Easy School Lunches

What do you make for school lunches? Now that Toby’s in school, we’ll be packing a lunch every day. We got some Lunchbots, which have three or four compartments, and the goal is to fill them up with yummy healthy foods. As the year kicks off, I figured I’d create a big list of lunch ideas to have on hand…

Here’s a list of lunches our boys have liked:

Mini hamburger patties
Turkey meatballs
Rotisserie chicken
Grilled salmon
Bean and cheese quesadilla
Mini bagel with cream cheese and jam (tastes like cheesecake!)
Raisin bread with cream cheese and cucumber
Grilled cheese sandwich with tomato and/or avocado
Pasta with tomato sauce and veggies
Avocado slices with crackers
Tortilla with hummus
Leftovers from the night before (Indian food, pasta, rice…)
Two-ingredient pancakes
Sautéed zucchini or squash
Broccoli (not always eaten!:)
Cherry tomatoes
Yellow and red peppers
Cheese cubes or string cheese
Hard-boiled egg
Mixed berries, grapes, kiwi, melon
Orange slices
Half a banana
Apple slices with cinnamon

We’ve also found NatureBox, the snack subscription service, to be genius for lunches and snacks. They send you a different assortment of natural snacks every month, and we love having them in our cupboard at the ready—they’re so easy and healthy to pop into lunches. Our current favorites include Whole Wheat Raspberry Figgy Bars, Dried Cranberries, Banana Chips, Baked Sweet Potato Sticks, Carrot Strawberry Fruit Chews and Apple Pie Oat Clusters, and you can see their full snack collection here. Toby and Anton wolf them up, and I’d highly recommend them.

If you’d like to try a free sampler box, click here. Thanks so much, NatureBox!

What do you put in school lunches? I’d love to hear any tips or ideas…

(Photos by Yossy Arefi for Cup of Jo. This post was sponsored by NatureBox, a brand we love and use for our family)

  1. Katherine Higgins says...

    Do you try to keep any of these foods hot or cold? If so, how? Or are they okay for the 3-4 hours until lunch? I have preschoolers so am new to lunch packing! Thanks for the help!!

  2. launch time on the school is very important for the children, cause they are doing hard work on the school. they must need good nutrition otherwise they are getting week. your launch menu are so delicious and hope children’s are like to take it.

  3. I like this for my own work lunches too. Thank you

  4. Hi to all! I am a preschool and preK teacher. There are plenty of healthy and delicious options that exist and can therefore make you eliminate Gogurt from the lunch! Gogurt is the bane IOC many early childhood educators! Please reconsider packing them and opt for a traditional yogurt with a spoon. The gogurts squirt everywhere. Using a spoon is excellent pretension practice and eventually installs a sense of autonomy in kids!

    Much love from Maryland.

  5. This is one of the most popular topics on my blog. Love these ideas. Weelicious is a great resource too.

  6. I need to use this guide for my own lunches at work. I spend way too much money eating out because I’m unprepared. I was JUST thinking this morning about how thankful I am that when I was little my mom would run me a hot bath before school and pack my lunches. I need to find the motivation to do this for myself haha…

  7. Lunch boxes are good for everyone,, you know what there is in every single dish, it helps you to save money and it is a lot healtier!!!

  8. I brown bag it all the time, but I’m a grown-up (sometimes).

    I like this for people with kiddos –

    I use this as a lunchbag –

    I like meals in bowls, and this is one I use all the time –

    Leakproof people! Although this one isn’t insulated.

    I like the following equation for a bowl: greens + grain + veggies + protein + sauce.

    For example: kale + quinoa + diced zucchini + roasted chicken + romesco sauce.

    For kids I might try anything wrapped and then precut. You can make rolls out of rice paper, whole wheat tortillas, seas weed, collard greens. More sliced veggies inside (hello mandolin) with a sauce (hummus perhaps, or maybe pesto).

  9. I work in a daycare, and taquitoes and mexican style rice are always a big hit, even with picky eaters. And spaghetti or buttered noodles.

  10. i just have to pack my own lunch, which is a hassle in itself! i love the porcelain containers you can find now. they do have plastic lids, but the containers are so pretty that it makes it okay.

  11. Lunchbots are great, less plastic!

  12. Love this, everyone always writes about those healthy lunch ideas whch are far too complicated to prepare in a rush in the morning so this is perfect :)

  13. Does Naturebox also ship to Holland or just the US?

  14. Hard boiled eggs are easy, healthy & loved by my 3 year old. No peanuts allowed which is sad because sometimes when I have no cooked meat or protein I just want to give her a big chunk of peanut butter to dip her fruit in! :(
    Also, meatball sandwiches are a huge hit – you can cook a ton of meatballs in sauce ahead of time & freeze then just take them out, throw them on some bread with cheese a voila!

