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Four School Lunch Ideas

School Lunches Made Easy

Toby is getting ready for his first day of kindergarten. (“I’m a little bit excited and a little bit nervous,” he says.) I can’t believe he has gotten so big, it’s crazy. As we gear up to pack daily lunches, I wanted to share ideas for making things easier, and I’d love to hear yours…

1. Create a list of lunch ideas with your child. If I blank on what to pack (happens more often than not first thing in the morning!), I’ll glance over the giant list we made together: Oh, yeah, banana pancakes; oh, right, grilled cheese.

2. Make one vegetable for the week. We choose a trusty veggie — broccoli, peas, sweet potato fries — and make a ton of it on Sunday nights. Then we put that vegetable in lunches all week long. Our kids don’t seem to mind the repetition!

3. Write a secret message. If you scratch a note on the skin of a banana using a toothpick, it will magically appear a few minutes later. I’ve never done this, but I’m planning to draw a car on the first day of school.

4. Last but not least: We’ve found the online snack delivery service NatureBox to be fantastic for school lunches. They make packing lunches so much easier. Our current favorites include Kale Chips, Blueberry Almonds, Dried Mango, Whole Wheat Strawberry Figgy Bars, Chocolate Banana Chips, Apple Pie Oat Clusters and Guacamole Bites. You can choose from over 100 delicious snacks; see their full snack collection here.

Here, Toby reviews four lunches…

School Lunches Made Easy

Meatballs, guacamole bites, banana, blueberries

“Sure!”

School Lunches Made Easy

Broccoli, apples, power mix, chicken fingers

“I’ll take that. I like chicken fingers and I like cranberries and I like broccoli. I would eat all of them! I would eat them at the same time. I would take one of each thing at a time.”

School Lunches Made Easy

Dried seaweed, rotisserie chicken, tiniest grape & strawberry kabob, hummus & crackers

“I like the kabob. I really like the kabob. Because I like kabobs. Chicken and hummus, I want it in this box.”

School Lunches Made Easy

Blueberry nom noms, peas, egg, pasta

“I don’t like egg. No. All right.” [Proceeds to eat the egg first.]

School Lunches Made Easy

What do you make for school lunches? I’d love to hear any ideas…

Bonus for everyone: Get your first box on them when you sign up for NatureBox.

(Photos by Nicki Sebastian for Cup of Jo. This post is sponsored by NatureBox, whose snacks our family has loved for years. Thanks for supporting the brands that help keep Cup of Jo running.)

  1. Thank you for the great lunch ideas! I ordered my daughter a lunchbot and took some notes:) Please keep these posts coming, I really enjoyed it!

  2. Nice combinations! I’d read a regular review feature by Toby as well.

    By way of helpful tip, my mom had little sections of the pantry and fridge set filled with options for each food group, and after dinner it was our job to pick one thing from each group for the next day’s lunch, taking the “I don’t like that” factor out of the equation and some of the assembly burden off her shoulders. She had picture cards for the items we couldn’t make on our own.
    I love PlanetBox lunchboxes. They are flat like a cafeteria tray and slip into a backpack or laptop bag. The compartments in various sizes and shapes are helpful in setting portions and there are sealed flat bowls for sauces and messy food. http://planetbox.com/products/planetbox-rover

  3. Hey Joanna! Love those lunchboxes. Where did you buy them?

    Lucy x

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      they’re lunchbots. we love them!

  4. Heather says...

    Cracking up at Toby’s commentary – so cute!

  5. Laura C says...

    My eldest girl is 4 and she comes home for lunch at 2 pm.. Here we use to give them just a piece of fruit or a little sandwich to eat at 11 am.
    I adore Toby! He is the cutest boy – besid Anton, of course.
    xxx

  6. Annelise Smith says...

    Toby’s quotes had me laughing out loud! Love this.

