Motherhood

What Food Geniuses Pack for Their Kids’ School Lunches

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.)

  1. We pack lots and lots of noodles. My daughter is obsessed with noodles and actually likes them cold or at room temperature. Sometimes I’ll make something like spaghetti over the weekend and I pack it for her throughout most of the week. Noodle days are some of the only days she’ll eat her entire lunch.

  2. Aldi has a great selection of packaged healthy snack foods, mixed nuts, whole wheat crackers & granola bars, to name a few. My kids get 2 fruits, various snacks (to avoid the post school hangry meltdown) a yogurt drink or 2 plus a sandwhich of their choice. No lunch system is perfect. Schools are short on time & I want my 3 to eat their healthy foods whenever they can. I’m not fussy about the order. Their lunch bags are practically empty when they come home. This seems to work for me. Thanks for the inpso.

  3. wish I were a 70s mom says...

    This is ridiculous. Do these chefs’ children actually eat these lunches? How much ends up in the trash, because the kids don’t actually like the lunch or because there isn’t enough time to eat at school. I can tell you, my mother did not have a hundred articles telling her pb&j was not a good enough lunch. I am all for a healthy variety of food, but goodness gracious, stop making moms feel like they aren’t doing enough!

    • Hey says...

      If you read this article in full, you would see that these are the items their kids are eating and asking for. Some people value giving their kids creative and healthy lunches. Some people don’t. These people are chefs by profession, so of course giving their kids these types of lunches would be something they value. I work full time but because I value nutritious and creative food, what I pack my child reflects this belief system. There was nothing in this article that insults or criticizes the way other moms may choose to feed their kids for lunch. It sounds like a lot of insecurity coming from you.

  4. Liz says...

    How is everyone getting to pack peanut butter and other tree nuts? our school has a strict no tree nut due to kids allergies.
    are we the only ones? We are in texas.

    • Kate says...

      You are not alone. I live in Canada and even when I was in school 15 years ago our school was nut-free (much to my parents’ lament). It’s pretty much the standard at daycares and schools up here. You can never be too careful with a nut allergy!

    • Jenna says...

      My youngest eats lunch in his preschool classroom, and since none of his classmates have any nut allergies, he is allowed to bring peanut butter. My kindergartner is allowed to bring peanut butter, but if he does he must sit at a special table. He’d prefer to sit with all his friends, so he has nut-free lunches.

    • Gina Beana says...

      Sunbutter (from sunflower seeds) and Almondbutter are great subs for peanut butter in nut-free schools.

  5. no kids but we pack our lunches for work. i bought glass bento style sectioned-off containers that help me with portion control. i usually pack 1 starch (rice or noodles or pasta), a veg (whatever csa had avail that week) with bean dip (hummus or what beans i mashed up that week) and a hard boiled egg. sometimes if i’m feeling fancy i might do up gyoza or add in meatballs. with the weather getting cooler i’ll switch over to soups and chili. i also recently bought re-usable snack bags and i’ve added nuts, crackers or cookies for the 3pm hunger pangs.

    • Hi Lan, could you share which glass bento style section containers and the re-usable snack bags you use? Thank you!

  6. Know what this genius packs? Things her kid will eat. Almost daily: peanut butter (no jelly or honey) sandwich and if I’m being generous I take the crust off – when did that start being a thing? I find it super annoying and wasteful – pro tip do it before you smear on the peanut butter – but I still do it. His new school asks for a snack to be sent so that’s usually a granola bar. Carrots or Apple slices. A fruit roll up or snacks. Today I put peanuts in or it might be chips – for crunch. I used to put a cheese stick in but he’s decided he hates them room temperature. And a re-filled bottle of water.

    • Lindsey says...

      AMEN!!! My kid only wants PB&J. And as delicious as most of the things in this post sound, my five year old would never eat any of it–he’s super picky. Even a sandwich with turkey and cheese is out of the question. So PB&J, granola bar, veggie straws, fruit/apple sauce pouch/cheese stick, and a box of milk it is until he decides to eat something else. Sigh…

  7. VP says...

    Pro tip for PB&J (probably everyone already knows this lol): put PB on both slices of bread and jelly on top of the PB. The PB helps keep the jelly from soaking through ;)

    • Cindybonne says...

      Pro tip for pb&j crustables-style: use the lid from the peanut butter jar to punch out a perfect circle /crust free ‘crustable’ sandwich.

  8. Julie says...

    We have a delicious Middle Eastern deli that makes falafel and hand pies of every kind. I warm them, wrap in foil and then wrap in a cloth napkin. Also, big fans of reheated leftovers. Pesto is gold (sandwiches, pasta) and pine nuts are actually seeds, so you can send to nut-free schools. Also, tzatziki and other savory yogurt dips are big hits.

  9. Nicola Dresser says...

    Where are those napkins from??!! super cute!

  10. My mom was always good about making sure we had a well-rounded lunch packed in elementary school, but I remember some funny ones as well. My personal favorites: a hot dog packed in a thermos of warm water (hot lunch without the microwave!) and ritz crackers and a can of cheese whiz! The picture of health!

  11. I had no idea so many schools were nut free these days – thank goodness I’m though it. I ate PB&J almost everyday from Kindergarten through to High School. Only with grape jelly though, cuz it’s the best – duh!

  12. JP says...

    I have never commented on this blog before, but I just wanted to remind parents, that although it seems unbelievable, popcorn can be very dangerous for young children (think preschool) because if they choke, it can end up in a lung. I hate to be graphic, but besides cutting up hotdogs and grapes, etc. consider leaving popcorn until they are older!

  13. Margaret says...

    I wish I could get my kids to eat the school lunch, mostly they lament that they don’t have enough time. I packed lunches for years.. My youngest (now 10) always got a nutella sandwich, crackers, apples and a yogurt. The older kids, fruit, crackers and something in a thermos. This year the older are mostly packing their own lunch and they are roasting sweet potatoes, making quinoa and assembling the most incredible salads ever, causing the younger one to ask for more healthy lunches. It’s hard not to feel some pride….

  14. Eleanor says...

    As a long time reader, and a teacher, I am disappointed at some commenters’ reactions to nut-free schools. I fully admit that accommodating for allergies is inconvenient, but it’s also an opportunity to teach our children about empathy. Unfortunately, nut-free tables tend to do the opposite. I like to think if it in these terms: you wouldn’t bring your toddler-with-the-flu to visit a newborn, would you? Kids with allergies will learn to live in a world among potential dangers, but while they are very young, nut-free schools are the safest option. We need to keep school safe for all our children.

    • Cherie says...

      Yes! Thank you! This is the most accurate and thoughtful way I have heard to describe this issue. My son, now twelve, has a life threatening peanut and egg allergy. In his very early school years I was very (justifiably) afraid for his safety. He was too little to understand the many ways that he could inadvertently come in to contact with these allergens (sharing drink fountains, handling equipment etc) and no concept of how to manage a reaction. Now that he is older he is capable of managing food situations and allergic symptoms on his own without intervening rules and restrictions such as this.

    • Katie says...

      Agreed! Peanut allergies aren’t like many other allergies in that they trigger deadly anaphylactic reactions. You can’t even compare it to gluten or other IgA allergy responses which while unpleasant would cause a person to stop breathing.

      As a teacher I’m thankful that all the schools I’ve taught at are peanut free and I’m shocked there are schools left that don’t.

    • I’m amazed that peanuts are so frequently still served on planes!!

    • Jenna says...

      My oldest goes to school where there’s a nut table (instead of a nut-free table) in the cafeteria. He’d rather sit with all his friends, so he doesn’t bring nuts. Seems like it’s easier to contain the allergens in a smaller zone.

  15. Amanda says...

    My kids are in 3rd and 5th grade, so I have them make their own lunches. The rule is that they must have a fruit, a veggie, and something with protein. My job is to make this possible and easy. My daughter loves tiny containers of things, e.g. crackers, cheese slices, pieces of meat. My son will only take baggies because he wants to throw everything away to get outside quickly. He will make a sandwich, carrot or bell pepper sticks, and throw whatever fruit he doesn’t need to wash in a bag and go!

  16. My three boys love ham and cheese on homemade sourdough, grapes, carrots and goldfish. Come cooler weather we also do leftover mac and cheese, soups or stews in a thermos. Breakfast for lunch is popular too, peanut butter Nutella whole wheat waffle sandwiches.

  17. EMS says...

    Can I get a shout out for hot lunch at the school? Honestly, I’m amazed by these homemade lunches–but, my daughter goes to a (wonderful) Title 1 school in DC, and she eats the free school lunch each day, served in her PreK 4 classroom. Sure, it’s nothing like the European school lunches referenced above, but it’s always got at least one veggie–and my husband and I can save up all of our meal stress for dinner :) Plus, the social aspects in a poor school are worth noting–I’ve seen preK classrooms where all the white, upper middle class kids sit at one table with their fancy, organic lunchboxes and the other table is the kids eating hot lunch.

    • Celeste says...

      This is absolutely a thing to be aware of. My neighborhood school is Title I, and though I don’t have kids yet, it’s something I thought about consciously when I moved into the neighborhood. As a kid from a working-class family that was above the poverty line but on a very tight budget, I attended a Title I school and felt the social dynamics with things like school lunch and branded clothing or backpacks. I know what it’s like to feel like something small is “outing” you to your peers.

      So, obviously, I think it’s important to note the social dynamics in a school with small things like this. Speaking for myself, I feel these nuances are critical to think about as a middle-class person living in a working-class neighborhood, especially when raising kids. Hopefully, though, it means they’ll be more socially conscious adults!

      Anyway, these lunches look delicious, and honestly, I would pack them for myself!

    • t says...

      Yes! This is so true. I remember being a kid and feeling sorry for the ‘poor’ kids eating the hot lunches. Ugh I am so embarrassed to write that.

    • Robin says...

      YES! One of my kids goes to a school with the Community Eligibility Provision (meaning all kids in the school get breakfast AND lunch for free) and it is an amazing program that levels the playing field for kids in the rapidly gentrifying yet currently title 1 school. We do take advantage of the free lunch sometimes and breakfast almost every day! That said, my kid doesn’t love the food. He will eat it but he doesn’t eat as much when he gets hot lunch and is consequently a raging mess at pickup. So, we send lunch most days.

