Nothing says “back to school” like packing endless (and often dreaded) school lunches. If you’re anything like me, you start out with good intentions and then run out of ideas two weeks into the school year. While you can certainly use some of these kitchen hacks to make things easier, it doesn’t help if you have a case of “lunch packer block” (that is, you can’t stop packing the same things lunch after lunch after lunch.) That’s why I wanted to create this healthy school lunch ideas post: to keep you inspired when the going gets rough.
Finding JOY in packing school lunches
Truth be told, packing school lunches can be bothersome, boring and relentless. If your kids go away to school each day, it can be even more dissatisfying since you don’t get to actually see them oohing and ahhing over your amazing culinary skills. But, what if we flipped the whole thing on its head?
What if coming up with school lunch ideas became not only tolerable but JOYFUL?
After all, we have the opportunity to fill our kids’ bellies with nourishing, delicious and even inspiring food day after day after day. We also get to “love” on our kids in this very simple and yet important way. That’s how I’m choosing to approach school lunches this year. (We’ll see how long that lasts ?.)
Tips for making school lunches easier
Since we have to make at least 200 lunches for our kids (and this includes homeschoolers too!), we might as well make it easier on ourselves… amiright?
Here are some simple things you can try:
- Involve your kids. Depending on your child’s age, have them cut up veggies, grab an apple out of the fridge, pack crackers, you get the idea. By having your kid help, you are teaching them to navigate the kitchen as well as boosting confidence and knowledge. You can also take the opportunity to teach them about healthy foods and macronutrient balance with each lunch! (If your kids don’t know how to prep food, consider enrolling in the Kids Cook Real Food course.) Also, let your kids come up with school lunch ideas, too!
- Cook in bulk. Consider making extra for dinner each night and pack leftovers for lunch. Or, make big batches of healthy gummy men, muffins, waffles, pasta, and rice & beans and store in freezer. Take out what you want to pack the night before to defrost and throw it into your kid’s lunch the next day.
- Use “convenience” foods. I’m not talking processed or fast foods but rather easy and very “packable” real foods like cherry/grape tomatoes, pitted olives, defrosted frozen peas/lima beans/corn, organic berries, clementines, organic grapes, string cheese, hard boiled eggs, organic jerky sticks, drinkable yogurt, healthy snacks like olive oil popcorn, seed crackers, or sprouted nuts & seeds
- Freeze a few “emergency” meals. For those occasions when you have a late night and have to scramble for a lunch the next day, consider freezing a few lunches that you can grab and go. Some school lunch ideas include: bean burritos, almond & honey sandwich, turkey roll ups, etc. Add a piece of fruit and a drink, and you’ve got yourself a balanced meal for your child.
Getting the right lunch gear
While there are literally dozens of portable food gear products out there, you want to find lunch supplies that are:
- made with non-toxic materials like stainless steel
- dishwasher safe (ain’t nobody got time for hand-washing!)
- leak-proof (or mostly leak-proof)
- easy to pack
- durable and not breakable
- keep foods heat/cold as appropriate
After much research, I decided to go with PlanetBox. Here is the gear I own:
While the price tag of their products was steeper than I wanted, I do have to say that I’m very pleased with their products. I used exclusively last year and continue to use this year as well. (You can see their products below.)
For water bottles, I really like these from Thermos (where to buy). I also use these Thermos containers for when I’m packing warm/hot foods, which is much less common. (where to buy)
School lunch ideas video
You can see all my lunch ideas in the video above, or scroll down to see all the photos.
School lunch idea photos…
Special thanks to my friend Savanna, who shared (and snapped) some of her favorite school lunch ideas for this post! ❤
Veggies with hummus, grapes, nuts and banana muffin with a pat of butter.
Cheese stick, chick peas and wild rice, peppers, nuts, and dip.
Hot lunch! Leftover pasta with meat sauce, a salad and apple.
Sharp cheddar, black rice crackers, pistachios, tomatoes, and berry medley.
Turkey wrap with pomegranate salad.
Veggie patties, grilled zucchini, fruit with coconut.
Chicken nuggets, chocolate strawberries with veggies.
Quinoa salad, hard-boiled bacon eggs, fruit gummy.
Grain-free sandwich, jicama & peppers, peas & pistachios.
Rice salad, plantain chips, fruit & veggies.
Roasted turkey, coleslaw, strawberries & coconut.
Black rice noodles, ants on a log, veggies & fruit.
Edamame strawberry salad, seeds, sauerkraut, & hummus dip.
Egg muffins, pesto dip & nut butter.
Hot lunch! Leftover pasta, berries, and cucumber slices.
Yogurt with honey, peas, black rice with olive oil, cheese, grapes, & nuts.
Chicken salad with lettuce wraps, rosemary potatoes, plantain chips, etc.
Pumpkin muffin, olives, nut rolled date, berries, cheese and zinc drop.
Chicken & beans, fresh mango and grape tomatoes.
Sprouted wheat pretzels, Bubbies pickle, seeds, berries, cheese & chocolate.