  7. This came at the perfect time! I just bought myself a bento box for my work lunches and needed some inspiration (even if these ideas are for kids hehe)

  8. Nicky says...

    That’s interesting. In the UK there is more stigma about bringing a packed lunch than there is having the meal you can buy in school. There is a huge government drive to get more children to NOT bring packed lunches and to have ‘school dinners’ as the standard of the average packed lunch is so low. Also if you bring packed lunch in some schools/areas it’s a sign that your parents can’t afford ‘school dinners’. I think my children would be hungry with the little bento box snacks on this page. But maybe that reflects the expectation in the UK that lunch is more of a main meal?

    • Kate says...

      I agree these lunches look quite small. My 6 year old needs about twice that for a day. In Australia we don’t have school dinners and personally I’m glad we don’t. This way I can ensure that the quality of the food is good. I’ve read some pretty shocking reports about what the average spend for government school meals is in the UK. Not sure how sensational they are though.

    • Kelly says...

      I agree it’s small! My four year old boy would need about 3 of those boxes for his lunch! He eats more chicken nuggets than I can but he’s still a rail….

  9. Annette says...

    I just signed up for Naturebox! Looking forward to a fun pack every month! My mom would write a little note on a napkin every day when she packed my lunch in middle school and high school. It was a nice pick me up if I was having a hard day. sometimes it was just I love you, but it made me smile.

  10. allie says...

    this is so cute Jo. I think you should ask for toby’s reviews on all sorts of things!

  11. Emily says...

    It’s my daughter’s first day at daycare today, so I packed her first lunch! We’ll see how she reviews it (she’s 20 months, so it’ll be a little simpler than Toby’s raving reviews!) I’d found the same 3-box bento, so it’s great to have some ideas for how to pack it! Thanks for the specific recommendations on NatureBox snacks, I added a few new ones to my list (the nom noms are always in high demand in our house).

  12. Lindsay says...

    yum! And now I will be signing up for naturebox :)

  13. Terry says...

    Lunches and container look very desirable, so much better than my school lunches as a child!

    Wondering if cut fruits (banana, apple) will discolor by the time child
    is ready to eat?

    Blueberries are delicious-what about all the little particles that
    might stain and stick to his teeth?

  14. i know everyone is saying the same thing, but more Toby reviews please!

    • Amen to that!

  15. I would’ve loved to have lunches like this as a kid! I’m really curious about the “guacamole bites.” They actually look really good

    -Nicole
    Meet Me in Midtown

  16. how fantastic that you did a dry run for lunch! I’m all about involving the kids in their lunch – they choose their lunches on weekends for the week ahead. It simplifies my life (I have 3 kids) and it also gives them a sense of control which, in the social world of the school lunch room, can go very far.

    My kids love breakfast for lunch (waffles, egg, breakfast sausages and mini maple syrup containers. We have a brand I think called CuteZ. Insanely cute.) They also love sandwiches cut into small squares on lollipop sticks, tortellini, fresh mozzarella balls with basil and DIY yogurt parfait (yogurt + berries + granola).
    My son is about to start kindergarten too. What an exciting time! Good luck to you and to Toby!

  17. Jennifer says...

    Oh these all look so good, I wish somebody packed my lunch for me everyday!

  18. I love that you involve him in what he eats for lunch! Could you call my mom 25 years ago, and tell her I’d like to do a tasting before I commit to a lunch? Toby is so cute. Great post/job, Joanna. :)

  19. Beth says...

    Great post! I love Toby’s commentary :) Thanks for the ideas!!!

  20. Christie says...

    Ha! Toby’s comment about not liking eggs and then eating it first cracked me up. :)

  21. Jennifer says...

    I love this post. Love Toby’s reviews. Especially that last one. Reminds me of my boy. I chuckled when I read Toby’s last comment. (Maybe I’ll now laugh to myself the next time my son does the same, instead of getting irritated!) Thanks for another great read!

  22. Toby is the best.

  23. Sandra Langeneckert says...

    I loved Toby’s reviews! I have a son his age and Toby’s comments totally cracked me up–especially saying he doesn’t like egg and eating that first. :-) Plus I’m super impressed that Toby will eat such a variety of things!

  24. Lauren E. says...

    “I don’t like egg.” Proceeds to eat egg first.

    This is so hilarious. It reminds me of my 34-year-old boyfriend. “I don’t really like green beans.” Takes one green bean at a time off my plate until he’s eaten half of them.