  15. NotesFromAbroad: Nothing wrong with meat and chicken. I see lots of veggies too.

  16. yes, our school has a no nuts and seeds policy, which means no PBJs :)

  17. Grab a tortilla wrap, slather it in peanut butter then wrap it around a banana and cut into bite-sized pieces. Sushi rolls! Unfortunately georgie’s school has a strict ‘no nut’ policy so we save this treat for home.

  18. Thanks for sharing this! My dad and I are hiking in Zion National Park in a few weeks so I just placed an order for some snacks that will be good for us to carry in our packs. I love how easy it is to search their snacks by different flavor and health profiles. Very cool.

  19. Not to be a spoilsport but if there were less meat and chicken in those lunches , a child would be better off.

    Japanese children/people use boxes like this and I always thought it was a brilliant idea.

  20. These are some great ideas! My little bits are homeschooled but we a do a co op one day a week. Usually the night before I’m scrambling trying to figure out some kind of lunch for us! Props for coming up with portable meals five days a week;)

  21. Your list is awesome! Packing lunch can be tough but it will save you some time and sanity if you pack it the night before. My kids are wild for lunch on a stick, so we make fruit and cheese kebabs or leftover french toast with banana kebabs (and lots more) using lollipop sticks.
    It might be a fun thing for you to involve Toby in meal planning so that you’re both excited about it. Apologies for the shameless promotion (seriously), but I’m all about lunch and kids (I pack lunch for 3 every day). If you think Toby would be into it, check out LaLa Lunchbox – it’s free to download and very simply designed for kids to use with fun monsters and colors and sounds ( The foods he chooses will become a handy grocery list for you, right on your phone. My 4 year old uses it with me (whereas my 8 year old uses it all by herself and I do it alone for my almost 2 year old) so it’s a nice time for us to talk about lunch and food together. Whatever you do, I think the ideas you have listed here sound yummy and you’ve gotten some great suggestions. Best of luck getting into your new school groove! – Gillian

  22. If you’re looking for healthy, fun lunch ideas, have a read of the EATS AMAZING blog. She makes simple Westernised bento-style lunches for her son and they’re amazing! She also gives some really good easy ideas for foods as well :) xx

  23. Hmmm, I honestly think you’re over thinking this. My kids were great eaters, but in an effort to save time from K-6 we were strictly sharp cheddar cheese, wheat thin crackers, an apple or grapes, two cookies and a water bottle. After Hallowe’en their school allowed them to take a piece of candy in their bag for 5 days and I used to send a brownie or rice krispy treat instead of a cookie if we had it on hand. This is ten years ago and not in Brooklyn, but nobody we knew was giving their kids hummus or frittata. Lots of ham sandwiches. You should also wait and see if he wants things other kids are bringing. The other moms who have older kids may have some good ideas that travel well and are hassle free. Kids taste each others food.

  24. Love these tins – we just purchased something similar for the kiddos going back to school. Thanks for sharing the great ideas for healthy and easy lunches!

  25. alissa, that’s amazing! my friend’s child goes to a school where they cook incredible lunches, too—all sorts of soups from around the world, etc. what a dream!

  26. i love the thermos ideas, i had never thought of that!

  27. Wow, what your kids eat amazes me! My son used to be such a good eater of all kinds of food until about age 4 when he figured out he can control very little in life but food and what he’ll eat – he can control. So for his lunches – string cheese or cheddar cheese. Pepperoni. Spaghetti with hutter and salt. Peanut butter on bread – no jelly. Bagels. Babyel cheese. Pretzels. Cheese balls (you know the fake orange cheeto likeones not something healthy). Apples. And the squeeze fruit I think is ridiculous (you know this is just applesauce, right?) but he’ll eat a fruit. He dos love sauteed with garlic broccoli but I havent sent that to school.his school has celery sticks amd carrots sticks even when he wont eat the main entree so I let them supply that). He also likes pancakes and rottisserie chicken too. Veggie sticks – again not healthy but the fake chip like ones that make people ink they are being healthy ut they really arent. Pretzels. Gogurts. And thats about his limit. We walked through sam’s club and the grocery store talking about ALL the choices he would deign to eat – sigh. Hed probably eat cereal too but I dont think that fills them up enough. Plus 1st graders get their lunch at 1100 and then dont get out till 325pm so Id rather think of high protien, longer lasting. Oh cashews – he’ll eat those too.

    • Clea says...

