Finding interesting items to put in my kids' lunchboxes is a constant challenge. It's easy to fall into a rut and retreat to the safety and ease of a sandwich. Making sure I have time in the morning to make something nutritious for my kids' lunches is often not in the cards.

While a homemade sandwich often tastes better, and can be better for my kids nutritionally than a school-bought lunch day in and day out, it can still be a bit monotonous. So I've found over the years that the most successful strategies for livening up my kids' lunches starts with dinner.

I try once or twice a week to make a dinner that serves double-duty: one we can enjoy in the evening, but will stand the lunchbox test the next day, too. You know, a meal that can be dropped, stepped on, played catch with, all the usual trials and tribulations that the average lunchbox withstands over the course of the day. (Is it obvious that I have all boys?)

I've found over the years that the best dual-purpose meals must adhere to a certain criteria: They need to be unfussy, easy to eat and not particularly temperature-sensitive. Don't get me wrong, I'm always careful to make sure I follow the food safety rules, keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot, but I haven't found a way to ensure that anything will be piping hot or icy cold after a few hours in a lunchbox.

While certain casseroles, stir-fries and even soups fill the bill, one meal I turn to on a frequent basis is the pasta salad. It's easy, relatively inexpensive and my kids love it in almost any form -- and I can make a big batch just as quickly as I can make a small one.

If making a little extra at dinner means the lunchbox is already taken care of in the morning and I can hit the snooze button once or twice, I'm all for it.

Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining" and "The Big Book of Appetizers." Reach her at Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.