School Lunches that Work For Me (and You!)

Tuesday September 8, 2009

Image Credit:  Biggie* on Flickr

Image Credit: Biggie* on Flickr

If had been more organized, I would have participated in LAST week’s WFMW, the theme of which was, ahem… organization.   Unfortunately, I’m not that organized.   However, now that I officially have a child enrolled in elementary school, it’s time to get myself in gear.    One of the things I’m dreading most this school year is sending my kid off with a relatively healthy lunch each day.   And since I shelled out big bucks to buy a handy dandy eco friendly lunch box, I am committed to packing lunches for now.

Knowing that I get stuck in ruts and also get brain freeze when it comes to ideas for lunch, I thought I would list some ideas for my reference and yours.  But I don’t have all the answers, so please – share what works for you so we might all learn from each other.

I must confess, my kid doesn’t like ALL of these items (I’ve included a few common ones that she snubs – like raisins), but listing them here has helped me remember all the choices we have.

Just so you know, my philosophy on school lunches is to keep them relatively easy, healthy and cheap.  I try to buy the bulk items rather than individual serving size ones when possible.   I try and opt for the whole grain option, usually.   And I read the labels and try and avoid evil ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, artificial dyes, and partially hydrogenated oils.   This is not to say we NEVER consume them, but try and make a better choice when possible.

With that in mind – here’s my list so far.

The Lunchbox List


  • PB&J
  • PB&H(oney)
  • Tuna fish — with a spoon & crackers, or in a pita
  • Turkey or ham + cheese
  • Tortilla + cream cheese + sliced cucumber
  • Hard boiled egg — whole or sliced
  • Cheese – sticks, cubed, or sliced
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Chick Peas (Garbanzo beans)


  • Use cookie cutters for fun presentation
  • Use one slice white, one slice wheat
  • Use “healthy” peanut butter, or almond butter
  • Use low sugar jelly, try jam
  • Create PB&J “sushi” – flatten bread, add spread, roll up and slice
  • Use tortillas to create roll-ups or pinwheels (same idea)


  • Peppers – sliced
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Cherry/Grape tomatoes (always cheap at Trader Joes!)
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Edamame (superfood that’s fun to eat – my kids love it)
  • Sugar snap peas

Veggie Variations:

  • Serve veggies with hummus (or lowfat ranch)
  • celery + peanut butter


  • Banana
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Pineapple
  • Kiwi
  • Avocado
  • Pear
  • Raisins
  • Apple – whole, sliced, apple sauce, Apple Crisps (dehydrated fruit – they’re awesome!)
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • oranges – mandarin, clementime

Fruit Variations:

  • Fruit kabobs!  I’ve learned my girl will eat more when it’s on a stick
  • Fresh is best, but also consider dried fruit
  • If buying prepackaged fruit  (manadarin oranges, apple sauce, etc.) opt for low syrup or no sugar added.  Some apple sauces even have fiber in them now.


  • Soup (chicken noodle)
  • Chili
  • Mac ‘n cheese
  • Noodles + sauce or butter & cheese
  • Black Beans + cheese
  • last night’s dinner

*I have visions of sending hot items in a thermos to keep it warm – does anyone have a good recommendation on a kid friendly thermos?


  • Goldfish (whole wheat)
  • Cereal bars
  • Granola bars
  • Popcorn
  • Pudding
  • Banana bread
  • Homemade muffins
  • Zucchini bread
  • Mini bagels + cream cheese
  • Whole grain cereals
  • Pretzels
  • Trail mix
  • Hershey Kisses (gasp!  yes, I’m sending two of these with my daughter each day)

As I was writing this post, I searched the web for ideas to supplement my own.   I have listed some of the links I found most helpful below.   They may include other ideas not listed here.


Now the fun begins — please comment and share some of your lunch box successes.  Lurkers, this is your cue to delurk! 🙂

This post inspired by the “Works for Me Wednesday” series at We Are THAT Family.

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15 Responses to School Lunches that Work For Me (and You!)