  25. “I don’t like egg. No. All right.” [Proceeds to eat the egg first.] — Friggin’ hilarious. I LOVE Toby’s reactions!

  26. I love the idea of adding trail mix to their lunches, and all the options had a great mix of kid-friendly fruits, veggies and protein. Bookmarking this one!

  27. Ashley says...

    What a sweet post! I really love this, Joanna. Toby is the cutest ever (more please!). ;)

  28. Gabby says...

    Ahh too adorable. Why isn’t a this a video?! We in the UK could do with some of Toby’s (what I imagine to be) adorable NYC accent and giggles!

  29. Apoorva says...

    I Love the idea of a secret message! And Toby’s comments are too cute! Surely all are excited for Toby’s new journey and your new experience! :)

  30. Callie says...

    Oh my goodness. I wasn’t looking for lunch ideas but clicked through so I could see if there were more cute Toby photos. And I’m glad I did because his reviews are AHmazing! Budding career in food critique? Good work, Toby!

  31. Rebecca.H says...

    Such delightful & nutricious combos!! My kids love good old-fashioned meat & cheese sandwiches, or I send mini pitas w/hummus, and sometimes a small ham & cheese on croissant. I include a small animal-shaped ice pack in their lunchbags!

  32. Shari says...

    Today my 5 & 7 year olds had grapes, a fruit leather, cucumber and carrot sticks, some rice crackers, vegemite and cheese sandwich and a chocolate chip cookie in a compartmentalised tupperware lunchbox.

  33. Molly S says...

    You could also have Toby buy lunch every day. This is what my parents did, and for the most part I loved it (and I went to a public elementary school). This took a lot of pressure off of my parents in the morning, and it also helped me get to know the cafeteria staff. It’s also a way for your children to interact with their classmates who are on reduced lunches and unfortunately can’t have the luxury of bringing a packed lunch to school every day. Having more middle and upper class students buy lunch reduces the stigma that is often associated with eating school lunches.

    • Emily R says...

      I always bought my lunch in elementary school. My sister and I loved it! Besides, if we hadn’t, we’d have missed out on lucky tray day!

    • MissEm says...

      I think it must depend on the school. Our bought lunches were completely unhealthy! But a variety of kids bought them (by pizza + cheese fries) so there wasn’t a stigma. So much work to be done on school lunches in the U.S.!

  34. Maria says...

    Toby’s commentary for the win! Such a funny lil guy! I hope the first days of school go well for you guys Joannna :) xoxo

  35. Susan M. says...

    Love this, esp. the commentaries. More Toby reviews! My son just started kindergarten and we had to up the portions. He’s ready to eat, whenever. We’re often doing warm meals in a thermos. The fruit and snacks are the easy part:)

  36. Jenny says...

    Where is the nifty lunch box from? Thanks!

    • Jordanna says...

      I think it might be a lunchbot (we use them… not in the habit of spotting lunch boxes :) ) http://www.lunchbots.com/

  37. laura says...

    haaa – I love toby’s comments :) so cute!

  38. Patty says...

    Love the lunches. But I’ve always had trouble deciding what to pack that will be safe and good to eat after sitting in the backpack for hours. Do you ever worry about that too?

    • Trish O says...

      We have the BEST lunchboxes that I got last year at Target. Called a Packit, the entire lunchbox goes in the freezer each night. They keep food MUCH colder that the ice packs you normally put in. I have been very happy with them. The come in many sizes. My boys are in middle school now (one is 6 feet tall 8th grader) so I got new bigger ones this year, but they have smaller lunch sack sizes too. We have had so many types of lunchboxes over the years and these are by far the best we have ever used. I don’t worry anymore about food sitting in a hot locker or classroom.

  39. colleen says...

    At my kids’ parochial school, they have fabulously balanced lunches, as good as a restaurant. When we bring cold lunch, though, we always make them the night before, so that’s my best tip! Good luck Toby!

