It’s almost September and before you know it, the start of the school year will be here. Beyond getting supplies and clothes ready, parents will again be confronted by the gaping maw of an “empty lunch box” and will need to think of something — anything — to put in there. There are plenty of easy school lunch ideas out there, inspiring you to create elaborate and beautifully presented meals. But, even if you did have the time or patience to create these masterpieces, would your kid even eat it?
We all know school lunch periods are never long enough, so you need to provide something quick and healthy that your kid will put in their mouth. It also must be something simple enough for parents to put together and replicate each day for the entire school year.
We asked our readers what they pack for lunches that are guaranteed to get eaten — and how best to present it. Read on for some inspiration.
Easy school lunch ideas
- “Nut butter and jelly sandwiches always get eaten first. Cheese and crackers, dried fruit and nuts. The fruit is more likely to get eaten if it's cut up and in a separate container. Salami or jerky bars — we like Epic brand. In winter, I pack a black bean, rice, chicken and cheese "burrito" layered in a thermos with guacamole and salsa on top — that always gets eaten. Start teaching them young to help pack their own lunch. I put lunch options on the breakfast table and make my kid help make a sandwich and put his lunch together. I'm a working mom and he is capable.”
- “Prosciutto, hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers and strawberries.”
- “Stick and Trees (pretzels and broccoli) and Ants on a Log (celery and peanut butter with raisins).”
- “PB&J with chips and fruit.”
- “Mini brie cheese, almond nut thins and strawberries. Or tortilla rolls, cream cheese, turkey or ham and ribbon sliced cucumber.”
- “Yogurt with granola, crackers and cheese, seaweed, dried fruit, fresh fruit, cheese sticks, pretzels, cheddar crackers and Pirate’s Booty (of course!).”
- “Chicken Caesar wraps.”
- “Bento box types where you can give them a variety of small snacky-type foods...I teach elementary school and see what gets eaten — when kids have a lot of variety in small amounts they eat well.”
- “Frozen pupusas from PCC — heated up in the morning and packed for lunch.”
- “Nut butter (sunflower) and jam sandwiches are always a hit. Dips and veggies or crackers. Make a roll-up sandwich with a tortilla and cut it into pinwheel slices. Freeze yogurt in a container and by lunchtime, it will be like fro-yo.”
- “Hawaiian buns with ham and cheese!”
- “I love bento-box-style lunch containers. Mine has four little compartments. I toss in something green (snap peas, sautéed broccoli or roasted Brussels sprouts), another veggie (sliced bell pepper, frozen corn), fruit (apple, pear or berries), and fat (cheese, nuts or a Perfect Bar). Other favorites: pickled beets, olives, Ants on a Log and sunflower butter on a tortilla, cut into triangles.
- “Almost anything rolled in a tortilla (PB and banana, to hummus with carrots and cucumber, to cream cheese and jam).”
- “My kids love granola bars and crackers for snacks best of all, but we always make sure they have something unprocessed as well. Winners have been celery and carrot sticks, small apples, clementines, grapes, snap peas, etc. We also stock up on dried fruit for the times we run out of good fresh options.”
- “Salami and cheese with a side of fruit.”
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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in August 2019, and updated in August 2023.