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Easy Packed Lunches for Kids


Back-to-school season means an onslaught of ads, articles, posts and pins about all of the things we should be doing to get our kids ready to return to school. While there are many aspects of back-to-school time that have gotten overblown and overcomplicated, the one that continually sends me over the edge is the topic of kids' lunches.

Here are just a few of the headlines I've come across recently:

  • “50 tricks and fun ideas for amazing school lunches”
  • “How to add pizzazz to your child’s lunch”
  • “Napkin origami”
  • "Lunchbox creativity"
  • “30 days of school lunches—no repeats!”

What killed me the most was when I googled "simple school lunches" only to find recipes for asparagus and gruyere paninis and BBQ chicken sloppy joes.

ENOUGH, I say!

School lunch packing tips

Keep in mind that a healthy school lunch is nourishment, not art. My girls don't need their lunch to have a face. They do not need to have a completely different lunch every day for 30 days. They can wipe the jelly off of their chins with a plain old paper towel. Their lunchtimes will be fun because they will be chatting with friends and going out to recess; their food does not need to be fun.

My criteria for a good packed lunch:

1) Pack something you know they'll eat.

I was recently talking to another mom about school lunches, and she said her son asks her to pack the exact same vegetable soup in a thermos for him every day of the week. She was feeling guilty about the fact that he eats the same lunch five days a week.

You know how I think she should feel? Awesome. He knows what he likes. It has nutritional value. And HE EATS IT.

Not all kids will be that easy to please, but most kids have a fairly short list of things they consistently like to eat for lunch. Pack those things. Don't overthink it or feel like you need to be inventive. If your kids are content eating the same things over and over, feel lucky that your job is that much easier and you know they are leaving the lunchroom each day with a full belly.

2) The prep and packing of lunches shouldn't take more than 5-10 minutes.

Here are some of the so-called "easy school lunch ideas" I've come across recently:

Thread cubes of tortellini, cheese, vegetables, bread, and meats onto skewers to create "antipasto on a stick."

Melt cheese onto a slice of ciabatta bread, cut into strips and serve with a side of tomato sauce.

Create "build your own tacos" by packing chicken, diced tomato, lettuce, and salsa in individual cups and serving with tortillas.


It's hard enough to get my girls dressed, breakfasted, groomed, and out the door by 7:15 each morning without spending a bunch of time making and assembling their lunches. I want to be able to either make their entire lunch the night before or throw it together quickly in the morning while they're eating breakfast.

3) Make sure their lunch has nutritional value.

My girls eat well at home, so I don’t feel the need to pack every single food group and nutrient into their lunches. I do, however, want to make sure they’re getting a good balance of carbs, proteins and veggies/fruits to keep their blood sugar regulated and give them the stamina and energy they need to feel their best at school without running out of steam or getting hyper.

With the aforementioned goals in mind, I sat down with my girls to come up with a list of lunches that would be acceptable to all of us. From there, we created a Monday-Friday "lunch menu" that we would stick to throughout the year.

Of course this does not need to be set in stone (and you'll see that Friday is listed as a "wild card" day), but it gives us a general guideline so that the girls know what to expect on any given day, and I know exactly what I need to have in stock for the week.

Sample Weekly Lunch Menu:

  • Monday: homemade lunchables*, fruit or veggies, granola cookie
  • Tuesday: turkey sandwich, chips or crackers, fruit or veggies
  • Wednesday: pb & j sandwich, chips or crackers, fruit or veggies
  • Thursday: B buys pizza; S: hummus & pretzels, turkey pepperoni, fruit, carrots
  • Friday: repeat of Tues/Weds or wild card (ham sandwich, soup, pasta salad, tuna sandwich, hard-boiled eggs, leftovers, etc).

*To make homemade lunchables, just cut out small pieces of meat and/or cheese and serve with crackers. (Please don't judge me for my heart cookie was the only one I could find that was the right size to fit the cracker. I promise not to draw a face on the cheese!). 