  40. All these combinations are really cute!

  41. Looks so good! Quick tip – for perfectly cooked hard boiled eggs every single time: cover with water and bring to boil, turn off and leave pot on stove and put a timer on for 17 minutes. So good, so easy and helpful for making breakfast, lunch, or even a pre-dinner snack (keeps the hanger away).

    • Emily says...

      We do the same, but for 10 minutes – super tasty with a fully cooked yolk! I learned this recipe from Super Natural Every Day and have loved hard boiled eggs since (I was always turned off by the grey yolks before). Good to know that if the eggs hang out in the pot longer they’ll still be tasty!

  42. Leah says...

    What a doll! Nothing beats the candor of a whip-smart kindergartener.

  43. Cg says...

    My daughter’s school lunch is almost always, 95% of the time, what we had for dinner the night before. I will make a larger batch of dinner, then pack my husband’s and daughter’s lunch first. The rest we eat for dinner (I have a cook on campus where I work). Once in a while I’ll pack something different bc of field trips, etc. but mostly it goes in a glass lock container. I’ll heat it in the morning and she eats it room temp, doesn’t bother her at all. For instance, today she has orange chicken from Trader Joe’s with rice, green beans and two pot stickers (also from TJs).

    Packing lunch the evening before and heating it the nextornjng saves me time from thinkin about what to pack and actual doing so in the AM before I’ve had my coffee and am truly awake.

  44. I absolutely loved Toby’s commentary and laughed through the whole mix of awesome ideas! “I don’t like egg. No. Alright.” [Proceeds to eat the egg first] – I’m dying! :)

  45. Jiehae says...

    ditto on Toby’s comments! can you have a “Toby reviews life” series where he reviews food, toys, fashion, and all things in life?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha that would be awesome. he definitely has a LOT of opinions.

    • Carolyn Cheeseman says...

      Yes please!

  46. Paula Simm says...

    i just want to hit like because he is so dang cute!!

  47. Can Toby start a food column? He’s so CUTE! xoxox

  48. Emma says...

    I’m going to echo everyone else– can’t get enough of Toby’s captions! Could he be more charming?! More Toby! More Toby!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha you guys are so sweet :)

  49. We just got our first NatureBox today and after we sampled everything, my own Kindergartener requested the corn kernels in her lunch. Yum!!

  50. What a cool lunch tin! I’m a kindergarten teacher—if only ever kid got delicious, nutritious lunches like this everyday. And a tip from a teacher: make sure he can open everything packed in his lunch. :) Good luck on your first day, Toby! Kindergarten rocks!

  51. I’m sure Toby will love kindergarten. I think it’s the funniest time in elementary school. How about some tortillas, salsa and guacamole for lunch?

  52. Ashley says...

    where is the lunchbox from? We’ve been looking for stainless bento boxes for a while. Thanks!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      lunchbots — we love them!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, these are awesome!!

  53. kathryn says...

    I recently purchased the YumBox and LOOOVE it. (no shameless promo for the product here- just a real mom with an honest opinion after dreading all the containers I was washing every night)
    It’s super cute, spill proof and my daughter loves when I stack grapes or trail mix in the small round compartment. I pack it at night too and usually include 1/2 PB & J sandwich, cottage cheese or string cheese), or hummus and carrots, or apple sauce or a peeled tangerine or cherry tomatoes…

  54. I really like the idea of using a set of vegetables for the week. I should try that out for myself. :]

  55. Jill says...

    I think we need more Toby reviews of everything :)

  56. Elham says...

    I love your kids!! I am expecting my first and I swear I’ve told my husband all of Toby/ Anton stories. They are hysterical and so cute!

  57. molly says...

    Toby is SUCH a doll! I always love hearing what he has to say! And his new hair cut is too cute :) I hope he has the BEST time in kindergarten xoxo

  58. Eat the egg first and get it out of the way!

  59. sue says...

    Hi – some great tips! i sometimes do themes – round objects (gorilla pops, raw garden peas, plums… then sticks another day, then flat things. it’s a challenge, but a fun one for me and for my son to figure out the link, the pattern.

    I’d love to find out where you found the 4 section tin lunch box? who is it by?
    Thanks!