  18. Emily says...

    I am always inspired by kaity of @fareisle – she even has a # for her beautiful packed lunches (#ileysamazinglunches)!

  19. kate says...

    I’m loving all the comments as inspiration for my adult lunches!

    I started packing my own lunch in 4th grade. The last of four kids, my dad was OVER packing lunches for me every morning. My brothers were in high school at this point, and either went home or out with friends at lunchtime. To absolve himself of this morning responsibility, my dad taught me to meal plan. Every Sunday, I had to write down what I wanted as a “main course” for lunch and present it to my parents. It was nothing fancy- sandwiches, yogurt, soup. I had to pack all the snacks in baggies on Sunday night. I had my own little section of the fridge for storing my assembled supplies, and packed my lunch every morning with pride.

    Honestly, it was one of the best parenting moves ever. Taught responsibility, planning, and organization, and made me feel very grown up. I also learned to cook things like homemade soup or mac and cheese before a lot of my peers. And my lunches were always exactly what I wanted.

    • Kate D says...

      LOL at presenting the meal plan! This is an awesome parenting move! We too had to start pack our lunches around the same age. I still take pride in my work lunch concoctions as a way to infuse creativity into my day. I’m definitely going to keep this tip for when the time comes. Thanks!

  20. I honestly don’t know how my children don’t have rickets, scurvy and goitres. Their diet is like 95% saltine cracker. Sigh.

    • Carrington says...

      LOL! my one year old just discovered saltines (OK I buy them without salt – chill) and he is absolutely obsessed

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha

    • Heidi says...

      Crackers and milk are a food group at our house.

  21. Helga Thomsen says...

    When my daughter was a junior in high school all she ever wanted was hummus with carrots, snow peas and cut up pita. I got so sick of making that but knew that it wouldn’t last for ever so I just made it every day. Now she lives across the country and I miss those days.

  22. Nathalie says...

    When I was a kid I hated sandwiches. (Why??? Love them now!) My mother packed banana bread or applesauce loaf in my lunch. My kids come home for a hot lunch (we’re in Germany) so I just send a snack with them, like applesauce or yoghurt, and cheese on bread or crackers. I’d love to send them to school with banana bread because it’s so easy but they don’t like it! (However, they do eat sandwiches.)

  23. Bets says...

    I started working at a private school this year that provides breakfast (and coffee all day!) and lunch to employees and students. It’s so nice to have one less thing to worry about everyday. So far, my daughter hasn’t tried much of the food offered, but I’m hoping with time that watching her peers and getting more comfortable at school will help her to try a variety of food I wouldn’t be able to replicate if I packed her lunch.

  24. Susan Magnolia says...

    I make a batch of muffins with coconut, chia seeds and fruit and very little sugar. My daughter eats these instead of sandwich. She really enjoys bean salads, avocado, yogurt, sesame sticks, nuts (no restrictions so far) and seeds. However all she ever really wants is fruit and veggies.

    • dana says...

      Hi Susan! Would you share your muffin recipe? It sounds perfect. =)

    • Susan Magnolia says...

      I use this recipe for leftover oatmeal muffins
      https ://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/leftover-oatmeal-muffins-52678781 and add bananas, applesauce, coconut, chia seeds or whatever. Usually add more liquid with chia and soak a bit.

    • dana says...

      Thanks so much!

  25. Helen says...

    I am the primary maker of school and work lunches in my family. I have tried hard over the years to introduce left overs into our lunch regime with no luck. My husband is a plumber so usually needs something that he can eat while on the road from job to job. I have just done a quick calculation, in our 20 years of marriage I am probably up to sandwich number 19,200.

  26. lori doran says...

    My kids (11 &12) pack their own lunches. My daughter loves to pack Lox on GF bread. My son loves a nut butter with jelly or banana/honey. When at public school we switched him to sunflower butter and he LOVED it. He loved it so much he ate it all the time. We did food allergy testing and guess what he developed a serious allergy to? Freaking sunflowers seeds. I also make a vegan pimento for my kiddos (soaked cashews drained and thrown into the food processor or vitamix , then add red onions, pimentos, a little ACV and some celery and salt and pepper ) YUM!

    • Lori, can I ask how you had the food allergy testing done? Pediatrician, or allergist? Was it skin prick or a blood test? And do you recall if they tested for delayed food allergies?

    • Sasha says...

      Oooh, that cashew pimento thing sounds GOOD!

    • lori doran says...

      @Melissa Well I took the long route. First I did skin prick and then the allergist explained to me that its not effective for gut based allergies. Our functional medicine doctor did the IgG food allergy sensitivity testing from a blood sample. So glad we did it. SO many questions answered.

    • M says...

      In 6th grade I became responsible for my own lunch. I started making a peanut butter sandwich for lunch and because I was already making one, I’d make one for breakfast too. At some point I developed a GI reaction to peanut butter and to this day I have to avoid it. I’ve been convinced it was all those sandwiches and your story (while a total headache, I’m sorry), is incredibly validating!

  27. My mom packed my brother and I lunch EVERY DAY for school, even when we got to high school. She is very health-conscience and a good cook, so our friends would often eye up our lunches jealously over their trays of the greasy cafeteria food. Sometimes they’d steal our food. One time–and it happened to be April Fool’s Day–my brother’s friend Matt grabbed half of my brother’s turkey and cheese sandwich and downed it. My brother, upon inspecting his remaining half, noticed that one of the layers of “cheese” in the sandwich was actually a Post-It note, on which was written “Fools!”……Matt had eaten “April”.

    • I have to also give a shout-out to the school lunch program in the town we currently live…it is WORLDS better than the one we had at our school growing up, largely due to my good friend Greta who is the Health teacher at the school and who pioneered the creation of the school garden. The garden, tended and loved by students, faculty and community volunteers, provides most of the fruits and veggies to the school lunch program, and as a result, the food is tasty and healthy!! Our little school got national recognition and invited to the White House by Michelle Obama a few years ago…here is an awesome video about it, for anyone interested in maybe getting something similar started at their school: https://youtu.be/BtNvtGmUqsA

  28. Meredith says...

    My mom never cooked but I fondly remember having spaghetti-o’s in my carebears thermos. I can taste that tinny tomato sauce now! <3

  29. Avigail says...

    My kids don’t want this for lunch actually but I wish they would because it’s amazing! Tuna melt on a bagel… totally wish we could all eat this for lunch every day! I pack dr praegers fish sticks (it’s a real
    Piece of fish, not minced mixture of miscellaneous types). Any frozen dr praegers vegetable patties in shapes (broccoli, kale). Sweet potato fries. Sesame noodles. Pizza pitas (melt sauce and cheese on pita), cucumber sushi, deli Sandwiches.

  30. Jennifer says...

    I cook a big batch of pasta on Sundays and use it for my 5 year old’s lunches often throughout the week. There’s a brand of pasta now in our supermarket that is made with half chickpea flour and half regular flour. It tastes like normal pasta but has protein from the chickpeas, so I don’t feel bad that my son doesn’t ever want sauce on his pasta. I toss it with a bit of olive oil, salt, and nutritional yeast (I’m vegan so we don’t often have parmesan in the house, but that would be great too). Other big hits are edamame in the shells, popcorn, fresh fruit salad, and leftovers. He also loves it it when I put some frozen berries in a glass jar and top it with plain yogurt and a bit of maple syrup. The berries keep the yogurt cold enough, but they also kind of melt into soft fruit to stir into the yogurt. His school asks that lunches be “garbageless” so this easily replaces individual yogurt cups.

    • Cristin says...

      Hi Jennifer, what type of school does your son go to? I love that they promote garbageless lunch, sounds like an amazing place!

    • Jennifer says...

      It’s our local neighbourhood public school! We’re in Ontario, Canada where most kids go to public schools, private schools or specialty schools are fairly rare. As far as I know all the schools in my son’s school board have garbageless lunch policies. It seems pretty common now. I totally support it!

  31. Jessica says...

    Wow, most of these ideas are much more fancy than anything my kids would eat! My son loves it when I make him homemade lunchables…basically a bunch of different items in a bunch of little containers. Think ham (his favorite), grapes, pretzels, etc. My daughter, on the other hand, would love it if I would stick with a bagel with cream cheese and a side of tomatoes for her every day.

  32. Malia says...

    I usually just pack leftovers with rice for my preschooler and Kindergartner. We always have rice that’s timed to be ready at 6:30am and I pack everything in their cute bento boxes. Today was unusual–everyone had omelet sandwiches instead of rice and sides.

    When I run out of food to pack, lunch is noriben: rice with bonito flakes mixed with soy sauce topped with shredded nori.
    http://justbento.com/handbook/recipe-collection-mains/noriben-a-true-japanese-classic

  33. Robin says...

    I’m surprised you can send PBJs to school – my son’s elementary school (and I think most schools here in Toronto these days) is nut-free (no peanuts or tree nuts like almonds or cashews). I’ve been trying to sell him on sunflower seed or pumpkin seed butter …so far no luck!

    • Avigail says...

      Some of these may be smaller groups like dsycares. My son goes to preschool and can’t have nuts but my daughter is at a small daycare with just a few kids and can bring anything. But I was also wondering how all these kids are bringing peanut butter!

    • Anna says...

      Yes Robin, that was exactly my thought! Here in the UK no schools allow peanuts or tree nuts in school whatsoever due to allergies. Sometimes they even crack down on pesto too, as some brands use cashew nut in their recipes.

    • I was surprised to see that, too! No nut butters of any kind at my kids’ school here in California.

    • Liza says...

      They tried to implement that at my kids’ school and it caused a huge uproar. The world isn’t nut free so a tiny portion of the population can move around without worrying about allergic reactions. Everyone compromised on a nut-free table in the corner and parents provide a letter from their child’s doctor to get them placed there. It wouldn’t really impact my kids anyway because I am too lazy to do more than cheese and crackers, an apple or orange, and a cookie. They get a granola bar or goldfish for a snack.

