Back-to-School Lunch Ideas: How to Pack Lunches Like a Pro

children sitting at lunch table
Photo by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Packing lunches and snacks can often go last on the list of back-to-school preparation, but they are vital to helping kids thrive at school. Including your kids in back-to-school preparations as much as possible will help them, and you, mentally prepare. One way to do that is to brainstorm school lunch ideas with your kids, and have kids help grocery shop for ingredients. These tips will help you get ready for school by learning to pack lunches like a pro.

Plan Ahead

Have you ever realized you forgot to pack a lunch only when your child was already out the door? The good news is there are easy ways to avoid this by packing lunches for your kids beforehand. Better yet, meal prepping these lunches won’t leave you scrambling in the mornings. Even better, kids can help pack their lunches, too! And the best for last—lunches don’t all have to be the same ingredients every day.

Boost Their Immunity

Many children get sick at the start of school due to fatigue and an onslaught of germs from new surroundings and schoolmates. While no single food will prevent illness, medical and nutritional experts agree healthy diets generally lead to healthy immune systems.

A healthy gut helps strengthen the entire immune system, so make sure kids get plenty of probiotics from yogurt, pickles, and other fermented foods. Snacks should include fruits and veggies whenever possible; when going for packaged snacks make sure to read the labels to ensure they’re truly healthy and nutrient-rich, not just seemingly so. Also work to avoid added sugar, which weakens the body’s defenses and encourages phlegm production.

Read Next |

Pack with Purpose

We know when kids get their recommended servings of fruits and vegetables per day, as part of a healthy diet, they have increased focus and concentration. Ideally, lunches should include a protein, a vegetable and a fruit.

Kids often have busy and short lunch periods; during the first few weeks many get so distracted by all the activity they don’t eat all their food. Strive to include healthy foods packed with protein and fiber to keep them full, along with foods that can be saved and sent back the next day to make your life simpler. Pickles are an overlooked vegetable source that offers probiotic benefits; bean dips are filled with protein and avoid allergy conflicts; and organic dried fruits with no added sugar can easily become a favorite naturally sweet, healthy treat.

Your food group selections may look completely different from your neighbors. These groups are highly customizable depending on your child’s preferences, allergies, sensitivities, and even your food budget.

Beware of Time-Saving Measures That Hurt

Harried parents are often tempted to buy pre-packaged lunches at stores, but beware: most are loaded with sodium, saturated fat and sugar. They are often more expensive than packing lunches at home in the long run. To save time, look for truly healthy packaged snacks without added sugar and simple ingredients to fill out your lunches.

Buy in bulk or order through Amazon’s subscribe and save so you don’t have to continually shop and prepare. For easy “grab-and-go” options that offer additive nutrition, look for organic dried fruits in conveniently portioned packages, vegetable snacks without added fillers, and cheese sticks. For all packaged snacks, always look for foods with no added sugar.

Prep Portions

At the beginning of the week, set aside some time to prep portions of items that aren’t already packaged. Grab some snack bags and chop up favorite veggies like celery sticks, bell peppers, carrots, and more into individual portions. You can pre-slice apples and pears as well, and soak them in apple juice to keep them from turning brown. This will help keep everything fresh and crisp when packing lunches.

Proteins like nuts and trail mix can also be portioned out into snack bags to make choices easy. Individually packaged snacks like string cheese, crackers, applesauce, and fruit cups are easy to toss into the lunch pail, too!

Read Next | Maple Almond & Fig Oatmeal: Nutrition and Language

Using Leftovers When Packing Lunches

Leftovers in the fridge can be a school lunch favorite, and are perfectly fine served cold.

Did you have tacos for dinner this week? Put some taco meat in an extra small container with tortilla chips and cheese. Had a pizza? Cut up a slice or two into narrow, kid-friendly portions and put it in the bag. You can also use pasta and meatballs as the main lunch entree. You’ll cross a few food groups off the list while you’re at it!

Anything your child doesn’t mind eating cold can easily be repurposed into lunch that week. This is an easy way to save both time and money.

School Lunch Ideas For Kids Who Are Over Sandwiches

If your little one is tired of a PB&J every day, there are a lot of equally easy substitutes. Instead of dropping a ham sandwich in their lunchbox, make turkey, cheese, and tortilla pinwheels. These sandwich alternatives take barely any time to make, and your child will love the change of routine.

Feeling creative? Cut up a toasted waffle or two and place them in a container with chicken tenders and syrup. Presto, chicken and waffles! Consider baking muffins or mini pot pies to tuck into school lunches as well.

A lot of party staples and finger foods double as great stand-ins for school lunch. This is especially if your child enjoys switching it up from time to time. Pinterest is a great source for different school lunch ideas!

Read Next | Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters

Teach Your Kids to Make Healthy Choices the Hands-On Way

One of the best ways to empower your children and give them confidence is to present them with decisions. A pretty harmless place to start is with their school lunches.

If you have the fridge space, set up shelves or drawers with different portions of the food groups. Post-Its or Stickers with instructions on each will help your child assemble their lunch in a fun and interactive way.

For example, they can pick any two fruits and/or vegetables from one drawer for the day. Then, they’ll grab their choice of proteins from another, carbs from a third, and even their drink.

Once lunch is assembled, you should give their choices a once-over to make sure they’re on the right track. This is a great opportunity to talk about and teach nutrition. You can praise your child for making good choices and correct gently if they’ve skipped over an important group. Plus, you’ll hear fewer complaints if they didn’t feel like having a string cheese for lunch that day!

Make Your Life Easier With the Right Containers

There are amazing containers for packing lunch available on the market now. One trend we have our eye on is the rise of bento boxes.

Several brands produce Tupperware containers with interlocking patterns on the lid to hold additional containers of different sizes. You can keep dipping sauces or more liquidy products, nuts and fruits, and a larger entree below. The entire container will stay locked together until it’s time for lunch.

Others have built-in compartments for utensils on the top. With just a couple of these on hand, you can assemble a lunch for every day of the week. Your child can simply grab and go! Here are some good lunchbox recommendations. And check out these recipes for out-of-the-box lunches.

Content for this updated story was originally published in Mommybites stories by Kristen Klingensmith and Noha Waibsnaider. 

girl kissing her nanny
Read Next | This Is Where to Hire an Amazing NYC Nanny

Kristen Klingensmith is a self-described mimosa connoisseur and casual Bravo TV addict. When she’s not writing for various lifestyle, travel and parenting publications, she’s raising her daughter Sophie Grace and eating her way through Oklahoma.

Noha Waibsnaider is the founder of Peeled Snacks, a maker of organic fruit and vegetable snacks. Committed to organic, clean food, Peeled Snacks makes a variety of vegetable and fruit snacks available at Whole Foods, and grocery stores. Find out more at

Like what you read? JOIN the Mommybites community to get the latest on FREE online classesparenting adviceeventschildcare listingscasting calls & raffles, and our Parents With Nannies Facebook group. SIGN UP NOW!

Tags: , ,