When my youngest first started school, I was determined to make him a nutritious yet fun lunch to take with him every day. It wasn’t long before I was tired of using cookie cutters to make cute little sandwiches and arranging fruit slices to look like flowers. But one look at his school’s lunch menu–full of fried foods and sugary desserts–and I knew that was definitely not an option.
We went a couple of weeks alternating turkey sandwiches with PB&Js, always with an apple or banana plus a bag of chips. It wasn’t ideal nutritionally, but it beat the school lunch menu… until he started complaining about how tired he was of having the same thing every other day.
That’s when I decided to make a list of school lunch ideas I knew he’d enjoy eating. Since there are 5 school days each week, and an average of four weeks each month, I realized I just needed to come up with 20 school lunch ideas and rotate through them. The list I came up with keeps us both happy, and now I’m happy to share it with you!
Tips on packing school lunches
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• Skip the brown bag. A good, insulated lunch bag is essential for food safety. Kids are also more likely to finish their entire lunch when it’s been kept at the proper temperature.
• Keep things cool. Having a few blue ice packs that you can slip into your child’s lunch box means you’ll always have spares in the freezer ready for use.
• Keep apple slices from browning by soaking for at least 5 minutes in 1 cup water mixed with 2 tablespoons honey.
• Pre-heat your thermos. If you’re sending soup or a hot meal in your child’s thermos, be sure to first fill it with very hot water for a minute or two to pre-heat the container.
• Pack lunch at dinnertime. Speed up your mornings, and reduce your stress levels, by packing lunch while dinner cooks. Pop the packed lunch in the fridge and in the morning all you’ll need to do is grab the ice pack.
• Make sure you remember lunch. Leave your car keys on top of the lunchbox in the fridge and you’ll be sure to grab it before leaving the house!
A Month of School Lunch Ideas
1. Ham and cheese roll-ups, pretzel sticks, yogurt cup.
2. Mini-meatballs, carrot sticks with Ranch dip, apple slices, whole wheat crackers.
3. Turkey sandwich on multi-grain bread, cheese squares, pickle slices, banana.
4. Baked chicken leg, carrot sticks with Ranch dip, grapes, cornbread.
5. Hard boiled eggs, green salad with dressing, Laughing Cow cheese wedge, whole wheat crackers.
6. Pizza-Stuffed Pretzel Buns. Double the recipe and freeze the extras. Your kids will love them!
8. Chicken and Buffalo sauce on whole wheat, cheese cubes, watermelon cubes and grapes.
9. “Fancy Ramen” (put 1/2 the noodles and seasoning in a pre-warmed 2-cup thermos, add some diced ham, frozen peas and baby corn, then top with boiling water and close tightly) plus apple slices.
10. Bean and cheese burrito, jicama slices sprinkled with lime juice, sliced berries.
11. Quick chicken soup in a 2-cup thermos (break spaghetti noodles into a pre-warmed thermos, add a chicken bouillon cube and a handful of frozen vegetables then top with boiling water and seal tightly), carrots with dip, grapes.
12. Turkey and lettuce in whole wheat pita pocket, cantaloupe chunks.
13. Roast Beef Ranch Wraps, grape and berry skewers on a straw, celery sticks.
14. Chicken-Mac Soup (put 1/3 cup each dry macaroni noodles; diced, cooked chicken, and fresh baby spinach in a pre-warmed 2-cup thermos, add 1 tsp. tomato paste and a chicken bouillon cube then top with boiling water and seal tightly). Serve with apple slices.
15. “Lunchable” made from squares of sliced ham, sliced cheese and whole wheat crackers, plus a side of watermelon or cantaloupe cubes and grapes.
16. Italian Sub Sandwich Roll-Up, apple slices smeared with almond butter.
17. Turkey, lettuce, and avocado on a whole wheat bun, yogurt cup, raisins.
18. Quick Beanie Weenies (slice a precooked chicken sausage into a bowl, add 1/3 cup canned white beans and 2 tbsp. BBQ sauce then heat in the microwave and add to a pre-warmed thermos), green salad with dressing, banana.
19. Tuna Salad Sandwich, pickle spears, apple slices.
20. Sliced bagel topped with guacamole, sliced turkey, and sliced grape tomatoes, cantaloupe chunks.
And, of course, leftovers always make great school lunches — especially cold pizza!