    • I mean, I get it, but my schools back in the day were never nut-free and no one died. Like I said I totally understand the protection instinct but wouldn’t it be better to teach kids how to properly navigate a world where things might kill them, instead of making them think they’ll always be insulated from danger? Or am I way off base? I don’t have kids, though I do have a mother instinct of sorts …

    • Erin says...

      As a mother to a 19-month-old with severe nut allergies, I’m greatly disturbed by these insensitive comments below. Neither my husband nor myself have any food allergies. In fact, I have a Master’s degree in food studies and went to culinary school. So, imagine my shock and surprise when my daughter’s tiny 10-month-old body blew up in hives while eating peanut butter toast. As we watched her body transform into a grotesque swollen red mess, she began vomiting, then gasping for air. We were fully unprepared and had no idea such a terrible thing might occur. A tearful call to 911, the longest ambulance ride of my life (it turned out they didn’t have Epi pens in the ambulance), then a full day and night at Children’s Hospital, watching my daughter fight for her young life. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Shame on you for thinking something like a convenient pb&j sandwich for your child is more important than another’s deadly medical issue. My daughter is not yet old enough to understand her allergies, to keep herself safe, to not touch another child’s food. As a full-time working mom, I must send my daughter out into the world and place my trust in her caretakers. This is a frightening thing for most parents, I’m sure. But to worry that something as simple and trivial as a cracker might kill my child. That’s something to take your breath away. I wish this on no one.

    • Joanna says...

      I’m a mom to 2 kids, both with allergies. I’m also a physician. One of my scariest moments when my son had anaphylaxis at age 2. On an airplane. From a minuscule amount of an unknown substance (dropped pacifier). My children both have dramatically restricted diets. But my son eats nuts with abandon.

      I get where both folks for and against nut-free schools are coming from. My son (now in preK) has been able to self-regulate in regards to his allergies since he was 2. He knows he can’t eat or put anything on his body unless I sent it or a parent has checked the ingredients. (He asked my mother in law once to check the maple syrup ingredients and then asked me if he could have it. He’s good.)

      Yes, it was insanely irritating when he could eat nuts but not dozens of other foods and I wasn’t allowed to send nuts to school. No one was telling the other kids they couldn’t have wheat, soy, dairy, etc around him! So it’s not just about what’s convienent. It was frustrating to lose a whole (versatile) protein and food for a kid who had so few to begin with.

      I frankly agree with teaching kids with allergies VERY early that the world isn’t going to protect them from their allergens, that’s their job. However, I do also know that nut and peanut allergies are the most likely to cause problems for kids at the aerosolized level, such that opening a jar of peanuts in a room can cause a reaction in someone. And that there can be a lot of anxiety that goes along with allergies, for parents and kids.

      I would just remind everyone that it’s scary to be a parent dealing with food allergies. It’s also just sad. Lots of celebrations and community occurs around food. It can be heartbreaking to see your kid stoically decline special treats when all the other kids get them. But we all have our challenges as parents. Let’s help each other and try to see all points of view!

    • Suzie says...

      Jill, I think you will understand much better if you ever have a child with severe food allergies. All you need is to see your own child vomiting, with whole body hives, and having difficulty breathing to realize that s/he could DIE of his/her allergy. It is such a sobering realization. And children DO die of their allergies. My son is very young but we have taught him never to eat anyone else’s food. However, that doesn’t stop 1) well-meaning parents whose children do not have food allergies from offering my son things to eat that he is allergic to without asking us first, and 2) other young children contaminating my son’s space with their foods that he is allergic to. My son was constantly having allergic reactions at daycare for a while, and none of the teachers ever could figure out why. One morning at drop off, I observed as another child leaned towards my son and dabbed her cereal spoon on my son’s hand, and left a milk spot on his hand. He is allergic to cow’s milk. None of the teachers saw. Meanwhile, another child was across the (small) table spilling milk out of his cereal bowl and the puddle was creeping towards my son’s place at the table. I immediately grabbed my son’s hand, told the teachers what had happened, and one of the teachers took him to wash his hand and moved him away from the child who had just touched him with her spoon. I know teachers can’t see everything all the time. My point is that even if my son learns how to behave with respect to his allergies, at this age others do not know and it is just not on their radar, because why would it be? This is one of the reasons why nut free daycares and schools exist.

    • Kari says...

      I’m also disturbed by some of these insensitive comments! My almost three old son has life threatening allergies to eggs and sesame. Neither of these foods are eliminated in schools. I don’t expect schools to eliminate eggs and sesame, and I don’t expect anyone to cater to him – but a little empathy is appreciated. He was 18 months old when he went into anaphylactic shock after consuming a pea sized amount of hummus. I will never forget that day: that was when I truly understood how serious food allergies can be. With no food allergies in our families and none between me and my husband, the reality of having a child with a life threatening food allergy is hard. As one commenter said above, I have to send out my son into the world and place my trust in his caretakers. We have also had to teach him to ask about ingredients in food. He’s so sweet and good about it – especially as he’s getting older and can’t partake in cake at birthday parties, or we have to steer clear of most Mediterranean and Asian restaurants because of sesame – but it’s heartbreaking. We certainly didn’t wish this on him, and don’t wish it on anyone else. We’re hopeful that he will eventually grow out of his egg allergy, but unfortunately the sesame allergy is life long.

    • Forgive me if I seemed insensitive, that wasn’t my intention. And I’m fully aware that people die every day from allergies, I’m not an idiot. I just meant – one of my best friends had a serious peanut allergy, and not one school in our system back in the 90’s had any kind of nut-free or other allergy policy in place. I’m sure there were other kids too but when you’re a kid, you only pay attention to the people that matter. He managed to navigate school/parties/life just fine without having to be protected. I can absolutely empathize with how scary these things can be for parents; but even if you’re lucky enough to get a kid with no allergies, that doesn’t mean you get away from the specter of death scot-free. Everything in this world is designed to kill you – I guess I’d just rather teach my kid how to navigate the traps. And I don’t think making it so nobody can have something for the good of a few teaches empathy; I think that teaches resentment. I don’t know what the better answer is, to be clear.

  34. Kristen says...

    My son can’t have food heated up so we do tortellini, pot stickers in a thermos, pizza, quesadilla, or homemade lunchables (Melba toast, deli meat, cheese slices). One day a week I’ll make him a turkey sandwich or a PB&J. With his extras I try to change it up between carrots/cucumbers/hummus/fruit/cheese stick/pretzels/whole grain crackers. On fridays I’ll throw in a sugary treat like a cookie. My daughter has a microwave at school so she usually gets leftovers from dinner and a fruit!

  35. Savannah says...

    Now I’m craving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich like FIRE.

    • tina says...

      me too!!! my husband will be going grocery shopping later on with our little one and I just popped pb onto the list!

  36. I still make lunch for my eighth grader! He likes a thermos of warm leftovers like pasta, rice, tandoori chicken, soup, or whatever we had the night before and then a fruit or veggie and always a clif bar and a fruit strip. For Pre-K: I recommend always slicing your small fruit in half like grapes and cherry tomatoes. A Dr. From Children’s hospital told our parenting group this long ago.

  37. Bella says...

    Amena, the middle ground to this matter is you feed your children nuts and seeds at home. Makes for a tasty breakfast or after-school snack!

  38. Cazmina says...

    I don’t have kid to make lunches for, but I do have to pack no-heat lunches for myself!
    Some kind of egg dish such as quiche, Spanish omelette, or frittata is great – you can make a big one at the beginning of the week and it keeps in the fridge (plus you can throw old veggies in to use them up).
    Pasta salad is also a winner (you can make a batch at the beginning of the week and switch up the ingredients to avoid boredom.)
    Also homemade muffins or banana bread can be made in advance and frozen to keep fresh, just grab one in the morning and by lunchtime they have defrosted.

  39. jen says...

    My daughter is in a 1/2 day pre-k. Her lunch generally looks the same each day: red bell pepper strips and carrot sticks with a small container of hummus; sliced red or green apple with a small container of almond butter; a handful of pretzels or almond crackers or a handful of raw cashews (her fave!); dessert: homemade coconut date bar.
    She selects what to eat and we can change it up to what is in season or fresh from the garden (berries in the spring/summer), etc.

  40. Liz O says...

    Spinach strata, gyoza, boy, do i feel like a failure!
    Milk or juice box, grapes, string cheese, apples, goldfish crackers, a cookie or two is about all she’ll eat anyway.

    • Missy says...

      I am right there with you, sister-friend. I add a half a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich, but grapes, string cheese and goldfish are my go-tos. Anything else would just be thrown away.

  41. Isabel says...

    I loved reading these suggestions but I wish some of these food experts had been men. It would be nice to see that dads are making school lunches too, not just moms!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      alex is the lunch maker in our family, for what it’s worth! :) we usually interview women on Cup of Jo, but we can definitely start reaching out to men, too! thanks for the idea.

    • Ellie says...

      I am 57 years old, and my wonderful father always packed our lunches. Mom slept in, and Daddy, whistling while he worked, poached our eggs for breakfast and then made our sandwiches for the brown bag lunch. Talk about a man ahead of his time! (Lunches back then were pretty unimaginative. A simple sandwich, carrot sticks, an apple, and Chips Ahoy cookies.)

    • Lucy says...

      My dad always made my lunch, even when into my high school years. On the rare occasion my mom made my lunch I was always disappointed because she didn’t pack nearly as much food as my dad did. He liked lots of variety so I never knew what to expect– though one consistent was that I always asking him to use less mayonnaise. He said, “I like enough mayo on a sandwich to squirt back to your ears!” Bleh!

    • Liza says...

      My dad made my lunches too, but that meant that I got cheez whiz and pickles on white bread, an apple, something by Little Debbie, and I bought a carton of milk. TBH I loved it!

    • Lea G says...

      I pack the lunches but hubby makes dinner – Hooray for co-parenting!

  42. t says...

    Is anyone else super paranoid about their kids choking while eating at school? I stay away from grapes, cherry tomatoes, carrots, hot dogs, etc for my pre-k kids.

