multiple school lunches laid out
Kids & Parenting, Meal Ideas

Back to School Lunch Box Ideas

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Are you scratching your head each morning wondering “What should I put in my kindergartner’s lunch box?”

Or is your 2nd grader coming home with a full lunchbox because they didn’t want to eat the same sandwich again?

As moms we all face the same challenge: coming up with a variety of healthy ideas for lunch at school our children will eat. 

Related: How We Changed Our After School Routine

I wish I could send my kids a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day but their elementary school is completely nut free and we all know they would still get bored of them after a while.  

But we can make it easier on ourselves and provide wholesome lunch box options our children will love (and eat). 

How?

The key to ending school lunch packing fails is to use a go to list of healthy foods your child loves and mixing and matching them in a whole bunch of different ways. That ensures they have plenty of options and they are eating a wide variety of healthy foods. 

From my master list of lunch for school ideas, I use this formula when packing lunches:

Protein + Carbs/Starch + Fruit + Vegetable = Complete Lunch

This helps me make sure that they get a well balanced meal.  Some days I may double up on the protein or fruit, or throw in an extra snack,  but overall this formula makes it easier to put together lunch each day. 

School Lunch Box Tools

First things first. The right lunch box tools will make your life 100% easier. 

When my first child went to kindergarten, I invested in a fancy bento box thingy

It was super clunky and didn’t really fit things the way I wanted them to fit. 

Then I switched to plastic bags and that was a mess too. Food got crushed and “icky” and I ran out of bags mid lunch packing a few times. Plus, I’m trying to reduce our waste so I’ve been using reusable containers whenever I can. 

After all that trial and error I bought this cheap multi pack of containers and have been incredibly happy with them. 

I use these little containers if I need an extra compartment in the larger containers for dips or anything more liquid than solid. 

You can also invest in a good thermos so you can send food like macaroni and cheese or chicken noodle soup. Just remember to teach your child how to properly open the thermos!

And finally, our kids are not really big juice or milk drinkers so I always send a reusable water bottle

I make sure I have 2 days worth of all of this stuff because the kids lunch boxes don’t always make it home each day. And if they do and I don’t get the containers washed, I don’t have to wash containers during the morning rush.  

The Master List of Lunch For School Ideas

Here is a sample of kid friendly foods I use to fill my children’s lunch boxes. You can download it here.

There is also plenty of space to write in your own favorites to have on hand. 

As I mentioned above, I use this formula:

Protein + Carbs/Starch + Fruit + Vegetable.

That breaks down to one food from each group. 

My master list of lunch box foods includes: 

Protein:

Sunbutter

Lunchmeat

Eggs

Meatballs

Shredded chicken

Pepperoni

Hot Dogs

Cheese

Greek Yogurt

Hummus

Re-fried beans

Fruit:

Oranges

Grapes

Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries)

Applesauce

Bananas

Watermelon

Cantelope

Honeydew Melon

Mangoes

Apple slices

Fruit cups (in water)

Vegetables:

Baby Carrots/ Carrot sticks

Cucumbers

Sugar Snap peas

Broccoli

Cherry tomatoes

Peppers

Lettuce

Corn

Carbs/Starches:

Muffins

Bread

Tortilla Chips

Pita Bread/Chips

Bread

Granola

Tortillas

Noodles

Mini Bagels

Here are a few school lunch ideas with a few of our favorite combinations just to get your gears spinning. But the possibilities are endless!

#1 Go Greek

Hummus

Pita Bread

Cucumbers

Banana

#3 Breakfast for lunch

Greek Yogurt

Granola

Berries

Muffin

#4 Italian Feast

Mini Meatballs

Cherry Tomatoes

Watermelon

Garlic bread/Breadsticks

#5 Corndog Fun

Corndog muffins

Oranges

Broccoli Florets

Yogurt Tube

#2 Classic PB&J (hold the PB)

