Break from Boring: Pack More Punch into your Kids’ Breakfast & Lunch

Break from Boring: Pack More Punch into your Kids’ Breakfast & Lunch

Food images by Jen Picciano

If I have to pack the same lunch ONE. MORE. TIME. The school year is dragging on and I’m finding myself just as bored with lunch box options as my kids are. And I’m losing steam on breakfast, too. However, I show love through food, so I’m diggin’ deep to offer my kids, and you all, some fresh doable breakfast and lunch choices.



Roar for Pancakes

My animal pancakes are kinda famous. (Follow me on Instagram, @jenpicciano, and you’ll see) I shortcut it and use a mix, Krusteaz, and pour the batter into shapes to create animals and characters. My girls gobble up a serving of fruit and then dive into the hotcakes for a balanced meal. Make a bunch ahead of time and freeze them so all you have to do is decorate when time is short on school days. Get inspired. Your kids won’t judge. They’ll appreciate the effort.  

If you’re not up for tapping into your inner pancake artist, but want to send them off with something that will fill them up until it’s time to hit the lunchroom, try my Power Pancakes. I use my Vitamix to blend this batter, which is packed with protein. I prefer to top these with a jam or preserve, rather than traditional maple syrup.

If yours is a gluten-free household, consider something a little crazy — but trust me, it works. Let’s call them “Monkey Pancakes.” I picked this up from my awesome babysitter, who feeds a dozen picky eaters every morning. Smash a banana and mix it with two beaten eggs. Heat coconut oil in a frying pan, pour the mixture in, and cook it like you would a pancake. You can even add a superfood, like blueberries. This should be fun!



1 C cottage cheese
1 C rolled oats
2 eggs
½ to 1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. vanilla

Add ingredients, in the order listed, to your Vitamix or blender. Start on low (2-3) and bring to high (10) to blend until smooth. Spoon onto a hot, buttered frying pan or griddle. Cook until lightly browned on one slide, then flip. (Batter will not bubble up like traditional pancake batter.) Top with strawberry syrup.



  • Nutella and chocolate chips help achieve the look of spots or fur
  • Bacon strips make necks, legs, even tongues
  • Blueberries and kiwi slices make for great eyes
  • Clementines work for animal mouths
  • Apple slices can be quickly carved into ears, hooves and feathers
  • Strawberries make for great noses and snouts
  • Whipped cream works for manes, tails and fur


Lunch Fun

Let’s talk lunch — and enough with the PB&J, people. Expand your horizons. Consider chicken salad. Build your own based on your kids’ tastes. You can even make good use of that chicken breast no one finished at dinner last night. Sweeten and switch it up by omitting raw onion and celery, and instead, add fresh fruit. Pineapple, grapes and apple chunks are all kid-friendly fruits that will add a familiar sweet and tart note to each bite. If there isn’t a nut allergy or texture issue to factor in, I like introducing other superfoods like chopped almonds or walnuts. Send your little ones off with a fork, or pack a little pita pocket.

Transform Chicken
Finally, I pride myself on minimizing food waste and utilizing leftovers (hence my food blog title, When I recently purchased a bag of veggie chips that weren’t a hit with my tribe, I used a food processor to transform that into breading for chicken tenders. They contain a lot more nutrients than bread crumbs. (1 ounce of veggie chips contains 15-25 percent of Vitamins A, C, E, B6 and K through broccoli, beets, tomatoes, spinach and carrots.) And guess what? They loved it. Dredge chicken tenders first in flour, then egg wash, and finally in the veggie chips breading. Fry them or bake them. It was a hit at my house!

Sip It Up
Now, it’s time to make good use of that awesome thermos that came with your kids’ lunch boxes. You know it’s been sitting in some dark place in your cupboard since you bought it in August. My girls love this carrot ginger soup recipe. Bonus: kids don’t need soup piping hot; they prefer it luke warm. Encourage them to sip it from the thermos itself, which will probably be more user-friendly than pouring it out and using a spoon.



2 C chicken stock
1/3 of a medium onion
1/2 inch of ginger, peeled
1 large clove of garlic
3 cups peeled carrots, roughly cut into 1-2 inch pieces
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
Generous pinch of turmeric
1/4 C heavy cream

Add all the above ingredients except the heavy cream, in the order in which they are listed, into your Vitamix. (For a vegan version, substitute vegetable stock for chicken stock and use coconut milk instead of heavy cream.) Use a blender or push the soup setting on your Vitamix, if applicable. Soup should be completely blended, smooth and piping hot. Taste to adjust seasoning if necessary. Add the heavy cream and pulse, or blend for another 30 seconds. Serve while it’s hot, make it ahead for later in the week, or freeze it for another time.



Spoon up some goodness just for the littlest ones with a mix of spinach, kale and sweet peas.  

1 C of cooked spinach (roughly 5 oz. before steaming)
1 C of cooked kale (roughly 5 oz. before steaming)
1 C of frozen sweet peas, steamed
½ tsp. salt

Add ingredients, in the order listed, into your blender. Blend on high until smooth.

Toddler version:
Toss with cooked pasta and add grated cheese and shredded chicken.


Orville McEachron Photography

Jen Picciano is an Emmy winning reporter at WOIO-TV, Cleveland 19 News. Each week she dons an apron and gets messy in the kitchen with chefs all over the city to produce and host a cooking segment, Cleveland Cooks, for Cleveland 19 News. She also produces and hosts a weekly video podcast, Taste Buds, with local chefs Matt Mytro and David Kocab (available through WOIO), and appears on WQAL 104.1 FM each week on “The Cleveland Feed” to share the city’s latest food and dining news. She also is a regular contributor to the television station’s morning talk show, Sunny Side Up, and a special projects reporter there. In her “spare” time, she writes a blog, Cheftovers, to showcase her clever use of leftovers and share her foodie adventures. She resides in Mayfield Heights with her husband and three daughters.

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