    • Karen says...

      My aunt was a speech therapist at a school, and told my sister and I years ago about a student she had to ended up needing speech therapy b/c she choked on a grape. Needless to say, our girls at halved-grapes for years!

    • Kari says...

      I’m a speech therapist, and I have a 3 year old. His favorite food in the world happens to be hot dogs, and he loves grapes too. I happily send both items to school (daycare) with him, but I chop both thoroughly…like, not even in halves…I cut into thirds or quarters.

  43. Virginie says...

    Must be a lot of work… It sounds lazy, but I’m so glad my daughter have a healthy lunch served at school ! A french mom.

    • I’m in The south and I feel the same! My daughters lunch in Nice is perfect, and very affordable. I’m thankful for our programs.

    • t says...

      It doesn’t sound lazy at all! Like moms don’t have enough to do?

    • CD says...

      I love finding this thread! I teach English as a Second Language in the Bay Area, and the one thing all my week-day morning moms mention is how much time they have to spend packing lunches now that they live in the US! Apparently, Turkey, Korea, Japan and China all provide kid-approved lunch options in public schools.

      Here’s an interesting series idea: what international moms find surprising about parenting in the US…

    • Maddy says...

      Seconding CD! Would love to hear some international mom voices speak about the US! ;)

    • Same thought, I’m so glad my kids have a healthy, hot, family-style lunch served at school. Also might sound lazy, but I know if I had to pack, I’d be really creative at the beginning of the year, and then it would all go downhill. I also like the comforting notion of all the kids eating the same thing, together. Not a public school, but in the US.

  44. Sara W says...

    In Toronto where I live the school board has banned all nut products so we can’t fall back on the fave pb&j. Thanks for posting some new ideas. The inspiration is very welcome!

    • Julie says...

      Have you tried pumpkin seed butter, or sunflower seed butter? They’re not nuts, and they taste great!

    • mallory says...

      We use Sun Butter (made out of sunflower seeds) and it tastes like peanut butter on a sandwich with bread and jelly to get around the no nuts rule :)

    • t says...

      I know a lot of people like sun butter but I don’t think it tastes like peanut butter. It takes just like what it is to me: sunflower seeds. yuck.

    • Savannah says...

      Sunflower seed butter is epic.

  45. Laura says...

    I know it is something cultural…but just the perspective of packing the whole week lunch boxes on Sunday sounds like promoting a very unhealthy way of teaching, how to eat to anyone.
    In fact, the amount of sugar that has white bread and any Jam or butter just sounds really out of balance. It’s hard to believe for a mediterranean that a kind could have just a sandwich and fruit for lunch.

    • t says...

      It is! But you are limited by nut free rules, no option to heat lunches and not being able to keep food cold either.

      What do you feed them?

    • SR says...

      I’m unsure of what you mean by it promoting an unhealthy way of consumption. I personally meal prep on Sundays because I know that it will a) keep me eating a balanced, healthy diet and b) prevent eating out due to lack of time, etc., and c) save money. I do not yet have children, but I will likely prep their meals on Sundays, as well. I agree that sandwiches and fruit can be unbalanced, but I also think that mamas do the best they can with what they have – and it’s definitely better than our public school food!

    • Laura says...

      vegetable ( from leak soup to pumping with many other veggies) on a Thermos, rosted salmon/another fish or chicken or quinoa salad, with oven potatoes or lettuce. And a bit of cheese for dessert.
      More or less is always something like this.

  46. Katie C says...

    Maybe someone already mentioned Planetbox lunch kits, but I just wanna give a shoutout because we’re now into our 5th year of using one and we LOVE IT! It really makes packing and eating lunch simple and fun. Anyways, as far as what I put in the lunch kit goes, I keep it fairly simple but always mix it up. My son (who will be 9 in December) likes a nice wide variety of foods, but he likes it all best when it’s basic. I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve packed a sandwich in his lunch in the last 5 years. He’ll eat a sandwich now and then but it’s not really his jam. He’d much rather eat the elements separately. The Planetbox we have is the one with 4 compartments (not counting the itty bitty centre one). When I make lunches I typical do a protein such as a boiled egg or some type of meat or cheese in one, a fruit in another, the big compartment usually gets a couple different kinds of cut up veg (today was purple cabbage and cucumber), and the 4th compartment gets some crackers or some other type of carb. In the itty bitty compartment I like to put a little something sweet like a date or a couple chocolate chips. I always get comments from the school staff saying how good my son’s lunches always look. They’re nothing fancy but they’re always a hit. I highly recommend looking up #planetbox on Instagram for inspiration.

    • t says...

      How do you keep the food cold so the meat/eggs don’t go bad?

    • Katie C says...

      They’re eaten within just a few hours of coming out of the fridge so they’re always fine. If that’s a concern for you though you can get a carrier for the Planetbox that has a sleeve in it that you could slip and ice pack into.

    • Robin says...

      I’ve been using a yumbox (also bento style, and a bit smaller and lighter than the planetbox for my four year old – I wanted something he could open himself). I just pack it in an insulated lunch bag (from soyoung, but there are tons of options out there) with a slim freeze pack. I love the multiple compartments – it makes it easier to pack something that looks tasty and is still healthy.

  47. irene says...

    I only get to pack lunch my 2nd grade 3 times a week since they also have pizza day (Thursday) in school and only spend half a day every Friday. Here’s what I do: Chicken (either rotisserie, adobo, fried, nuggets) for Monday, Spring rolls for Tuesday and pasta for Wednesday.

  48. Marie says...

    I always love these articles for my own work lunch inspiration. When I was in grade school, I remember my dad making me teriyaki chicken for lunch. Now, I make pasta salads and put those in a glass snap container. (Usually I do pasta/broccoli or pasta/pesto.)

    Also, does anyone have any recommendations for lunch containers? I would love a watertight container for ease of throwing it in my purse. Thanks :)

  49. abby says...

    Every so often, my mom would toss tortilla chips or a tortilla in a bag, add another bag of grated cheddar cheese, and put in a paper plate. I’d pop the components in the microwave at lunch and either have nachos or a quesadilla! It was one of my favorites and I’m sure one of hers for how easy it was to pack. Not exactly full of nutrition but it was a fun break from pb&j.

  50. Nancey says...

    My Daughter could eat PB & J every single day, but I try to mix it up a little bit with some pasta and sauce or ravioli and sauce. Or my FAMOUS beach sandwich (Turkey and a bit of mayo, on rye with some lettuce, very magical indeed!) sometimes she asks me to just give her healthy snacks (yeah, she’s weird) so I cut up a red bell pepper and put fresh lemon on it, some small cut up carrots with balsamic, etc.. lots of cut up fruits and then I throw in a cookie ( I like when she can still be a kid for crying out loud, she’s 12!)

    • SR says...

      FAMOUS! (love that!)

  51. Nikki B says...

    When I use to nanny I would prepare the lunches everyday and draw the kids little comics for the lunch boxes. They were a BIG fan of cold grilled cheese sandwiches, cold beans and hot dogs in Tupperware containers and my favorite growing up cream cheese and jam roll ups on tortillas.

    Pretty much anything rolled up in a tortilla is fancy and exciting.

    • Tis says...

      I don’t get how to make a tortilla work in school lunch! How do you present it so it doesn’t fall apart? Do you roll it crazy tight in plastic wrap? People talk about cutting it into pinwheels, but why don’t they unravel? PLEASE explain these mysteries!!

  52. Sammi says...

    These lunches look delicious. I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the importance of school lunches, though! The Lunch Tray is a fantastic blog all about improving school food and the politics surrounding it. This article is particularly relevant, I think: http://www.thelunchtray.com/what-would-school-meals-look-like-if-you-werent-allowed-to-pack-your-kids-lunch/

    There’s some great work going on around the country, including the introduction of free school meals for all children in NYC, Chicago, Detroit, and Dallas, and Farm to School programs that are connecting local farms with school cafeterias. Also check out School Meals that Rock and Food Corps for some serious inspiration.

    Also surely there’s something in eating the same meals alongside classmates? Creating a communal, social, equal lunch table?

    • Jen says...

      I agree! I loved the Italian school lunch in the post a couple weeks back.
      I wonder how hard it would be to work around dietary restrictions like allergies…or those based on personal, cultural, and religious beliefs.
      By fourth grade, I started packing my lunch full-time. School lunch was no longer “cool.”

  53. Anna says...

    This is a great post, as we’re always struggling to think of new ideas for our daughter’s lunchbox! It’s really interesting, though, to read about people packing nuts in their kids’ lunches. We live in the UK and our schools are generally nut-free due to the number of children with severe allergies (my daughter happens to be one of them). Do schools in the US allow nuts? I’m just curious!

    Our daughter has recently taken a liking to quiche, having previously refused to eat it! We’ve started baking one on a Sunday evening and giving her slices of that in her lunchbox. It seems to travel OK and makes a nice change to sandwiches!

    • Nicole Hindley says...

      Our preschool here in Palo Alto, California is nut-free. Once the kids are in public elementary school they have special nut-free tables for the kids with allergies to sit at. Food allergies are very hard to live with I hope your kiddo out grows the allergy.

    • Marie says...

      Our schools have been ok with nuts in general but if one child has an allergy in a class, that class will have to be nut free.

    • Kelly says...

      As someone who is allergic to most nuts (except, surprisingly, peanuts) I know it can be difficult, but I’d recommend substituting sunflower seed butter!

      It’s soooo good and allergen-friendly!!

    • mallory says...

      Our preschool is nut free, and I second the sunbutter suggestion!

    • E says...

      I have taught in two private schools and both of them have refused to call themselves nut free. Their thinking was that it provides a false sense of security because parents of kids without allergies are probably not going to be as careful as those with allergies when packing lunches. It is an interesting debate though. We have also had tables for kids with nuts to go, instead of singling out the kids with allergies.

    • Sasha says...

