‘cookie dough yogurt’ in the lunchbox. It’s Greek yogurt + almond butter + a small drizzle of maple syrup. Other great options are: hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese, ham or turkey rolled up, bean soup inside a thermos, and trail mix (just make sure there are no nut allergies around), and these pizza mini quiches.”

3. Breakfast box. (Brandi Davis)

“French toast, scrambled eggs, a waffle? Think breakfast for lunch! Some schools even reheat foods and there are great containers now that keeps food warm. Try some breakfast foods for lunchtime. Everyone loves breakfast food.”

4. Chicken nuggets. (Amanda Mushro, Questionable Choices in Parenting)

Look, Mom and Dad! I'm willingly eating what you packed!Courtesy of Amanda Mushro

“Never worry food in a Thermos isn’t still hot at lunchtime. Fill the Thermos or can with almost boiling water and put the lid on. Let it sit while you pack lunches or serve breakfast. Heat the food hotter than you would normally serve it. Dump out the hot water and add the food. Now you have hot food stored in a warm Thermos. Perfect for a hot lunch! Use that Thermos for food other than soup. Heat chicken nuggets in the microwave and store in a hot thermos. They will be warm and yummy when your kids are ready for lunch. Just don’t forget the ketchup.”

5. Leftovers. (Brandi Davis)

“Toss in dinner from last night. No need to make a million meals, dinner can taste even better the next day. Pasta makes for a great lunch or last night’s chicken and some cheese in a tortilla to make a quesadilla. YUM. Save some time and throw that dinner into a container and be done. BAM.”

6. Fruit salad that looks appetizing. (Laura Fuentes)

Read on to find out how lemonade is enhancing this fruit's appeal.Courtesy of Laura Fuentes / MOMables

“In the past, I’ve fallen into the trap of sending the same fruits day after day in the lunchbox. Apples came back uneaten, bananas came home smooshed because they looked ‘yucky,’ and grape juices have leaked in backpacks and lunch bags. Something I like to do is make fresh fruit cups. All I have to do is chop fruit into a big bowl, mix it, and fill small, lidded leak-proof containers. To prevent browning, I add a 50/50 mixture of water and lemonade.”

7. Apples that haven't turned brown. (Amanda Mushro, Questionable Choices in Parenting)

"Keep apples from turning brown by using a knife or apple corer/slicer to cut around the core. Put the apple back together and wrap a rubberband around the apple. The apple will still be fresh at lunch."

8. Finger foods for easy eating and dipping. (Brandi Davis)

“Deconstruct that lunch. Kids love to eat with their fingers. Cut up turkey, ham, cheese, fruit and vegetables and let them graze and have some finger foods. Chop up ravioli small and add a side of sauce for dipping. Make grilled chicken fingers and again add a dipper. Dipping is fun.”

9. 'Pizza pasta salad' and other whole grains. (Laura Fuentes)

"It’s easy to pack whole grains into a lunch box in the form of sandwiches, whole-grain pita pizzas, pasta salads, quinoa, and ancient grain mixes. Sometimes, I like taking pasta salad for a spin and making this pizza pasta salad with high protein pasta made of quinoa."

10. Sandwiches in fun shapes. (Brandi Davis)

“Shake up those sandwiches by cutting out shapes, stars, whales, hearts. Make that ham ‘n’ cheese exciting. Kids love those shapes. They get so excited to see what shape they’ll have in their lunch. Creative AND easy.”

Follow TODAY.com writer Laura T. Coffey on Twitter @ltcoff and Google+.