  60. Elisa says...

    Ooh, what kind of lunchbox is that? Also, are you packing his lunch with an ice pack? I worry about meat going bad before lunch. Great, healthy ideas and Toby’s insights are priceless! Thanks for sharing and go Toby!

  61. Please have Toby review more things. What a creative and honest set of responses! Did he enjoy giving his opinions?

    Also…school lunches have come a looooooong way! These all look delicious!

  62. Great tips! Hopefully I will remember these in 5-6 years when my unborn child heads off to school lol. I also LOVE Toby’s reviews. Simply perfect.

  63. Sharon says...

    This is adorable. Toby is quite the epicurean!

    Joanna, would you mind telling us where you got this lunchbox tin? I’m actually really obsessed with the idea of adult lunch bento boxes, and I’ve spent a ton of time searching for the best one only to cart my food around in the same old Tupperware containers. Would love your recommendations!

  64. Madie says...

    This is so timely! my 2 y/o is starting preschool next week and I need to start packing lunches. I will definitely check out Nature Box! May I ask about that little stainless steel lunch box? I’m told the teachers can help open lunches but it’s best to find something that he can open himself. Thanks so much! As always, you’re so on point with the posts!

  65. Kate says...

    This is so helpful! What kind of lunchbox tin is that?!

  66. Kathy says...

    Thanks Joanna! These are great ideas and right on time. Question. Do your boys mind eating everything cold? I love the veggie idea and what a great way to use up left over rotisserie, but my girls probably wouldn’t eat them cold. :-( I will have to try.

  67. Julie says...

    The Nature Box figgy bars are a must. My kids gobble them up and they are great for lunches. We love them so much they are locked in on our Nature Box pantry so we get them every month…and they’re gone in a week. ;)

  68. Lana says...

    Whole wheat muffins!!! You can mix everything into them (think shredded carrots, zucchini, puréed squash, frozen berries, seeds, nuts!!!) and kids gobble them up.

  69. Dhannon says...

    One thing my sons really liked were the little round Babybel cheeses, I would often include one with some cut up fruit. And, we mostly did sandwiches because that’s just what they wanted to take….It feels kind of sad not to make their lunches anymore, especially this time of year when kids head back to school, but they are all grown up now!

  70. Nicole says...

    My favorite is Toby’s comments! Please make him a regular reviewer on this site! Too funny! :))))

  71. lindsay says...

    this all looks yummy but i’m wondering about refrigeration… when i was in school we certainly didn’t have access to a refrigerator for our lunches, but maybe kids in some schools do?
    anyhow, i’ll take some ideas for this for my own lunches, as i try to take a lunch to work whenever possible.

    • Julie says...

      We use a PackIt lunch bag. You freeze it at night and food stays cold until lunch time.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      good question. our school doesn’t refrigerate lunches, but they eat at like 11:30, so i just figure the food will stay good until then. we don’t pack anything with mayo or fish, which i think go bad more quickly? we did this all last year and it worked out okay, fwiw!

    • CATHERINE says...

      I had the same concern. We used to use ice packs with the main dish containing meat.
      Also don’ t the cut fruit change color quickly ?(bananas turn blackish, apples brownish…) Still, I love those bento boxes!Toby will have the best lunches, so well-balanced and nutritious too.
      Here, only kids with allergies get to bring lunch boxes, and they’ll warm the food in the microwave for them. Kids here get much bigger lunches with 3 courses, cheese and dessert (just like Pamela Druckerman describes in her book!)

  72. allison says...

    Im with Jenna- I want to hear Toby’s opinion on everything! :) what a doll

  73. So sweet! I love surprising my daughter with new snacks in her lunchbox, so I’ll def check them out!

  74. Jenna says...

    So when does Toby get put on the cupofjo staff? I’d love to hear his opinions on pretty much everything!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha maybe he could be an editor at large? actually, he kind of already is :)

    • Claire says...

      I second (or third or forth) everyone else: I’d love to read a monthly series where Toby shares candid opinions on life. My favorite part about being a part-time nanny is hearing kids’ honest interpretations of the world. So much truth, and they’re hilarious 80% of the time!