      E, I like the idea of a nuts table, so much better than a nut free table. Forcing kids with allergies to sit at the “special” table seems so ostracizing. Kids could choose whether to bring nuts or not. Lunch should be a relaxed and social time for everyone.
      Moms with kids with allergies, is there some reason this wouldn’t work? Teachers, would the policing be too difficult?

  54. Karen says...

    When I was in elementary school, my mother would bring my sister and me lunch on her days off. Often times, I requested that she’d bring Subway or another fast food favorite. Seeing my mother walk through the front door with a Subway sandwich or Happy Meal in her hand as my class walked towards the lunch room always brightened my day. All the kids were jealous and I think I even started a trend. This happened maybe twice a year which is what made it extra special. There is a deeper, emotional significance to why she went out of her way to do this – which I took for granted as a kid – and now, as an adult, hope to do the same with my children. Bless my mother.

    • Angeleno says...

      My mom did this too! Your memory made me smile. I’d totally forgotten about that! Ah, the Happy Meal.

  55. S says...

    Does anyone have their elementary school kids pack their own lunch? It seems like a good activity for a little one to learn how to feed themselves.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s a great idea, S!

    • Ellen says...

      Since I was in year 2 we had to choose our own snacks and get everything ready-mum made us a sandwich and we had places in the pantry and freezer where the snacks were :)

    • Sara says...

      My children pack their own lunches the night before. They need to include a fruit and a veggie and some protein. Pasta salad, egg salad and Caesar salad are their favorites.

    • Yes! I started doing this this year with my first- and third-grader and it is amazing. We work on putting it together the night before while I’m cleaning up from dinner, i.e. they do the work while I wash dishes and give directions. They are completely in charge of picking out what they want to eat (main dish, fruit, 2 snacks, and a milk or a yogurt smoothie) and they portion out what they think they will eat. The amounts they take are often surprisingly smaller than what I would give them, and they rarely come home with food left in their lunchbox. They haven’t once complained about having to do it, and I no longer hate packing lunches.

    • Lesley says...

      Yes, my mum had us packing our own lunches from the age of 8. Partly, because she worked full time, but also because she thought it was a job we could manage and offered us some responsibility. She was very keen to ensure we knew how to be independent and this was one way we could do this.

  56. Nina says...

    The tip about hot meals in a Thermos conjured a vivid and surprising memory of having soup (homemade onion or lentil, or Heinz tomato) in my ‘My Little Pony’ flask on the chilliest days at primary school. It really did feel luxurious, and like a little bit of care from home in the middle of a school day.

    • Caitlin says...

      I had the exact same thought. I LOVED my pink my little pony lunchbox and matching thermos…kind of miss it today.

    • I had the MLP too!

  57. Nicole says...

    My favorite favorite ‘adult’ lunch box lunch is: kale sautéed with garlic and red pepper flakes and olive oil, over brown basmati rice and topped with a fried crispy egg. Its so good and it even tastes good at room temp. Top with Sriracha. So good

    • Sasha says...

      Oooooh!!!

      I’m a fan of the crispy fried egg (especially topped with Panko crispies) on practically EVERYTHING.

  58. I made a sunbutter sandwich for my 1st grader and pb&j for my 3rd grader EVERY.DAY last year. I begged to pack something else. Tried and failed to send different things. Had a whole line up ready for 2nd and 4th grade this year. Guess what? Sunbutter and PB&J. Every day.
    So, I am not fighting it…and I don’t have to guess what to make every am.

  59. Mac says...

    I was just talking about this with a friend! My daughter just started kindergarten and packing her lunch has been surprisingly stressful. For the last two weeks she has requested, every day, “homemade” lunchables. Cold cut, cheese, crackers, a fruit, a veggie, a dark chocolate square, and a note. She can’t read yet, but that daily Mom heart Georgie is *very* important.

    • Ellie says...

      This is basically what I pack for my husband and me daily. I struggled to get my act together to bring my own lunch to work and was spending too much money (and too many calories) eating out. I had a revelation earlier this year when I traveled for a weekend with some friends and their 18 month old. I saw what they packed for toddler food (crackers, goldfish, cheese, hummus, carrots, berries, olives) and the lightbulb went off when I realized that’s basically all I wanted!

      Now we buy a variety of things each week and change it up for variation, but it’s more of a picky buffet of items than a sandwich or salad (things I’ve never loved the taste of after having been packed). Last week it was maple honey sliced turkey, munster, apples, celery, hummus, and Wasa crackers. This week it’s turkey, swiss, Tabbouleh, hummus, celery, olives, and labneh. So easy and I love that I can easily control portions!

  60. Callie says...

    I love these ideas and especially the unexpected fanciness of the cloth napkins in the last picture! I am confused though, these sandwiches sound so nice but here in Australia nut butters or nut products of any kind (sometimes even chickpeas!) are strictly forbidden for anyone at a school. Is this not a thing in America?

    • Usually peanut butter is banned, but almond butter/sunflower is okay.

    • Jaclyn says...

      Depends on the school. Some have a nut free area for kids that have allergies. Some schools are just peanut free and some are totally nut free. My daughter’s day care is 100% nut free. So i feel your pain!

    • Our city school has no restrictions on nuts at all. Not many kids pack, however, as the whole district has free lunches (and breakfasts).

  61. Sara DeRose says...

    Given that so many children today have life threatening food allergies, it would have been great to see a school lunch post that was at least sensitive to this fact. Seeing all the nuts referenced in this post without regard to this issue gave this mom of a peanut, walnut, and pecan allergic first grader gave me five heart attacks. Joanna, I’m surprised that your Brooklyn school allows peanuts. We are in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn and all the schools around here are peanut-free.

    Also, with Halloween coming up I’d like to take this opportunity to share info about the Teal Pumpkin Project with you. https://www.foodallergy.org/education-awareness/teal-pumpkin-project

    Sara (mom to 2 food allergic littles living in Brooklyn)

    • I had the exact same thought! Both of my sons’ schools (a pre-school and elementary school in Brooklyn) are nut-free. Allergy awareness is a huge topic and this post completely lacked any acknowledgment of the issue. My younger son is severely allergic to several nuts and if his school wasn’t nut-free, it would be a huge issue. Actually, probably a deal breaker.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much for your comments! that sounds so stressful, and i’m sorry your kids have to deal with that. you’re right, it’s definitely important to be aware of, and i should have mentioned it in this post. toby’s public school says that kids are allowed to bring nuts as long as no one in the class is allergic. anton’s school is nut-free, so we pack other things for him from this list:
      https://cupofjo.com/2014/09/easy-school-lunches/

      thank you again for your notes. xo

    • Rebecca says...

      I read the post as parents commenting on what works for their family. What works for theirs may not work for mine and vice versa. Take the ideas that are great for your family and leave the ones that aren’t. The majority of the suggestions didn’t relate to nuts of any kind.

    • mallory says...

      Swap sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds) for peanut butter in any recipe and you’re good to go!

    • Avi says...

      while I think this is a very important topic (and I myself take extra steps to think about the nut free kids such as washing my kids hands before sending them to school if they ate nuts for breakfast), we can’t expect the general public to alter everything they do to accommodate allergies. An online post saying our own children eat peanut butter at school in no way puts any other child in danger. Sub whatever you feel you need to to accommodate your own family. Someone with a gluten allergy could tell her she cant post about pasta or bread and those with egg allergies could tell her she’s insensitive for not mentioning some bread is made with eggs, etc. Thank you for the Halloween candy link, that’s useful. And it’s reasonable to suggest alternatives to any allergy you have experience with, as that may help others.

  62. Haley says...

    As a 26 year old with no kids, I’m full on copying all these notes and recipes for my own little lunch. Is it weird to write myself little love notes, too?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i think nothing sounds better than that :)

    • Ellie says...

      Haha no! I just replied to a post a few back with the same sentiments (and some ideas). I don’t have kids either, but I pack myself similar food for lunch. I literally look up ideas on Pinterest sometimes lol.

    • Rachel Adrianna says...

      I do the same thing with each “kids’ lunch” post… and I’m 27 with no kids :)

    • Dana says...

      I really like the note to yourself idea! I’ve been trying to practice meditation in the mornings and a note to remind myself of the intention I set that morning sounds perfect; it’s so easy to forget about it.

  63. Amy P says...

    I was all excited to “meal plan” my daughter’s snacks heading into preschool, but she mostly likes the same things over and over (I get it; it’s comforting to know what’s going to be in your lunch when you open it, especially if the day at school has required a lot of going-with-the-flow). Admittedly, it makes my mornings more routine and I can do it on auto-pilot while dealing with all the other morning stuff.

    So snack for my now-first-grader and my preschooler son is typically cheese and crackers, grape tomatoes, a pickle wrapped in ham, grapes, and maybe a date-coconut ball.
    Lunch is generally a butter and honey/jam sandwich (sometimes a mini bagel with cream cheese), sliced apples, and assorted sliced veg.

    If it’s going to be something different, I generally give them a heads-up. They’re not going to throw a fit at school when they open the container and find something they weren’t wanting or anticipating, but every fit that they hold inside at school is going to add to the post-school mini-meltdown ;)

    • katherine says...

      A pickle wrapped in ham!!!! Amy P, you shot me back immediately to being 6 with that. My mom used to make us those for our lunches! I loved them

  64. My son ate pb&j sandwiches EVERY day for the entire time he was at primary school, until the day a letter came home declaring the school to be a ‘nut free zone’ and all peanut products were now banned from packed lunches!!

  65. Jessica says...

    My six year old is very risk averse when it comes to food and requests the same things everyday: fruit and cheese. Essentially her lunch ends up like a fruit salad with three to four different kinds of fruit and the cheese. I did a fruit CSA this year and it was The Best Idea Ever because I had fresh fruit each week and wasn’t blowing our budget at Whole Foods on produce. I look forward to the day she’ll want to try something new or out of her comfort area, like a sandwich!