      Don’t cave! There’s still time! When my son was five, I bought that book french kids eat everything. I put the list of rules on the fridge and started cooking for the family, rather than throwing stuff in for him (pizzas, frozen chicken nuggets). At the end of dinner, there was always dessert, unless he hadn’t tried to eat his dinner (he had to at least try). He is a GREAT eater now. Eventually, Blue Apron helped because the food is delicious and I have zero qualms making him eat the food. Now he’s a strapping 14 year old and eats just about everything.

  28. I don’t have to pack lunches, because my boys are at an amazing school that, among other wonders, serves the kids lunch. They cook the meals in a kitchen on site and even the preschoolers have a kitchen curriculum, so they occasionally participate in the kitchen and bake their own cornbread, for instance. It is the most wonderful thing!

    I, on the other hand, use LunchBots for my own lunches at work. Quinoa salad (with corn and cilantro and rice wine vinegar) is one of my favorite room-temperature lunches. Savory bread puddings (leeks, Gruyere, and spinach) are also wonderful at room temperature! And don’t even underestimate the draw of the humble bean. My boys will eat a whole can of chickpeas or kidney beans with a little balsamic drizzled on top. I require them to have a little more pizzaz, with celery for crunch and herbs for flavor and a dressing of some kind to pull it together, but beans make a great lunch.

  29. We pack a 3-part lunch for our daughter. There’s always fruit, a snack (yoghurt, cheese, olives, cookies) and a warm lunch. We heat up leftovers in the morning, pack it into a wide-mouth Thermos and it stays warm til lunch time. This can be leftover pasta, stir fry and rice, meat and veggies – anything other than soup! On rare occasions she takes a sandwich, when we’ve eaten out the night before and there are no leftovers – she thinks it’s a huge treat. Ha!

  30. We used Lunchbots and I love them. They don’t leak from inside the container to outside, and my daughter has been able to get the lids off easily since we started using them (she was 4 yrs, is 6 yrs now). We also have another brand of stainless steel lunch containers, which I love for myself, but the lids are too hard for my daughter to get off. My only problem with the divided lunchbots is that they do leak between compartments. The divider has small gaps around it at the base, and if you put something dry in one section and wet in another, your dry stuff will be soggy by lunch time. Or something sweet and juicy (cut fruit in one), and something savory in another, and you get tastes all mixed up. My daughter really does not appreciate this, so I make sure I keep all the items in the compartment all dry, or if some are a little wet then ones that it won’t matter if the tastes get mixed up a bit. Some of those pictures are lovely, but I foresee compartment leaking problems with a few!

  31. Wow those are amazing lunches for a kid at school!! Good job – haha maybe I’ll start putting this much effort into my work lunches because those are great ideas!


  32. I recently started to love stainless steel lunch boxes (after I read an article on how harmful some plastic containers can be!)
    I am experimenting with different options for lunch at the moment
    winners so far:
    -Corn or rice cakes with cheese
    -greek salad (tomatoes, cucumber and feta)

  33. Just signed up for a free Naturebox trial! Thanks! I’m loving the low carb options!

  34. Great ideas!! I really miss the days of school lunches! My mom always used to stick a little note in mine every day…it was exciting to open my lunch box and find it! :)

  35. These tips are great! I’m definitely stealing some of these meal ideas for my own lunches, I need to get off the frozen food track I’ve been on!

  36. I don’t have kids, but this is inspiring me to take my work lunches up a notch!

  37. That is not to say I don’t like Lunchbots.I do. They don’t leak. That is HUGE.

  38. Lunchbots are good but can be hard for the little guys to get the lid off (we have had them, plus I have worked in a school lunchroom as part of my teacher duty). I really like the Lunchskins bags. You can get on-line or at Target. They wash very well and mine have lasted for years. My FAV lunch item is the Pack-It frozen lunchbox. The bags/lunchbots fit right in and keep things very cool until lunch. I have found they work better than just a frozen thing in the lunch bag. Food for the kids, my kids are not big on sandwiches so the things you show they would love. I also like good old Thermos brand drink containers for water and they have some for hot items. Welcome to the start of the rest of your life. Making lunches can be a real pain. Oh, and I always send a note. Just a little hello. My boys are in middle school and say they HATE that…but I think they really don’t (middle school boys are like that) and do it anyway. I do hide it a little so the other kids don’t see it. :)

  39. kefir smoothie is a big hit in our house
    wholefoods now has them too. it requires icepack to go with it though, but worth it. and not too much sugar compare to yogurts.
    also when I’m too lazy i buy cucumber and/or avocado rolls from wholefoods sushi section. daughter’s favorite.
    Thank you for inspiration, great ideas (i’m craving for cream cheese and jam bagel now hehe)

  40. My girl has just started needing lunches at school and I’ve been thrilled with the Yumbox. It is a bento box style lunchbox that has water-right compartments so you can pack yoghurt or applesauce. I’ve posted some pics of what I make in it in my IG account (bethielethie). She eats every bite!! I think the key is telling her it’s a surprise so that she doesn’t start making picky eating requests. So far so good! x

  41. I’ve been making my sons lunch since he was in daycare(he’s in 2nd grade now). Look for bento blogs for fun cute things. A hard boiled egg shaped like a fish still makes him smile!
    Sometimes we just do leftovers. I bought a Planet Box lunch box for him this year and I love it. They have lots of great ideas on their website too!