Apple, bacon & lettuce “sandwich”, various crackers, cheese, & goji berries.
Veggie pasta, cucumber salad, avocado, crackers, seeds and beans.
Blue potato chips, berries, cucumbers, cheese and nut/date bar.
Organic turkey on oat bread, tomatoes, Lara bar, berries and almonds.
Quinoa & beans, cheese, purple grapes, tomatoes, and date treat.
Veggie pasta salad, beef jerky, melon, avocado, and fruit/nut treat.
Yogurt with granola, almond butter sandwich, carrots, and strawberries.
Sprouted corn tortilla, trail mix, black beans, tomatoes, cheese, zinc drop.
Turkey sandwich, olive oil potato chips, berries, tomatoes & zinc drop.
Sprouted pretzels, tomatoes, grapes, cheese, walnuts, and ginger chew.
Beef jerky, berries, tomatoes, seed crackers with butter, & zinc drop.
Hot pretzel with mustard dip, salami/cheese, broccoli & dried fruit.
Rice & beans, tomatoes, cheese, walnuts & coconut-rolled date.
Homemade “goldfish” crackers, berries, tomatoes, & cheese.
BBQ chicken, coleslaw, carrots with dip, seeds & plantain chips.
Cheese crackers, peas, berries, cheese, seeds & elderberry drop.
Almond butter & jelly, slaw, bananas & strawberries, & carrot sticks.
Tortilla with butter, pineapple, red peppers, cheese & chocolate treat.
GF chicken nuggets w/ dip, sweet potato chips, veg/fruit & gummy star.
Rice pasta, hummus/veggies, pistachios, cheese, and chocolate.
Other pro tips for school lunch ideas:
Pack your lunches the night before.
While Papa Natural is getting the kids ready for bed, I’m in the kitchen making their lunches for the next day. (I eventually want to partner with Griffin to make lunches but for now, this is working for us.) I’m rather rushed in the mornings so prefer being free of this task. If you take a morning quiet time or do an a.m. workout, packing at night might also appeal to you so it doesn’t interfere with your spiritual or physical fitness ??
Buddy up with a friend or neighbor.
My dear friend and fellow foodie, Savanna, has the most amazing school lunch ideas (as you’ve seen above!). We snap pictures of our lunches each day and text to each other for moral support. We inspire each other and also commiserate on Fridays when we’re so done with packing lunches ?
Find a friend who is also committed to packing healthy lunches and share school lunch ideas regularly. Or better yet, buddy up with a neighbor and swap bulk food items to take some of the burden off of each of you. For example, you could make a big batch of healthy muffins and she could make extra rice & beans; you then swap portions to each other to help round out your lunches.
Taste the rainbow.
To ensure that your kids are getting a wide-spectrum of nutrients, try to bring lots of color into their lunches. Not only is it visually appealing but it provides a rich diversity of phytonutrients and other vitamins and minerals. Here is a list of food by color to get you inspired:
Red grapes 🍇
Blue corn (high in selenium!)
Seaweed (like these snacks)
Sweet potatoes (these are delicious!)
Black rice (like these crackers)
Make your kids “snack” on any lunch leftovers.
After all of the effort that goes into making kid lunches, nothing feels worse that opening up a lunch box filled with half-eaten foods. When this happens in our household, I make the kids finish their leftovers before they can have other foods to eat, including dinner. This teaches them the value of not being wasteful and honors the work of others. ?
Find resources to help.
We all get into food ruts and need to break out of our old standbys. Consider joining a meal planning service to help you try new recipes that can be used as lunches. I like Real Plans because they create shopping lists (that you can use on your phone) and include lunch menus too. You can also follow awesome food bloggers like Deliciously Organic, Naturally Ella or Tasty Yummies. I also find inspiration in magazines and cookbooks like Nourishing Traditions.
Keep it simple.
While homemade sushi rolls and holiday-themed treats are fun to do on occasion, you want to also include regular, simple staples if you’re gonna stay in the game for the long haul. Simple foods are often best for younger, more delicate digestive systems, too. When coming up with new school lunch ideas, it can be as easy as just trying different foods, such as:
- Less popular fruits like kiwi, grapefruit, and golden berries
- Veggies like radishes, jicama, and plantains
- Well-cooked grains like millet, amaranth, and savory steel cut oats
- And healthy proteins like salmon jerky, Brazil nuts, and dried garbanzo beans
Infuse with L❤VE.
Researcher Kai Qin Chan showed that strong emotions like love or jealousy can impact the way food tastes (Love-infused food tastes better, btw 🙂 ). So there is actually some scientific proof to the importance of food “made with love.” You can write a little love note or buy these cute cards to stick in lunches. I also like to throw in a little “treat” most days like these Zand throat drops (with added zinc for immunity!), these elderberry gummies, dark chocolate or ginger chews.
How about YOU?
I’d love to hear from YOU, mama! What do you regularly make for your little ones? Share any tips or tricks you might have on school lunch ideas!