  66. Robin says...

    LUNCH! That age old conundrum. I’ve packed lunches for 6 years now, every day. My kids are funny. One loves sameness. Would prefer to eat the same thing every day. The other is all about variety and wants something new and different every day. They always get some variation of the 3-legged stool: protein/veggie/fruit. Today they both had leftovers, penne pasta with pesto, peas, tomatoes and crumbled bacon. I gave it to them cold, with a side of red grapes and sliced red peppers. We’ll see what comes home and whether they liked it. Lunch is a trial and error game in our house. One thing I’ve discovered they do like is finger foods from the Trader Joe’s frozen section. Mini spanakopitas, quartered masala veggie patties, sliced turkey corndogs, things like that are always a hit with them. I invested in Planet Boxes this year after hemming and hawing about it for the last several years. I don’t know why I waited so long! They are awesome! Expensive, but totally worth the investment if you can trust they won’t get lost.

  67. Heather says...

    I took my lunch nearly every day and can’t remember what I brought at all! Is that bad?! haha

  68. RBC says...

    Am I the only one whose child’s school is *nut-free*? 😣

    • Celeste says...

      No, I’m honestly surprised to see how many of these ideas include nuts or nut butter. Most schools in my area are nut-free.

    • Sherri says...

      Mine is nut free too! And we are vegetarian… need some more protein suggestions for picky eaters!

    • Alison says...

      Ditto…

    • Cait says...

      Sherri, I am veggie too – some suggestions

      eggs – hard boiled or a slice of veggie or cheese quiche
      chickpeas – in the form of hummus, baked so they are crunchy, or mixed into a salad
      black beans – ditto on the salad, in black bean soup, or as a dip with veggies/chips
      high protein yogurt

      I don’t have kids so I imagine it’s really frustrating not to be able to send PB&Js especially if that is your kid’s jam (no pun in intended.) But I feel for the parents of kids with severe nut allergies who would have to wonder if their kid would come home that day so other kids could have their preferred sandwich.

    • Marnie says...

      For the other vegetarians – my surprise “win” this year was edamame! My kids love that they get to shell it – they think it is fun. The salt helps a lot too – haha! Whenever I cook it now I make extra to pack in little containers – they keep well in the fridge for a few days. Other ideas- greek yogurt with a few frozen berries to keep it cool and sweeten it up, hard-boiled eggs, cream cheese or hummus in a wrap to make roll-ups — plus, as others comment, sunflower butter or soy-butter.

  69. VY says...

    Our daycare graciously heats up my l.o’s lunch. She has Type 1 Diabetes, so we have to count her carbs in order to know how much insulin she’ll need for lunch. We aim for low glycemic index carbs, such as whole wheat pasta with Parmesan and butter, brown rice, or a whole wheat/hi fiber pita. Typical proteins are turkey or beef meatballs, pieces chicken schnitzel. We always do cheese and crackers for snack. Typical veggies are cucumber slices, steamed haricot verts, red pepper slices. Apple slices, a clementine, or whatever fruit looks good for dessert.

  70. Meg says...

    My oldest hated bread as a youngster. Inconceivable, I know. This really complicated life once she started kindergarten and sandwiches were out of the question. One day, after realizing she would eat pancakes (AKA gateway bread), I tried making two mini PBJs out of silver dollar size pancakes. I don’t know if it was the familiar pancakes, the novelty of something new in her lunch box, or how cute and “kid sized” they were.
    She loved them! My other kiddos still ask for pancake sandwiches often to shake up the lunch routine. (Nut butter and fresh berries, fried egg and ham, pear with ricotta and honey, etc.) You know when everyone is full and you have like two pancakes worth of batter left in the bottom of the bowl? Boom, tomorrow’s lunch.

  71. Katie says...

    My school let us drop off our lunchboxes at the kitchen where they’d be stored in the fridge until lunch, then when we went through line to get our milk we’d pick up our food. Do kids have to keep their lunchboxes in their backpacks all morning??

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      toby’s school does, but then again they eat lunch at 10:55, so it’s not that much time in the backpack! basically enough time for the cheese to get to room temp and yummy :)

    • jill c. says...

      My kids have to keep their lunches in their backpack so I make sure their lunchboxes are made with a little mesh holder inside so that I can put in an ice pack. which really helps.

    • Frannie says...

      My kiddo’s school doesn’t have access to a fridge for all the kids. We pack ice packs. They are still cool at the end of the day, so they seem to work! She complained that her banana was too cold… so no more bananas for her in her lunch bag :)

    • Abesha1 says...

      What kind of ice packs are the posters below finding effective?

  72. K says...

    My dad used to write notes for me and hide them in my sandwiches. Sometimes actually inside the sandwich. He would write me jokes or just say hi and sign it from a pseudonym, I think it took me a while to work out it was him. It always makes me smile to think of that now.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha love that, k!

  73. t says...

    My twins go to a nut free school (which is such a pain). I have one adventurous eater and one very picky eater. Picky eater gets cheese and crackers and fruit almost every day. Non picky eater gets something different every day (today was leftover grilled chicken, rice, fruit).

    I realized I was putting way too many things in their lunchbox for variety and they would only eat one item. I have now gone down to 3 things max so it isn’t as overwhelming (they are 4) and they eat it all.

    I am confused by all the avocado going into lunch boxes. are they whole or are the kids fine eating it brown?

    • jill c. says...

      i too am confused about the avocado!

    • Kitty says...

      Where we live (Toronto) every school board is nut-free! I actually thought that was the case everywhere. We go to a school where every kid gets hot lunch though so it’s not the end of the world.

    • our kids love avocado! use it as smear in a sandwich or chopped up with baby shrimp, tomato and a touch of lemon to keep it fresh. they’ll also eat it halved, seed removed, with a sprinkle of sea salt. i place it face down in the tin or cover it with pepperoni to keep it from browning.

    • t says...

      Becky, my kids LOVE avocado too but one little brown spot and it is all over for them. i will just have to keep the avocado meals to weekends and dinners to avoid browning because even face down and with lemon they still turn a bit for me.

  74. Alex says...

    I’ll be starting this reality next year and it’s never too early to get ideas!

  75. Katherine says...

    When I was in high school I was so stressed and anxious that my dad started making lunch for me again. This meant PB&Js, but cut into fun shapes just like I loved them when I was a little kid. It was such a small thing but really brightened up my dark high school years.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so sweet, katherine.

    • Justine A Clark says...

      Your dad is the best!

    • Sasha says...

      Katherine, high school sucks.

      What an awesome dad. In high school, my mom have me a $1 every day, to buy a giant chocolate chip cookie for lunch. Probably not the best nutrition!

  76. Maureen says...

    I usually do two big crock pot meals chicken or beef during the weekends and my girls get those two meals rotated for lunch and dinner during the week. I usually add in quesadillas and spaghetti and meatballs to change things up somewhere in the week. I also steam veggies in the AM and add to the main meal since salad takes too long to wash and cut up everything. (And like last week, sometimes they get left over takeout all week when I have a busy weekend and don’t have time to cook!) And they love that even though I am feeling the guilt. :(

  77. KRS says...

    I am the lucky mom whose 4-year-old loves broccoli. Cannot tell you, how easy that makes my life. So its 1) broccoli/baby carrots + 2)chicken pieces/homemade chicken-veggie meatballs/bean-quinoa-veggie balls (all heated and packed in foil, stays warm till lunch) + 3)a slice of buttered bread/crackers/Indian-bread roti piece(buttered) or 3) babybell cheese. I made the (2) in batches and freeze them so I can mix them up. Other changes are rolled bread and omelette, Jelly sandwich, home-made Lunchables. But i struggle with healthy snacks other than fruits (nut free school :(). My sister who is an expert at food sciences warned me against kids yogurts available in the market. So I had to throw that option out. Would love suggestions.

    • M says...

      To avoid the grocery store yogurt (so much sugar!) we mix homemade applesauce with plain yogurt. Our kiddos (4 and 1) love it. The applesauce is super easy (steam apple chunks with peel on until super soft, blend with a little cinnamon and nutmeg) and keeps in the fridge for a week or two.

    • Amy P says...

      My kids love a pickle wrapped in ham or salami, date-coconut balls (I mostly follow Shutterbean’s recipe, with extra coconut so it’s less sweet), popcorn, and Laughing Cow cheese triangles with Wheat Thins crackers are exciting for them. We eat a lot of plain yogurt with strawberry rhubarb sauce (my MIL makes a ton every spring and we freeze it) and homemade granola – the Rubbermaid Take-Along containers work perfectly for this so that’s another go-to snack!

    • Marnie says...

      Even most of the “adult” yogurt is full of sugar! Our trick is plain yogurt with a few frozen berries mixed in. They thaw by lunchtime but help keep the yogurt from getting warm and runny (yuck!) plus add some sweetness. She likes it and eats it, but still begs me for “yogurt tubes” and yogurt drinks. Sigh.

    • KRS says...

      Thanks M & Amy. Yogurt with applesauce, just brilliant. And granola, smacking my head, should of thought about that. These are some great ideas. Thanks!

    • KRS says...

      Thanks Marnie!

  78. Heather Robertson says...

    My daughter started daycare at six weeks old. She stayed at the same school until she turned three. Her teacher made breakfast and lunch from scratch daily- homemade noodles, etc. When she graduated to Pre-K I was devastated at the thought that I would be packing her lunch and the fact that my already thin child would starve because her lunch would be different. She is picky. I am picky. I have no vision when it comes to a lunch box! I bought her a thermos and when the school menu doesn’t sound appealing to her, I pack leftovers. She comes home and tells me that she “made a happy plate” and is over the moon about it! A thermos is the key to success in our house + a bento box for the special add-ons!

  79. Amy says...

    I don’t understand how people are suggesting anything with nuts in it…my kids entire school experience thus far is that peanut butter or anything at all with a nut in it is banned because of children with deathly allergies.
    I wish I could, but it’s always a no-go, and I get it. My daughters kindergarten teacher even has a peanut allergy!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, so interesting what the different rules are! anton’s preschool is nut-free and seed-free, but at toby’s public elementary school you can pack whatever you want as long as the kids in your specific class don’t have an allergy.

    • Raissomat says...

      Actually, in Switzerland peanut or severe nut allergies are extremely rare. Noone tells you what to pack in your kids lunch, only sugar is out of question for the smaller kids.
      I’m surprised about all these moms commenting about deadly allergies. We don’t even ever eat peanuts outside christmas season but hazelnuts and almonds are in almost every swiss kids diet.