Sunbutter and jelly sandwich

Apple Slices

Sliced Peppers

Cheese Stick

#6 Mini Pizzas

Pepperoni

Pita Bread

Shredded Mozerella Cheese

Tomato sauce

Cantelope

#7 Homemade Lunchables

Crackers

Lunchmeat

Cheese

Applesauce

Carrots

#8 Mexican Feast

Bean and cheese burrito (refried beans, cheese, and tortilla)

Mangoes

Corn

# 9 Nacho average lunch

Shredded chicken

Tortilla Chips

Queso

Grapes

Corn

# 10 Keep it Simple

Elbow Macaroni with butter and parmesan cheese

Shredded Chicken

Sugar Snap Peas

Oranges

#11 That’s A Wrap

Lunch meat and cheese rollups (lunch meat, cheese, tortilla)

Oranges

Peppers

#12 Egg-celent Choice

Hard boiled egg

Muffin

Honeydew Melon

Sliced Peppers

#13 Bagel Fun

Mini Bagels with Sunbutter and honey

Strawberries

Cucumber

Yogurt Tube

#14 Brunch it up!

Mini Pancakes with Syrup

Blueberries

Cucumbers

Yogurt

#15 Sweet and Savory

Cream Cheese and Jelly Sandwich

Watermelon

Sugar Snap Peas

Just remember that packing lunch for school doesn’t have to be stressful. Play around and figure out what works for your child the best. Hopefully, you’ve found some good ideas for lunch at school your child will enjoy!

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14 Comments

  • Reply Paige @An Uncomplicated Life Blog July 29, 2019 at 1:39 pm

    Ohhh, I need to get some of these containers! My kindergartener has a hot lunch option at school (finally!) but I still have 3 kids in preschool and I have to send a lunch with them, three days a week. They’ve had a lot of string cheese and yogurt – I’m sure they’d love more variety like what you have listed here!

    • Reply Jill July 29, 2019 at 9:34 pm

      The containers are key! We were struggling with eating a lot of yogurt and cheese sticks, too.

  • Reply Kelly July 29, 2019 at 2:10 pm

    I love this formula and all your ideas! I’m going to use some of these for myself. 🙂

    • Reply Jill July 29, 2019 at 9:34 pm

      Yes! The formula works for adults, too!

  • Reply Jordan July 29, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    Lifesaver! This list is perfect — we have the same boxes, but we keep defaulting to the same lunches over and over again. Love having these options laid out in this format. Thank you!!

    • Reply Jill July 29, 2019 at 9:35 pm

      It’s so easy to just stick with what you know. I was super surprised when I sent these options and the kids didn’t throw a fuss and they came home with empty lunch containers!

  • Reply Rachel DeMello July 29, 2019 at 3:58 pm

    Saving this for back to school, thanks for the read!! I soooo need help in this area. 🙂

    • Reply Jill July 29, 2019 at 9:36 pm

      You’re not alone Rachel. We struggled a lot until something finally clicked and I started using this formula.

  • Reply Colleen Wildenhaus July 29, 2019 at 10:29 pm

    This is the most useful school lunch post I have seen…and my children are 14 and 11. No matter how many years my children have been attending school, I struggle year after year with the whole school lunch thing!!!! Thank you for the time and effort you put into this great post! I will be printing and referencing often!

    • Reply Jill July 30, 2019 at 6:30 pm

      I’m so glad you found this useful! I feel like kid’s preferences change as they get older, so what worked the year before won’t always work this year!

  • Reply Karen July 29, 2019 at 11:12 pm

    These containers definitely make it easier to plan and prep ahead of time as well!

    • Reply Jill July 30, 2019 at 6:31 pm

      Something as simple as the right container can make a world of difference!

  • Reply Ashley July 30, 2019 at 6:49 am

    Perfect! My daughter starts Kindergarten this year and getting her to eat the lunches I make is always hard. You have a lot of great tips/ideas that I can’t wait to try for her. Thanks!

    • Reply Jill July 30, 2019 at 6:32 pm

      Hi Ashley! I hope your daughter has a great first year in Kindergarten. We struggled so much with lunches until I figured out this formula and started my mix and match lunches. We’ve had lots more success!

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