20 answers

Lunch Box Ideas for School

Hi Moms! My son will be starting 1st grade this week, and for the first time ever, I will be packing his lunch every day. I'm looking for some healthy, balanced lunch ideas other than just sandwiches. Thanks for your thoughts!

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I have done Tortilla wraps (pre-made salad with lunchmeat or chicken) my daughter seems to love them. and when cut into little round spirals I never get leftovers. I also put a certain amount on her lunch account so that at least once a week she has a hot lunch that she chooses herself.

In addition to the fruits and veggies...instead of a sandwich, maybe you can do a wrap. You could put lunch meat and cheese in a whole wheat tortilla... or you could get whole wheat pita pockets with sliced meat and grated cheese. My daughter (almost 8) loves pitas. I haven't tried wraps yet but that is something I will be thinking about as school is getting closer.

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Hi! I'm in the same boat and have been thinking about lunches for my almost-first grader. I finally coughed up for a Laptop Lunches lunchbox and that has opened a whole new world of possibilities to me. You can look at them at www.laptoplunches.com. At home, I often make my kids a "nibble tray" with muffin tins, putting something interesting in each spot, and the Laptop Lunches lunchbox lets you do something like that for on-the-go. It's like a collection of really sturdy containers that fit together in an insulated case. Even if you don't want to buy their product (which I am so impressed with, quality- and functionality-wise) you can see lots of ideas in their photo gallery and also ideas of books to look for that will give you more ideas. The lunch kit came with a booklet of ideas, and there are tons of books about packing great lunches for kids on Amazon. I also have been enjoying a couple books about putting cute notes in with a lunch--one is called "Hugs in a Lunch Box," I think. It's nothing that's not fairly obvious (everyone likes to be loved) but it does have a few fun, themed ideas I wouldn't have otherwise thought of. The book "Lunch Lessons" is more about how to improve the school lunch program than how to pack a lunch, but I did get some recipe ideas from it and it was an interesting read for a health-conscious mom. There are some great breakfast ideas and also some recipes specifically labeled appropriate for travel in school lunchboxes. The Moosewood Cookbook has been around long enough to be at your local library and has a whole section about dips and sandwich fillings that are not your tired stand-bys (sometimes thinking vegetarian can open up new ideas beyond ham-and-cheese, you know?)
I do think reconsidering dips is another good way to avoid the sandwich trap. My kids enjoy having a dip--hummus and pita, refried beans and whole wheat tortillas, marinara sauce and breadsticks, fruit and yogurt--the possibilities are endless.
I grew up very Asian and I think presentation is everything with food, especially for kids. There's a popular DVD about lunch ideas, and packing and presentation stretegies. I've seen it at LaptopLunches.com and elsewhere, too--I think it's called "Healthy Lunches for Kids." Looks fun, although I haven't seen it myself.
I remember sitting by a friend in elementary school whose mom made homemade bread and added food coloring. Maybe that's not the healthiest these days, but the whole class was dazzled by her pink bread. Her mom often used cookie cutters, too, so it was not unusual to see her have pink flower sandwiches, or green alligator bread. . . I was so jealous! ;)
Enjoy your lunching and happy first grade!

1 mom found this helpful

My girls don't like school lunch and they don't care much for sandwiches so we have had to get creative. One thing that really helped is to buy a food thermos. I could send soup, pasta, lasagna, leftovers, and just about anything else we wanted with them for lunch. They love it. Make sure you poor boiling water into the thermos and let it sit for a while before you dump it out and put the food in. This will make the thermos hot and the food will stay really warm until lunch. Also make sure the food is really, really hot before you put it in.

My girls also like having cheese and crackers, fruit, carrots and peanut butter, yogurt, cheese, and vegetables in their lunch. I also always send them with milk. I re-use the mild containers from happy meals and make sure I put ice in their lunch bags.