  80. Julie D. says...

    I grew up in France, so the concept of packed lunches is completely foreign to me. I was in a panic when I learned that my son’s preschool had banned all nuts and nut products… no peanut or almond butter sandwiches! no trail mix! Thankfully we have the option of ordering hot meals for him from a local school caterer, which is a Godsend for Fridays! Otherwise we just pack the same as for us: Sunday’s leftovers on Mondays, some kind of salad (corn + black beans and tomatoes, rice +beets +hard boiled eggs) on Tuesdays, some kind of pasta on Wednesdays and a sandwich + crudités on Thursdays… So far so good… but we are only 4 weeks in!! I am afraid this will get old pretty fast, for him and for me!!

  81. Katie says...

    I am a big fan of “100 days of real food” cookbook and lunch suggestions for kids! Her blog and social media is full of good ideas I have used.

    • Celeste says...

      I have the book , gotta chase down the rest!

    • Anna says...

      I just checked this out per your recommendation and I feel like my life has changed. THANK YOU!

  82. My 20-month-old started full-time daycare a few months ago and I was dreading the thought of having to pack her lunch every day. How would I come up with ideas? Would she eat it? How would I get the portion size correct? Surprisingly, the right lunch box helped solve most of my problems! I got her a Yumbox (one of the many bento-inspired lunch boxes available on Amazon). But what I love about it is that it’s only two pieces – a tray insert with different compartments, and the actual box itself. The compartments have adorable Parisian themed drawings that remind you what to put in there – grains, veg, fruit, protein, dairy, and even a tiny compartment for a treat or a dip. AND it’s totally leak proof! So I can throw in some yogurt or applesauce and it’s no problem. Now I just pull out the little tray every evening, fill the compartments according to category, and call it a day. Except the odd day when I just fill all of them with mac and cheese and know my daughter is psyched when she opens it. :)

    • Katie says...

      The bonus of the Yumboxes is how easy they are for little kids to open. Helps them begin to feel a little more independent at the lunch table. Not such a big issue for a 20 month old, but definitely for my son who is 4 and has had some fine motor delays.

      And I also love how easy they are to clean!

    • Liz says...

      Have you actually tried yogurt/applesauce? We love our Yumbox but I am still hesitant to try putting liquid-y foods in it, especially since I think it is stored upright on the shelve at school.

    • Yes I have tried both yogurt and applesauce! And they have stayed in their compartments; no leaking. However, I send it in a lunchbox that allows the Yumbox to lie flat, and it’s stored in her cubby. But I know the trip to school (she takes the train with her dad) offers no guarantees about how that bag will be handled…it all seems to turn out fine! Maybe start with a Greek yogurt since it’s so thick?

  83. Rachel says...

    I use those compartment boxes, and love them. Bagels with cream cheese are a big hit for lunch. I pack that with almonds & grapes. I always try to make sure there’s one fruit; grapes, kiwis, berries, tangerine, etc. Then it’s usually turkey sandwiches, tortellini, pb & J. A favorite is Ina’s turkey meatloaf from the dinner the night before.

  84. Sargjo says...

    This year I got those five compartment lunchbots, about 500 small lidded dip disposables, and then, AND THEN, made a plan called Tour Around the World. Monday is Greece (souvlaki leftovers, pita chips, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives from costco). Tuesday is Mexico (quesadilla, salsa, fruit, avocado, black beans). Wednesday is Japan (rice ball, chicken teriyaki, teriyaki sauce, cucumbers, edamame). Thursday is France (cheese, crackers or bread, salad mix, apples, Nutella). Friday is Wild Card but usually Italy (tortellini, salami, mozzarella balls, tiny salad mix and salad dressing). Then I HONEST TO GOD traced the bento box on paper and then wrote M-F in each box with each box’s component. I have never done anything so type A before but it means that I know exactly what to have on hand, and assembly takes five minutes even at 6:45am before coffee. I just have to remember that “this box gets apples.” You guys the bots come home empty every day. I am a star.

    • That sounds amazing! I wish you packed MY lunch!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      same!!

    • Chicca says...

      Nutella should go on Italy day lol ;)

    • Sasha says...

      Sargjo, you sound like such a fun mom! Wish you could pack my lunch.

    • Louisa says...

      Genius genius!

    • Dee says...

      OMG I am so laughing :) You are a star Mom!!

    • Katie says...

      Sargjo – you are a star! this is AWESOME. strong work!!! (:

  85. Karen T. says...

    For the love of god, who are these kids eating spinach strata and gyoza??!?! In addition to the usual salami sandwiches (my high schooler) and PB&Js (my 5th grader), I might get a little wild and pack a tortilla/Nutella/banana wrap for my little guy. I’m so unoriginal and uninspired packing lunches everyday. Give me summer vacation with watermelon and salsa and chips poolside any day!!

    • KRS says...

      If you give them variety since childhood they eventually start eating everything. PB&J and salami sandwich is very American lunch, and nothing wrong if they eat only that but most kids around the world and thankfully now, here too, eat a variety of food. There has been a little change in home-packed school lunches according to my Pre-Ker’s teacher, kids are more adventurous. That said some kids are just tough to please anyway.

    • Sasha says...

      My just turned 19 to is adventurous NOW, but for many, many long years all she wanted was fruit.

      Truly, you can present kids food all you want, but they may still be picky in spite of your best efforts. (We ate home made whole foods, huge variety. ….quinoa and kale way before anyone knew what that was, she didn’t say any of it).

    • Cherie says...

      Ha ha the one thing I took away from all of the above was ‘why didn’t I think of gyoza!’ My kids LOVE gyoza and I’m always looking for easy, thermos friendly options. Different strokes

  86. Eliot says...

    When my daughter was young I’d make big batches of turkey chili, lentil soup, and beef stew, freeze them in small containers, thaw one in the fridge over night and heat up up the thermos in the morning. Also a nice salami on a rustic bread, loaded with greens, is never a bad thing.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that sounds so delicious, eliot!

  87. Katie says...

    This is so helpful for grown-up lunches, too!

    On a related note, I’ve been looking for an eco-friendly, locally made/sourced, dishwasher safe, lunch container situation for about six years. Bonus if it’s microwavable and/or durable (see: not glass), too. Would love any leads on this!

  88. Lana says...

    You know, I used to follow all these websites about packing real food lunches. I bought the fancy lunch boxes, rubber smoothie molds and thermos sets. I would be so proud of myself when Grace’s lunch looked like a well-balanced dream of color. But then she started coming home from school and much of what I packed hadn’t been eaten (and she’s a great eater!!). One night she begged me to please just pack her a peanut butter sandwich and some Cheeze-its. It felt like I was failing at the parenting game but then I realized, it doesn’t matter what I pack if she’s not eating it. And is there anything else than being hungry halfway between lunchtime and the end of the day?! Plus, second grade is just as much about feeling like you’re part of the group as it is about eating good foods!! So now I pack her things she likes alongside things I’ll hope she eats. Home runs for us: Mandarin oranges and pineapple chunks, Justin’s individual but butter packs, spinach leaves, any kind of whole grain muffin (zucchini, banana, carrot, etc), a square of dark chocolate, ham and cheese rolls, tiny rainbow potatoes, kettle chips, string cheese, pears, edamame beans, oatmeal or refried beans in a thermos when its cold out. It’s easier on the both of us not to get too crazy!
    Sometimes, I feel like being totally cool, I pack her a tootsie roll but I draw the line at fruit roll-up’s and most junk food.

    • Lana says...

      Justin’s individual NUT butter packs. Whoops! Hahah!

    • Maureen says...

      Very practical. Thank you

    • Amy says...

      I hear ya. It’s not really that big of a deal. My daughter’s school has lots of low income families who struggle to pack their kids much of a lunch or I see some kids come with a can of pop and bag of chips. If you are packing your child a ‘good’ lunch, even if it’s plain, uninteresting but it’s what they will eat, it’s a molehill, not a mountain to stress over.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “Plus, second grade is just as much about feeling like you’re part of the group as it is about eating good foods!! ” yes!! toby asks for a peanut butter sandwich pretty much every day, and i just try to sneak in some seafood!

    • Sasha says...

      Those lunches sound fabulous though! ! I think you’re doing a great job.

    • KylieO says...

      I completely agree. I think 21st century mums put far too much pressure on themselves. Have you ever seen that meme about mums in the 80s who just “fed you sometimes?” I grew up eating a sandwich, 2 pieces of fruit and popcorn or something every day for school lunches. I love food and don’t think it deterred me in any way from enjoying a whole variety of food! These ideas sound wonderful and hats off to mums who do these fabulous lunches, but compared to some other kids who eat junk filled lunches every day, I’m happy for my kids to be a little bored with sandwiches and fruit.

    • Andrea says...

      but butter, sounds delish ;) loved this comment and point of view SO much. My daughter just started grade one and I really needed someone to remind me of exactly this. Thank you. xxo

  89. jill c. says...

    Apples and cheddar or mozzarella cheese are a constant go to for my daughter who refuses to eat a sandwich at school. I always stick in cucumbers and whole baby tomatoes. Once in awhile she’ll eat cream cheese with jelly rolled up in a tortilla (which i then slice into smaller pieces). My son doesn’t like most of what my daughter likes to eat so it can get tricky packing for the both of them. But they do both like spaghetti which i’ll put in a small thermos and pack extra parmesan cheese for them to add themselves. Oh and I try to sneak in a special sweet treat most days to surprise them.

    also – i use Lunchbot containers which I have had for YEARS!!!! they are so easy to clean b/c they are stainless steel and they prevent me from spending extra money on things like ziplock bags (i think i am the only person i know who never buys ziplock bags). I highly recommend them! They last for ages!

  90. Meg says...

    My son, a 5th grader, insists on the same lunch everyday, which i always prepare the night before: half of a turkey sandwich, sliced red or orange peppers (accepts baby carrots as a sub) and a small piece of chocolate from Aldi. I used to toss in a bag of chips, but he told me that he never has enough time to get to the chips so not to bother. ok then! he’s not a big eater.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “accepts baby carrots as a sub” = hahaha

      kids are so hilarious. mine are so specific with their requests, too!

