Back to School Lunch Ideas: How to Start Packing Lunches Like a Pro

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mother, adult, female, woman, blonde, parent, sweater, son, child, brunette, yellow, green, backpack, lunchbox, lunch, sandwich, kiwi, banana, grapefruit, fruit, orange, juice, orange juice, table, kitchen, wood, floor, wooden floorHave you ever nearly made it out the door with your child when you suddenly realize… you forgot their lunch? It happens to us more than we like to admit.

The good news is there are several easy ways you can go about packing lunches for your kids beforehand. Better yet, meal prepping these lunches won’t leave you scrambling in the mornings. And the best for last- they don’t all have to be the same ingredients every day. We have some great school lunch ideas for you to try with your child to save time, money, and hassle.

Every family is different, and what works for one may not work for the other! Basically, the most important thing is that your child is getting proper nutrition with a school lunch. As long as that meal covers the basic food groups, you’re golden!

Here are some of our favorite ways to prep your children’s lunches with minimum fuss and maximum flavor. We’ve even got some ideas for when that standard sandwich just won’t do!

Create Food Groups

One of the easiest ways to manage packing lunches is to cover basic food groups. Ideally, the perfect lunch will have two portions of fruits/veggies, one to two portions of protein and one from the carb family. Tack on a tiny bit of sweets, because who doesn’t love dessert? Then add on a drink, and you’re all set!

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! Any of our school lunch ideas here or those you find on Pinterest will work with these groups.

Prep the 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!

Using Leftovers When Packing Lunches

Out of school lunch ideas? A lot of your leftovers in the fridge are perfectly fine being served cold.

Did you have tacos for dinner this week? Put some taco meat in an extra small Tupperware 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 one of our go-to sources for different school lunch ideas!

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!


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.

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