Suggestions for School Lunches, Yes It's Almost That Time for Us.

Updated on July 09, 2013
J.S. asks from Chandler, AZ
15 answers

School starts back up in less than 2 weeks for my kids. In the past we have always had them buy school lunches everyday. However, this year will be different. We will be packing lunches everyday. We're a blended family, so somedays we will have 2 to pack for, other days 5! My first thought is obviously peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because they are easy and don't require a cold pack. But our oldest doesn't care for them, and I know I can't feed them pb&j everyday. So what do you pack for school lunches? What type of sides do you pack? I'm dreading this change, but we simply can't afford to pay the cost of school lunches everyday. Thanks for your help!

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So What Happened?

Thanks for all the great ideas! Yes, I am really worried about food not getting eaten. Last year I went on a school field trip with my son's 2nd grade class and witnessed most all the kids throwing their food away. I was sickened by the amount of food being dumped in the trash. I definitely want them to eat what we pack. I'm not so sure leftovers will work, because most nights I am cooking for 8 people and usually don't have enough leftovers to pack for all the kids for lunch. Looks like I need to invest in some nice insulated lunch boxes and a thermos for each. And a trip to Costco is in my near future. Thanks again!

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answers from Philadelphia on

A lot of times I will use a variation on what we had for dinner. It helps that I have a bento style lunch box (with small compartments) and a small thermos for hot food. We also use a thermos (Kleen Kanteen, actually) for drinks. I think the juice and milk boxes can get pricey..

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answers from San Francisco on

Pack whatever they like and will eat. It doesn't need to be sandwiches. We've done everything: cheese and crackers, fried rice (I make my own) pasta salad, tortilla wraps, sushi, meatballs, leftover pizza, bean & rice burritos, you name it. You can use a cold pack to keep things cool or you can partially freeze a water bottle or juice box. You can use a thermos to keep food warm. My nephew used to take a hot dog in a thermos every day, with the bun and condiments packed separately. You literally have unlimited options. Get the kids involved and have fun with it!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

We homeschool, but sometimes we pack lunches for outings. My daughter always likes homemade lunchables! I'm sure she'd like it if I spent the $4 on the real Lunchables but it's too much money. I use a bento style lunchbox with compartments. I put crackers in one compartment, lunch meat cut in small portions in another. Then I also pack a few baby carrots, some dip and a small dessert. She loves it!

For a cold pack, take a paper towel and fold it in 4ths. Wet it and put it in a plastic bag and put in the freezer. You'll have a little cold pack for the lunch, and by the time lunch rolls around the cold pack will be defrosted and it will be a wet cloth to clean with :) If you don't want to use a paper towel, use a small cloth towel (which is what we do) and do the same thing! They just have to remember to bring it back!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

..... Before you give them peanut butter jelly sandwiches, you need to see if the school even allows that. Because, MANY schools are "nut free/peanut free."

Next: make for the kids, what they WILL eat. Because, even if you make a pretty/cute/fancy/gourmet lunch, if the kid does not like those things, they will NOT eat, at all.... even if... they are, hungry.
I work at my kids' school and supervise the kids at lunch, and I know this.
It doesn't matter how cute the lunch box is or how fancy or gourmet or balanced the home lunch is. IF the kid does not like what is in the lunchbox, they will NOT eat. AT, all.
So, the gist is: pack what your kids, WILL, eat.
If your kid eats a ham sandwich and that is what they want all month, everyday, fine. MANY kids bring the SAME thing, everyday. Because, they like it and eat, it. You are not making home lunch for what others may think of it when they look at your child eating in the cafeteria. You are making the home lunch, for your child, to eat. Some parents, pack a lunch according to what they think others will think of their kids' home lunch. But this does not matter.
The main POINT, is that, your child have something they WILL, eat.
I have seen, MANY MANY kids, just sitting there, not eating at all because, as they tell me "My Mom made something I hate." or "My Mom made something I don't even like..." so then I tell them to tell their Mom so that Mommy can make something they like and will eat. But sometimes the kid tells me "I can't tell my Mom what I want or like. I don't have a choice."

ASK your kids, what they like. What they will eat.
And no, not candy or junk food.

And, get a proper lunch box, that is insulated and which you put in a blue-ice, ice pack in it. So many kids I see, their lunch box is not even insulated and not even with a blue-ice cold pack in it, and their food is not kept cool properly. One kid once even brought his home lunch just in a plastic grocery bag with no insulation and no ice pack in it. And his home lunch was left over dinner from the night before... it was fish & veggies. We couldn't let him eat it. Because, fish is perishable and it was not even kept cold. We had to toss it, inform the Mom with a note home, and we had to give him a school lunch. So that, he could, eat.

Instead of peanut butter, there are alternatives as well:
ie: cookie butter. Or Sunflower butter.