Everyone's tastes and dietary needs are different, but the key is to sit down with your kids and figure out a weekly lunch menu that you can all agree upon. And then stick to it throughout the year!

Of course you can make changes and throw in a special treat once in a while, but having something written out makes it easier to 1) get into a routine; 2) know what groceries you need to buy, and 3) avoid any arguments about what you're going to pack on a given day.

If you're looking for more ideas for easy school lunches, this is the best, most comprehensive list of school lunch food ideas I could find.

Please share any lunch packing tips or tricks in the comments. I wish you all a happy and stress-free return to school this year!

A guide to planning simple school lunches that your kids will actually eat

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Thursday 27th of August 2015

Great article, thank you for the simple suggestions. I pack my kids' lunches most days and have to say that having the Planetbox lunch box has been awesome! It's definitely an investment to begin with, but they last for years. My kids are in 4th and 3rd grade and have had them since K. We've bought new bags for them, but the stainless steel trays looks like new and no extra parts to be lost. It makes it so simple to pack a good variety, and home-made lunchables work the best with this type of set up. And my favorite part is that they don't waste any time with wrappers, just unzip the bag, flip the lid and eat!


Friday 28th of August 2015

Thanks for the tip, Petra! I'm all about investing in quality products if they're going to be useful and last a long time.


Monday 17th of August 2015

Great info, thank you! I'm always struggling to find some diversity in my kids' lunches. Also, sorry if this question is off topic, but I'm wondering where you got the lunchbox?! My daughter would kill for it! :)


Monday 17th of August 2015

Hi Laura - No question is off topic! The lunchbox is from Garnet Hill. I bought it last year, but they usually keep the same prints year after year.


Sunday 16th of August 2015

So after 2 years of making Julian buy lunch every single day (in my defense, his school has AWESOME healthy lunch: Revolution Foods is the contractor, check them out)... I have decided that this year, we will pack 2 days per week and buy the lunch 3 days. He packed his lunch when he went to summer camp and he loved it, so we decided to make it a "sometimes" thing. A few things I'm thinking... - I LOVE your idea of having a daily "default" so you don't have to think about it. It can also help avoid the whining (ie, kid is begging for ravioli in his lunch but you don't have any leftovers around, and then you remind him Tuesday is always hummus day) - I need to know more about this turkey pepperoni! Julian refuses lunchmeat in all forms (he is a Sunbutter sandwich, hummus and carrots guy), but all of a sudden he likes pepperoni. Which is usually fatty and terrible for you. But if there is healthier pepperoni I'm totally willing to add that to the rotation and put it in w/ crackers and cheese cubes. Which brand(s) do you buy?


Sunday 16th of August 2015

I usually buy Boar's Head turkey pepperoni. Hormel and some other brands make it too, but the Boar's Head tastes the best in my opinion! It's sold NOT refrigerated...usually you can find it in or around the deli area where they sell salami and other Boar's Head products. I won't say it's the world's most nutritious food, but it has protein and it's less fatty than regular pepperoni.


Friday 14th of August 2015

Amen! You are spot on! Nutritious school lunches don't have to be complicated or fancy, and I'm totally fine with my kids eating the same thing everyday if they'll actually eat it ?


Friday 14th of August 2015

Thanks, Michele! I think the parents probably get tired of the same lunches before the kids do. I have to admit, by the end of the year last year I thought I was going to scream if I had to assemble one more turkey sandwich. :)


Thursday 13th of August 2015

great post! I can't stand to see all the fancy school lunch posts out there. First of all, by the time that lunch box makes it to the cafeteria, I'm sure nothing looks like it did when you packed it. Second, I want to spend that time with my girls, not stressing out that my monster sandwich isn't perfect. We do a lot of pb&j's at our house and sometimes homemade lunchables (especially with pepperoni!)


Friday 14th of August 2015

Thanks Mariah! I've also wondered how those lunches look after they've been jostled around in a backpack. There was a segment on the Today Show the other day showing an open-face peanut butter sandwich with letters cut out of bread on top. How is that possibly packable? SMH.

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