1 mom found this helpful

salads, apples, carrots, celery and pb, different types of sandwiches with spreads like avocado, peas, etc

Our 7th grader had to pack everything under the sun-he was sandwich, chips, drink, fruit & dessert. Our 2nd grader has ADHD & doesn't eat much because of his meds, so he's 1/2 sandwich & one other thing. He gets burned out on his sandwich choice so thanks to everyone here, I've got new ideas for him! Thanks so much, glad I read this post!!

I have 3.5 year old and I send her to school 3 days a week with lunch. She gets a 1/2 sandwich, rice cakes (minis), juice box, cheese stick, applesauce (no sugar added) and a "surprise" box - usually fresh fruit - grapes, strawberries, blueberries -sometimes even cherry tomatoes. She loves the "surprise" and eats EVERYTHING I send consistently. She loves ranch dressing and yellow mustard on her sandwich - that surprised me but she devours her lunches. Substitute jello fruit cup for applesauce for variety. Also - dried mangos are a hit too.
She also mentions things she sees other kids eating - we now send her tube yogurt with her breakfast fruit and dry cheerios - very healthy and most importantly a HAPPY eater.

Cheese and cracker and lunch meats are good... Vegetables and dips. Soup in a thermos... Roll up sandwiches in Flour tortillia's are fun.

Hope that helps!

This lady has perfected the art of the healthy lunchbox by making it kid friendly. Make sure you go through the archives cause that's where you'll find lots of great ideas.

rachael ray has a lot of great kid friendly ideas on her site you should check it out (rachaelray.com ithink)

hi, well one of my favorits to send is some crakkers and cheese. they can eat them anyway they want, like a luncable only much less exspensive if you by the items seperate your self. fruit is also a very good choice.

Lunchables are pretty affordable but now that i have 4 kids i use small cookie cutters and let them cut up the meat of their choice and also cheese. My kids love yogert and a granola bar. 1st grade is when the teachers like the kiddos to be really responsible, so if he could help by bagging his lunches when you get home fron the grocery store he could bag everything up himself and then it will be a lot easier to pack his lunch everyday. Ask him what he want
and it may be as simple as a pb&j. Good luck and **god bless**

Probably I'm in the minority here, but my kids actually love the school lunches and beg to get school lunch. We live in an area where most kids get school lunch through the free lunch program, so it may be partly peer pressure. :)
Our school gives a couple of choices - main entree, sandwich (just went peanut free, so its meat & cheese), or yogurt with crackers and carrots. They also can choose veggies, fruit, milk (white or chocolate), and usually one other side. The schools are really working on going healthier and its a hot meal which stays with kids through the school day. So maybe you'd like to offer him that choice. Most schools provide a calander for the month saying what they will be serving so he can choose what days to take a lunch and which days to buy.


This is a great website. I sometimes use their menu planner.

In addition to the fruits and veggies...instead of a sandwich, maybe you can do a wrap. You could put lunch meat and cheese in a whole wheat tortilla... or you could get whole wheat pita pockets with sliced meat and grated cheese. My daughter (almost 8) loves pitas. I haven't tried wraps yet but that is something I will be thinking about as school is getting closer.

I keep around only what I believe are healthy options for lunch and then allow my children to pick...takes the non-stop thinking about it burden off my back!

Yeah, sandwiches can get boring...unless they're in the shape of a star, or heart, or dinosaur! I always have yogurt containers, pre-cutup veggies (carrots, celery, etc), and apples ready to get thrown into a lunchbox. And granola bars are great, too. If you want to give them a hot meal, ravioli or mac and cheese in a thermos is always popular, as is tomato soup with a side of goldfish crackers. Bananas are a nutrition powerhouse and quite filling for kids. Hardboiled eggs, cheese cubes (get a large chunk of cheese and cut it up yourself, then put in small reusable containers to save $$), small baggies of grapes or cherries (pits removed), slices of salami or other coldcuts (not as part of a sandwich, just on their own). Then, of course, they ALWAYS get a small dessert (yogos or one cookie, etc.) I usually try to give them a tiny bit of veggie, tiny bit of fruit, tiny bit of dairy, tiny bit of meat, tiny bit of grain, tiny bit of dessert. When all is said and done, they've had a pretty filling and well-balanced meal. I try to rotate between lowfat chocolate milk, 100% fruit juice boxes and plain old water for a drink. And then when I'm feeling REALLY unmotivated, I just have them buy school lunch (pretty convenient sometimes!).