You need to talk to your kids, see what they like and will eat. THEN, plan your home lunches.
And, you do NOT have to pack, and entire 7 course meal.
Nor tons of "sides."
Many kids cannot eat all of what is in their bag. For example. And some kids even will sit there, stuffing their mouths eating and force feeding themselves and be all stressed... because they tell me that "My Mom said I have to eat everything, or I can't leave the cafeteria...." or "My Mom gets mad if I don't eat everything...."
So the bottom line is: pack the amount in the lunch box, that your child can, rationally eat. Per your child's appetite or age or ability.

And because, if a kid does not eat their home lunch, then ALL DAY long at school, they will be hungry/tired/unfocused/irritable.... because the have no fuel in their body.

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answers from Dover on

For my son, he would eat turkey or jelly sandwiches (nothing else on either one). He would also eat the homemade "lunchables" that I made (turkey or ham, cheese, crackers, drink, and snack that he liked...he didn't care for half of the store bought ones and they cost more than mine).

For my daughter, she doesn't like lunch meats so we do peanut butter sandwiches, chicken nuggets or fish sticks, mac & chees, rice or mashed potatoes, applesauce or banana, ravioli or tortellini, chicken noodle soup, tuna fish and bread or crackers...

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

purchase an insulated lunch bag that seals or zips closed. Purchase the thin ice packs - they are good for about 4 hours - which is fine for school.

peanut butter and fluff
turkey (or any meat) wrap (tortilla)
cheese only
peanut butter and banana slices
nutella and banana slices
nutella and fluff

If your child has gluten problems? turkey in a large lettuce leaf!

chips in a ziploc bag (it's cheaper to buy a large bag of chips and put them in a ziploc bag (have them bring the bags home) and refill them for the next day.

baby carrots with ranch dressing
celery with cheese
celery with peanut butter
apple slices (with lemon juice or the non-browner "salt" on the apples) with peanut butter or caramel

These work great - you can pick them up at Target, Wal-Mart or your grocery store - they are reusable and you can put sandwich, carrots and dressing in them.

these work for Jell-O, dressing, cookies (so they don't get broken up) and more!!

Hope these help you!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

pb&j sandwiches are packed most often at our house
Get a good thermos and you can warm up some noodles, soups and leftover spaghetti.
Cheese & crackers
bagels with cream cheese
tuna sandwiches (for my son, not my daughter)

I pack ice and have never had a problem with stuff not staying cold

cut up peppers
baby carrots
fruit cups
cuties & oranges
crackers (wheat thins, graham crackers, ritz)
string cheese

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

My kids didn't like sandwiches. I would buy lunch meat, single slices of cheese and cheese sticks, fruit cups, jello cups, pudding cups, crackers, chips, cookies, fruits (apples, bananas and grapes were the only fresh fruits my kids liked), gogurts, nuts, granola mix, trail mix, etc. The kids would eat the lunch meat by itself. So I just put in different things every day for them. I don't worry about it being healthy or not, they eat a "healthy" breakfast and dinner so I wanted to make sure lunch would be something they would EAT and not throw or give away. They are there for way too many hours not to eat something substantial. My kids did not have a "typical" lunch but I knew they were eating it. =)

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answers from Dallas on

I teach a lot as a substitute and here are some things I see a lot of in our lunchroom......

cold cuts w/ cheese and crackers
fruit cups and fruit packages (individually packaged apples, carrots, etc)
thermos with soup, spagettios, ravioli, rice, noodles, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, last night's leftovers.
cold pizza,
some sandwiches but not too many

Pretty much a wide array of healthy foods which include cheese, meat, crackers, fruits and sometimes a treat. A lot of children buy milk to go with their meal, others have juice or water.

How pricey are your school lunches? Around here they are less than $3 and breakfast is free. You can make changes on your child's account as far as no doubling up of entrees, no extras, etc.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

We have a half-size thermos that we use a lot. If I put food in the thermos hot, it's warm and ready to eat at lunchtime. So I pack:
pasta with sauce
tacos (the meat in the thermos, cheese and 2 soft shells in sandwich bags)
mac n cheese
chicken nuggets
sloppy joe meat, bun in a separate sandwich bag

For sides:
fruit (grapes, cantelope chunks)
cherry tomatoes

Some kind of small dessert (2 hersey's kisses, or a small cookie). I make this pretty small so that he can't fill up on dessert and skip eating the nutritious lunch :)

The cost of the little thermos seems high at first (especially if you have to buy 5 of them) - but it's paid for in less than a week of buying school lunch, which is $5.25 per day in my district. When you think of it that way, it's reasonable.

Also - just a thought since you said school lunches aren't affordable for you - have you considered applying to the reduced/free school lunch program? I know figuring income limits can be tricky with blended families, but I though I'd throw it out there. It can't hurt to check into it, and it could save you a lot of $ if you qualify.

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answers from Chicago on

Do you cook dinner every night at home? If so, make extra and send leftovers in lunch box. You can use ice pack to keep it cold.
That way you can pack anything that your kids love to eat. It really need not be PB&J sandwiches everyday. I make my son's lunch in the morning when I don't have leftovers. I wake up early and cook a meal for all of us, so I don't have to worry about cooking later in the day.