    Lots of fresh fruits and veggies, dips, cheese and crackers… My son loves taking sushi. Sometimes though, he’ll ask for PB&J three days in a row.

  42. Our little guy just started daycare last week so I’ve been dealing with the what to pack for lunch and what to pack it in question myself – I was looking at the lunch bots but the teachers tend to heat up the children’s food, so we ended up getting this German brand of sectional Tupperware that’s microwaveable and not glass (a rule at our son’s school) so far pasta, potatoes and string beans have been the biggest hit and we’ve taken to packing his snacks for weekend outings in them as well- we got ours at the brooklyn kitchen but they are also available here –

  43. Yum! We use Lunchbots too – so great! I’m a visual thinker when it comes to making school lunches…and I absolutely LOVE going here
    for oodles of inspiration. This woman is a lunch box warrior for sure! I love her ebook too for more recipes…and ideas….

  44. The main food in my childrens’ lunch is rye bread with sausages or ham or fish combined with small tomatoes, cucumber and carrots, raisins, almonds and some fruits peAches or apples. Not too exciting! Actually, today my daughter (aged 9) was so sick of her daddy’s lunch making that she made her own sandwich with ham and cheese and lost of fruit :-)

  45. I really appreciate that all your examples aren’t dairy or egg based. I find that so many of these easy lunch ideas involve both and my son is actually allergic to both! Thanks for the inspiration.

  46. We just started packing H’s lunch and he’s stuck with cheese sandwiches and fruit at first. I’d love to include the NatureBox items, but we are asked to keep an eye on anything potentially dangerous to his little peanut-allergic classmate, so we try to avoid all items that have been processed in the same facilities, etc. It’s quite a challenge!

  47. Oh my GOODNESS…I have so many ideas. Grilled cheese (that’s been cooled down completely so it doesn’t go soggy) cut into “fingers” is popular. I depend heavily on leftovers in the thermos – anywhere from soup to fajita fillings. build-a-taco is fun and we just send it cold. Kabobs of any kind (fruit, veg & cheese or grilled chicken). AND in my baking I always add pureed lentils for more protein/fibre and rotate grains from sported spelt to coconut flour.
    I have a 30-Day Lunchbox Building Challenge starting Monday (if you’d like to peak and join – it’ll be fun) and my Think INSIDE The Lunchbox Kindle Book is going FREE tomorrow (Sept. 9) for 5 days. Be sure to grab it for tons of seasonal fall/winter ideas :)

  48. Joanna, you have to check out the Weelicious blog…she makes a different lunch for her kids EVERY day without repeat- I think she even has a book out now. I dont even have kids yet and I’m amazed by her haha. Good luck!

  49. I still pack the same kinds of lunches I ate as a kid for my lunches at work. I pack a sandwich, a piece of fruit, whatever snack item on hand at the time and a juice box.

  50. Yum! We often use plastic 3-part ziploc lunch containers or a thermos with warm pasta or refried beans. Check 100 Days of Real Food blog for more creative, healthy options.

  51. My kids have never liked to eat things cold – that initially come warm, like grilled cheese sandwiches:) Definitely makes it more challenging.

  52. Just ordered a lunchbot because those meals look so delicious!

  53. I love these snacks…at my son’s pre-k, they don’t give them all their food at once so I think we’d have to split up the yummyness. Thanks again.

  54. Joanna, we’re not there yet, but my friends rave about containers called “funtainers” as being least likely to leak, and if they put something like pasta in them, then it is still warm at lunch.

  55. your daughter sounds awesome, thorne—a cheese lover! :)

  56. my kids are so picky that it’s really hard to find things to pack. one of my children has decided that she can live on cheese and air. ;) I know it’s just a phase, but agh! i’ll have to try some of these things.

  57. our school doesn’t warm up lunches, so these are all lunches that can be eaten cold. (things like grilled cheese would just be eaten cold—i actually prefer things cold, like leftover pizza etc:)

  58. Does the school warm up the lunch, if yes, how do they do it? They can’t microwave the lunchbot box which is made of metal. We got a few for my daughter, but only use it for snacks which do not need to be warmed up.