All great ideas. One more sandwich idea- an open-faced melted cheese sandwich will stay well in the lunch. Cut it into strips and then send a small container of pasta sauce to dip. My daughter loves salads, I make one with diced cheese and meat, send the dressing in a separate container. She'll eat this even though she hates the meat and cheese on a sandwich!

Hi J.!

We make our own "lunchables:" cheese, crackers, and lunch meat. I bought a lunch container at Target that has separate little compartments for each item (crackers get soggy if you mingle them with the ham and cheese all day.)

I have also made cheese quesadillas and sent them for lunch... yes, my daughter will eat them cold!

Other healthy lunch items: Gogurt simple (no added colors), nuts or trail mix, "cuties" (those little tiny oranges), sting cheese sticks, carrot sticks, apple slices.

A neat trick I learned: if you cut up apple slices and soak them in apple juice ahead of time, they will not turn brown, even if they sit in the lunchbox all morning. Same idea as lemon juice, but doesn't taste like lemon juice!

I try to have a protein, a fruit and or veg, a dairy, a carb, and a drink in the lunchbox. I don't pack a dessert b/c my daughter likes to have a "100 Calorie Pack" as her after school snack.

I read somewhere that kids this age actually like the routine of eating the same things every day, so don't be alarmed if your child gets stuck on a particular lunch combo.

Happy school year!

love, P.

Great responses. I pack for preschool with my 3 and 4 year old. I have fell in love with hummus. You have to get it at Whole fods or Vitamin cottage to avoid corn syrup though. but get the plain and mix: apple butter (great for dipping veggies and then have some cold cuts and crackers), lemon and basil for a spread, cream cheese and hummus snadwhich, cucuber and hummus...just about anything with tart flavors is awesome wince it is a very bland flavor by itself. Aples lsiced thin is good with cream cheese, hummus, and a lot of things on a sandwhich. Veggie chips, Lays Natural Potaoe chips, and Terra chips are a heavlthy version of the other chips and gives a nice crunch. My son is actually a low tolerance so we have snyder's pretzels all the time..again, great as a dipper in the hummus. Freeze yogurt tubes and they are perfect by lunch. I have frozen sandwhiches too and they keep longer and thaw by lunch. Canned peahes and green beans are great and less expensive then the single packs. I also use apple sauce a lot and pour it in a reusable container.

I use all reusable. It is a bit of time washing but I feel less guilty. They have reusable box drink size rubbermaid and tupperware for watered down juice or even milk if you toss in a tiny cold pack. I also have purchased these square boxes that go together great in the Pottery Barn Kids. They are just the right size..love them. I have also used press and seal on a bowl and butcher paper for sandwhiches.

Hi J.~ I've been thinking about this too lately...it's hard to believe that school is just around the corner!

Check out this site: http://lunchinabox.net/ ~The woman that writes this blog has some fabulous ideas for kids healthy and fun lunches. I'm on a total bento kick now!

Also, while visiting my parents in Portland for a couple of weeks this summer I ventured over to Uwajimaya in Beaverton and picked up some fun bento box goodies for my son's lunches for school. You can also find TONS on stuff on eBay for not much money. ~Have fun!

I have done Tortilla wraps (pre-made salad with lunchmeat or chicken) my daughter seems to love them. and when cut into little round spirals I never get leftovers. I also put a certain amount on her lunch account so that at least once a week she has a hot lunch that she chooses herself.

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