  1. 1
    Kristin says:

    I love this list! Stumbled upon your blog from a link on another one. I like to put frozen grapes in my sons lunch. I keep them in the freezer and then pop them in his lunch in the morning. They don’t get squished as he rides his bike to school and they make a fun slushy treat when it’s time to eat them. I do the cookie cutters with my sandwiches to. It’s fun to do themed ones around the holidays. Here’s my favorite Thermos. You can use it for hot and cold beverages. They also make a pink one for girls.

  2. 2

    What a great list! Thanks for putting it together!

  3. 3
    Kelly says:

    What a great, comprehensive list. My kiddo will rarely eat anything outside of pb&j, crackers with cheese, and grapes. He will eat granola bars but only as a snack. I may try some of these other variations (like sushi or honey) to shake things up some.

  4. 4

    What a great list. I’d say you are pretty organized!

  5. 5
    wanda says:

    Excellent list! I love lunch!
    My two teen girls have decided to save money this year…and are following along in the taking lunch to school.
    It works for me…..since I work at the same high school they attend. They can put what they bring in the teacher’s lounge fridge!
    Pays to know someone, huh? 🙂

  6. 6

    Great list! I LOVE looking at Bento lunches, but haven’t actually gotten that creative myself just yet.

    I bought my first grader two thermoses at WalMart that look like Crayola crayons. They were cheap– maybe $3 each– and so far, so good. One is short and wide, great for pasta, and the other is tall and skinny, for drinks.

    I’d add to your list some of my daughter’s favorite main items: turkey wrap (lunch meat, cheese, ranch dressing, lettuce, rolled in tortilla); banana wrap (whole banana wrapped in a peanut-butter smeared tortilla).

    My WFMW tip today is about how I earn free stuff by doing my usual online searches.

  7. 7
    Megret says:

    This is a great, detailed list!
    One of our favorite lunches: Cinnamon-swirl bread (Pepperidge Farm makes it in whole wheat now) spread w/ lite cream cheese, apple slices, and a pinch of cinnamon. 🙂

  8. 8
    Megret says:

    I also use cream cheese w/ jam as alternative/switch up from PB when the kids are tired of the same PB & jam. Cream cheese with blackberry jam is especially delicious.

  9. 9
    Buffy says:

    Nice list. I can’t say that I have much to add. I have a similar list in excel and it’s laid out by the month. Then the next tab is a shopping list. This is for Jimmo who is Gluten Free Casein Free so he’s a little more restricted. Princess is snack only so I just have a list of snacks and they’re also in the shopping list tab….which is also downloaded to my phone because I’m a geek. As for a thermos….one I got last year for Jimmo and LOVE – Foogo by Thermos. Kind of pricey but it keeps food hot for up to 7 hours – which is key with his diet. Very durable and will last us for years. To avoid shipping, I picked mine up at Buy Buy Baby (and used the coupon) last year but they might have it at other places. What lunch box did you buy? The laptop lunch box? Maybe I missed that somewhere.

  10. 10
    Kendra says:

    Thanks Buffy,
    That’s the same one Kristin (commenter #1) recommended too. I like the lunch box I got, for the most part – it is big. Our PTA was selling them as a fundraiser. The other brand (listed in the sources section) is one I considered as well.

  11. 11
    Kendra says:

    Thanks for your suggestions Megret!

  12. 12
    Kendra says:

    Thanks Amy,

    I appreciate your suggestions!

  13. 13

    I think Oots makes a thermos that would be great for your kiddo…. Love your list!

  14. 14
    Kelly says:

    De-lurking…I’m Kelly, you SIL’s friend from San Diego.. I love the list. I think I’ll copy some of yours and make my own list. My biggest problem is that we can’t send any tree-nut products, so no PB&J for my kids. I’m going to have to start reading lables very carefully.

  15. 15
    Dana says:

    If Wendy won’t eat plain raisins, do you think she’d eat yogurt covered raisins? That works with Hayden – they’re one of his favorite snacks even though he’s decided he doesn’t like plain raisins anymore. He also loves egg salad on toast.

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