  91. Heidi says...

    My Pre-K aged daughter isn’t fond of sandwiches, so I make a big batch of Kodiak Cakes pancakes on Sunday, and send two (smallish) pancakes for lunch in one of those hard plastic sandwich containers with a side of fruit (berries, grapes, apple slices) and a yogurt tube. The pancakes have a lot of protein and they freeze well. I spread with a little butter and a few drops of syrup or a little jam to sweeten, but not enough that they sit and get soggy- the butter acts as a little barrier. I add a shake of rainbow sprinkles on top and she loves it!

    • I’m a big fan of the Kodiak cakes. Lots of protein but they don’t feel “heavy”.
      They have a muffin recipe on the box, too that used mashed banana but I bet could be subbed with pumpkin puree or other fruit.

  92. Lucy says...

    Costco (and probably Trader’s) sell miniature frozen crab cakes. I realize not all kids eat shellfish, but if yours do, it’s easy to pop ten or twenty of these in the oven while you are making dinner (they warm in five minutes). And they are easy to eat at school because each one is a little bite. Also, gnocchi or other pasta with butter, salt and parmesan cheese, and pack raw cherry tomatoes on the side for the veg.

  93. Lauren says...

    My kids get the hot school lunch. It grosses me out a little, but they both love it and it’s one less thing for me to think about.

  94. Samantha says...

    We keep it really simple. My new 4 year old gets some fruit, yogurt, a veggie like carrot sticks or cucumber slices and a ‘main dish.’ Some examples of the main dish are turkey cheese and ranch sandwich, sun butter and jelly sandwich (nut free school), bagel with cream cheese and salami sandwich, quesadilla or chicken nuggets in a thermos or leftover pizza if we have it. He loves all this food and eats every bite each day, and it is really easy to throw it all together in the morning.

    • t says...

      My daughter used to love PB&J sandwiches (or PB on apple, etc) but when I gave her sunbutter &J sandwich at school (nut free) it ruined all peanut butter for her forever because she disliked it so much.

      Sun butter is my enemy.

  95. Lisa L. says...

    My 5 year old asks for the same exact thing every day: PB&J, cut up strawberries, and tortilla chips. I wish she were more adventurous but whatever, makes my life easy I guess…

  96. Keelia says...

    My own pro tip: PB&J sandwiches keep very well in the freezer. Buy a loaf of bread and make the WHOLE thing into sandwiches. Wrap them up individually in deli wrap and stick them in a freezer bag. When I don’t have time or ideas for lunch for my son, I take one of those out of the freezer the night before to thaw.

  97. Jenna says...

    All of these ideas sound so delicious! But the thing I can’t get over is that Jenny Rosenstrach’s daughters are in highschool!! It feels like I was just reading DALS last night for the first time, but Amazon says that I bought it in 2012!! I can’t believe how fast time has gone!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i know!!! time flies! i’ve been reading since her kids were super young, too.

  98. Katie says...

    Not too sure about the room temperature turkey suggestion… Unrefrigerated turkey sounds like a cause for concern to me.

  99. Summer says...

    My two kids love a lunch that we call “the appetizer”. I slice up hard salami, cheddar cheese, add some crackers or nuts, fruit & some cut up veggies (sometimes a little hummus).

    btw – I have the exact bento box that you mentioned. It is awesome. I love the Lunch Bots brand, they last forever. I bought one 10 years ago for my husband to use for his lunches…..now my kids use the exact one. :)

  100. L says...

    love all the new lunch ideas! Here’s our 5 week rotation:
    – Cheese and chicken quesadilla + tortilla chips and guac
    – Ham and swiss sandwich on baguette + cherry tomatoes and cucumber
    – Mini Trader joes pepperoni pizza + banana
    – Orzo pasta with peas and ham, (hot in a thermos) + apple slices
    – Slice of quiche + babybel and grapes
    I also usually add a square of chocolate or mini oreo for dessert!

  101. Emily says...

    My son loves hot lunch but isn’t a huge fan of leftovers which can be tricky for this working mother. Lately I’ve been boiling water while I shower in the morning then dropping some pasta in while I put my make up on. My neighbor and friend’s son also likes hot lunch and she let him buy most days last school year. She told me he gained a lot of weight and she thinks it’s b/c he was eating school lunch so I’m dealing w/ the pain of making a hot lunch in the am b/c the food at his school has so much salt and fat and not enough nutritional value. My go-to when not doing hot lunch: toasted raisin bread w/ smoked turkey and cheddar, clementine, some cracker element, yogurt. I also always include a little “lunch line” inside and b/c of that, my child struck up a sweet friendship with one of the cafeteria aids. He tells her the joke every day and has for a few years. She has become like a grandmother to him-it’s the sweetest, most unexpected friendship! Here is the link to the lunch lines, I know he looks forward to them:

    http://amzn.to/2httkh0

  102. Andrea says...

    My Mom would out a whole hot dog in our soup in the winter and pack a bun separately. We would then have an actual hot dog at lunch.

    It is one of her proudest motherhood wins to this day.

    • Amy P says...

      I can just imagine you pulling a hotdog out of a thermos of soup to tuck in a bun. Delicious, but also hilarious!

    • Emily says...

      Um, that’s amazing! Genius.

  103. MrsD says...

    Love those napkins!!

  104. Abigail says...

    Total forehead slap moment! How have I forgotten about soup in a thermos?! I’ve been using them exclusively for coffee and tea for so long now, I guess it just sort of slipped my mind. This is exactly why this childless 35 year old reads stuff meant for parents!

    • Kate says...

      No kids but I’m taking notes! Ha!

    • Alisa says...

      Ha! Yup, me too! No kids and I’ve made myself a long list of lunch ideas :)

  105. Sara says...

    My son just started Kindergarten, and his school is completely nut free. Nuts are one of the very healthy things that my kids really love, so it has been a challenge packing healthy lunches without this go-to item. The cashew butter-ricotta-honey sandwich sounds amazing!

    • Emily says...

      I find the nut free schools are creating a generation of children who don’t eat nuts even if they’re not allergic!

    • Lucy says...

      Sunflower butter works pretty well. We buy the Trader Joe’s one because it’s less expensive, but if you don’t have a Trader Joe’s, you can find it at Amazon. I prefer it to soy butter, which is another nut-free option, because it tends to have less added sugar.

    • Rachel says...

      I’ve had people recommend sun-butter (from sunflower seeds) as a nut alternative. It would probably be good with this sandwich too!

    • Lucy says...

      I agree, it’s hard! I use sun butter and my kids don’t seem to notice the difference. And granola bars without nuts is a good sustaining snack. otherwise, I stick to ham and cheese roll ups, rotisserie chicken, pasta…

    • Dominique says...

      In addition to ricotta, I’ve found that goat cheese, sunflower butter and cream cheese all make delicious substitutes for nut butters for classrooms that have nut restrictions. And for the cheeses, you can go savory or sweet with them.

    • Rosemarie Hess says...

      I had the same issue this year. Sunflower seed butter is delicious! There is a brand that specifically says that it is not made in a facility with other nuts, unlike some of the other brands. I actually like it better than peanut butter!

      I do miss being able to just give him a handful of nuts and some chocolate chips though :)

    • Our schools are nut-free too. I get it but I find it frustrating at times. My kindergarten aged son LOVES Pb&j and asks for it everyday. He said has said that other kids have brought pb&j and it’s been fine. I’m so not going to be the one that breaks the rules and then something happens.

    • Meaghan says...

      Have you tried Sunbutter? We were worried my baby had nut allergies so I had to cut out nuts while I was breastfeeding. I subbed in Sunbutter everywhere I’d normally use peanut or almond butter and was pleasantly surprised!

    • Alli says...

      As someone with a nut allergy, I must say sunbutter is awesome! My husband even prefers it to peanut butter now. I’m in Canada (Toronto) and all the schools and daycares I know of here are nut-free.

    • Alli says...

      … and pumpkin seeds, etc. are a great snack. Most schools allow seeds.

    • Betsy says...

      A nut free school is a much better idea, than the old “peanut free” table in the corner. My highly allergic niece, used to have to sit alone at this table for lunch. Every.Single.Day. for years. Talk about feeling like a pariah. Taking the Epi-Pen everywhere she went is hard enough. But then shove her in the corner by herself? Ugh! The school finally switched to peanut free when she was in 3rd grade. Voila! New child emerged. No longer the “freak” in the corner. Very small sacrifice to make schools nut free. Something parents without food allergies wouldn’t understand. The rest of the world is hard enough to navigate. Le sigh!

    • Amena says...

      Nuts and seeds are very healthy and while it is obviously not right to have a peanut free table and so, it’s also not right to make kids, who can eat them, be scared of nuts and seeds. Having a peanut or nut free school can scare kids off nuts and seeds which are an essential part of our diet. I am sure there is a middle ground to this matter.

    • Laura says...

      I don’t think a school should go completely nut free. At our school there is a table the kiddos sit at and it’s usually more than one kid.

  106. I love this list of contributors! Jacks Wife Frida is a favorite of mine and I’m always drooling over some video posted by Food 52! My favorite easy lunch is hummas pinwheels. I spread a small tortilla with hummas, chop bell peppers and an olive very fine and sprinkle them over the hummas, adding some feta (the herb seasoned kind from Trader Joe’s!) to top it off. I roll it up and cut pinwheels. My kids love it, and it’s really easy despite all the steps. Happy mommy happy kids!

    xoxo

  107. Amy says...

    Our 13yr old has a whole wheat tortilla with chicken, corn salsa and cheese, then apples, strawberries and iced tea. Our 6 yr old has a “snack feast” of a Trader Joe’s cereal bar, strawberry applesauce, lemonade and exactly 5 Pringles. They both want the same thing every. Day. Drives me nuts.

    • My 5 year old has snacks too. Every now and then I throw something new in the mix just to see what happens.