What Food Geniuses Pack for Their Kids' School Lunches

Do you have any go-to school lunches for kids? I used to put all sorts of things in Toby’s lunches, but now he insists on a PB&J almost every day because apparently that’s what’s cool in second grade! So, for a kick of inspiration, we asked nine cookbook writers and food experts what they pack for their kids. Here’s what they said…

Get a chicken. “Every week, we pick up and shred a rotisserie chicken. Then I pack fruit and vegetables (sometimes guacamole) in a bento lunch box. It makes it easier to compartmentalize foods my son likes to eat.” — Jamie Schmones Erickson, founder of Poppy’s Catering

Pack foods that taste good at room temperature. “Rice and beans, fried egg sandwiches, avocado and turkey sandwiches, pasta or grain salads are still delicious after a couple hours of being left out. I also pull things from the pantry like date-coconut rolls and popcorn. All this said, our boys happily buy school pizza every Wednesday and I look forward to that break.” — Sarah Waldman, author of Feeding a Family

Don’t forget leftovers. “Here’s one thing that actually worked — if ‘worked’ can be defined as coming home with an empty lunch box, asking for it again the next day and then even receiving an email from the teacher asking for the recipe because it looked so good. It was, of all things, a spinach strata. It’s surprisingly packed-lunch-friendly: it reheats well and holds its warmth in foil for hours.” — Deb Perelman, Smitten Kitchen

Some like it hot. “When the weather gets chilly, my kids love hot lunches, so I pack their thermoses with things like chicken noodle soup, tortellini and even gyoza (that’s a fave)!” — Liren Baker, Kitchen Confidante

Rotate between classics. “My kids switch between almond butter [or soynut butter] and jelly sandwiches, and turkey and Swiss sandwiches. We also rotate fruits and vegetables. One thing I always do when I bring grapes home from the market is cut the big bunch with scissors into little clusters before storing them in the fridge. It’s a simple thing, but it makes packing fast.” — Alexandra Stafford, Alexandra’s Kitchen

Or, just stick to what works. “My six-year-old has this for lunch almost every day: homemade schnitzel cut into small pieces, white Thai jasmine rice, Persian cucumbers, carrots and a Whole Foods strawberry fruit bar.” — Maya Jankelowitz, co-owner of Jack’s Wife Freda

Plan ahead. “To make mornings less hectic, I prep all our school lunches for the week on Sunday. (I just save cutting fruit for later in the week.) My kids also love breakfast for lunch. I’ll pack frozen waffles, a hard-boiled egg, yogurt and fruit.” — Meghan Splawn, Associate Food Editor at The Kitchn

Add an element of surprise. “Kids love the comfort of sameness — don’t we all — but I see lunch as an important moment for adventure during the school day. I’ve worked hard to mix up my twins’ lunches. At the beginning of the school year, when the greenmarket is at its best, I make corn and roasted tomato salad (or ratatouille, and peppers and corn braised in olive oil), which can take different formats throughout the week. One day, I might top it with pieces of fresh mozzarella. Another, I might spoon it over quinoa. Or I serve it alongside butter and ham sandwiches. And when I don’t get it together over the weekend to cook something, I can always reach for a crowd-pleaser: cashew butter, ricotta and honey sandwiches on grainy bread.” — Amanda Hesser, co-founder of Food52 (Her other packed lunches are amazing, too.)

Make lunch a special occasion. “My daughters are in high school, so I don’t have to pack lunches nearly as often — they either go out with friends or make their own. If I’m feeling generous, though I’ll offer to prepare something warm for the thermos (like organic baked beans, so easy) or, my youngest’s favorite, a caprese salad with baguette slices.” — Jenny Rosenstrach, Dinner: A Love Story

What 9 Food Geniuses Pack for Their Kids' School Lunches

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

P.S. How to get kids to eat their vegetables, and the best $2 work lunch.

(Photos by Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra’s Kitchen.)