You can send -
Pastas with different sauces
Mac n Cheese
Fried rice
Noodles with sauce
Sandwiches with meat n veggies
cheese quesidillas
cheese pizza
pancakes with syrup on the side
soups loaded with meat or veggies
chicken nuggets

For sides
-Yogurt (Greek yogurt or Go-gurt )
-Steamed brocolli
-Veggies with dip
-pudding cups



answers from Los Angeles on

Other sandwich ideas:
deli meat - turkey, ham, salami (available in large packs at Costco)
egg salad
tuna salad
chicken salad

non-sandwich ideas:
hot dogs (cooked and wrapped in foil, they stay fairly hot - or at least warm - until lunch time)
soup in a thermos

Skip the "main course" altogether some days and just do a variety of filling snack-type things:
hummus with pita chips, carrot sticks, cucumber, or anything else your kids will eat
veggies and ranch dressing
snap peas

I usually also put in some kind of chip or cracker:
wheat things
veggie straws
dried sugar snap peas
potato chips

Also, I'll be honest - I really don't think a cold pack is necessary for most of the lunches mentioned above. I grew up having egg salad or tuna sandwiches pretty much every day of my life and never once had a cold pack. I don't remember any of my friends ever having one. My son starts first grade next year and I don't plan to put an ice pack in with his lunches at all.



answers from Los Angeles on

I would definitely ask them & get "their take" on what they would eat.

Some ideas:
-wraps (turkey, ham, cheese)
-hummus dip & mini carrots
-lunch meat sandwiches (salami, cheese, turkey or ham on their fave bread)
-soup in a thermos (esp when it gets cold)
-salad w/dressing in separate container
-crackers & cheese
-salad w/dressing in a sep container
-chicken nuggets you heat/cook in the morn then place in double foil to
keep warm. Put w/sm container of Ranch or Ketchup
-burritos. You make in a.m. warm up & double wrap in foil


I would definitely ask them & get "their take" on what they would eat.

Some ideas:
-wraps (turkey, ham, cheese)
-hummus dip & mini carrots
-lunch meat sandwiches (salami, cheese, turkey or ham on their fave bread)
-soup in a thermos (esp when it gets cold)
-salad w/dressing in separate container
-crackers & cheese
-salad w/dressing in a sep container
-chicken nuggets you heat/cook in the morn then place in double foil to
keep warm. Put w/sm container of Ranch or Ketchup
-burritos. You make in a.m. warm up & double wrap in foil



answers from Washington DC on

We have summer school now and DD has an allergy (and doesn't like most of the lunch offerings) so she's packing.

Simple things can be sandwiches of many varieties - cheese with mayo, BLTs (they make precooked bacon), lunchmeat, pb and j.

My DD doesn't like sandwiches, so she gets lunchmeat in a baggie, crackers or tortilla or bread, and a cheese stick. She might also take a mini bagel with cream cheese.

You can also invest in a thermos (I'm a big fan of a funtainer or similar - well worth the investment!) for things like mac and cheese and soup, if your kids will eat those. It can also be used for leftovers from dinner.

You didn't say what ages the kids are, but get their input. By the time my sks were 10, they were packing their own, mostly. We keep a shelf of nonpersishable lunch items and they can grab and go. Juice boxes, shelf-stable milk, raisins/craisins, pretzels, goldfish, crackers....

You can save money with reusable containers and buying bulk and having the kids help you prepack lunch sized portions.

You can also give the kids a choice of fruit (oranges, pears, apples, plums and bananas are all portable) to go with the sandwhich/entree. My DD always has a choice between water (in her own reusable bottle) or a juice or milk box.

Making the kids mostly responsible for their lunches will also help you with who needs what for what day.

Depending on who likes what, you can also toss in a pudding cup as a treat (often on sale for $1 a pack), yogurt (gogurts can be frozen), canned fruit or prepackaged applesauce (though these can also be bought bulk and portioned out in advance). I got DD some inexpensive containers at IKEA. You can also get GLAD or similar ones at the grocery store. I try not to have DD expect a treat, but she appreciates them when I give them to her.

ETA: I do agree that you should look at the cost per lunch. Not only the flat rate (ours is $2.75 for middle school, and .40 cents reduced - at full price, you'd spend $13+ per day for all five kids, so I hear you) but what they will eat. If you make mac and cheese plus fruit and water (or juice in a thermos), then that's potentially inexpensive, even for 5 kids. But if you have a kid who simply won't eat school lunch, then pack it because that's $3 wasted otherwise. You can also consider allowing the kids to use their allowance if there's something they love or sit down with them and talk about the menu each week.



answers from Boston on

My daughter always ate school lunches because I too could not figure out what to make for her, so I have no advice there, BUT I will caution you to make certain that your kids are allowed to bring anything with peanut butter to school. The elementary school that daughter attended has had a no PB policy for at least 10 years now, and it's not the only school in the city I live in that that has one.

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