Fun, Healthy Ideas for Back-to-School Lunches

With my kids going into fourth and first grade this year, this isn’t my first time around the school cafeteria. I’ve seen my daughter select an entrée and then not want to eat it, and I’ve been horrified at the bills my son racks up sneaking extra goodies on his lunch tab. Packing a lunch for my kids most days is how I ensure they’re eating a healthy, well-balanced meal, not to mention avoiding hidden costs.

Lunchbox fare can potentially seem ho-hum – repetitive in comparison to the hot lunch counter. But I have a few ideas to help us all avoid PB&J fatigue this year. Lunch lady, you’ve got nothin’ on me.

Here are some tips for packing some healthy and delicious lunches your kids will love.

Encourage teamwork

Sit down and chat with your kids about their favorite foods. Get feedback on their favorites and how to package them for the lunchbox. Chances are, if it’s a food they’re excited about, they’ll be more likely to scarf it down in the allotted 20 minutes.

One evening a week, gather in the kitchen and do some prep together to avoid the morning scramble. Kids can help wash and slice fruits and veggies. If they’re fruit or veggie averse, try letting them cut tiny veggies into cute shapes with these cutters. My kids love helping to make our favorite energy balls as we

ll as these super simple gluten-free almond flour crackers. Both are perfect for lunchboxes and snacking!

 Think Beyond Bread

A ham and cheese sandwich cut into the shape of a flower is more fun. But think beyond the bread as well. Whole-grain tortillas and whole lettuce leaves make great wraps. Or supply your kids with crackers, cheese, meat, fruit and veggies of their choice to make a homemade (and way healthier) version of a Lunchable in a Bento box.

One of my son’s favorites is banana sushi: Thinly spread peanut butter on a soft-taco sized tortilla. Peel an entire banana and cut the ends off. Lay the banana across one end of the tortilla and roll it up, pressing it together as you roll. Slice into ‘sushi’ slices and enjoy.

Heat Things Up

My kids appreciate a hot lunch, especially in the winter time. Investing in a good insulated container allows for freedom and flexibility!

I now think my mom is a genius because when I was a little girl, she would boil vegetable juice and pour it over dry noodles in my Thermos, and then sprinkle it with cheese. By lunchtime my noodles had cooked and were sitting in a tomato ‘sauce.’ Don’t knock it till you try it … I do this today for my kids!

The following foods are also great served from an insulated container. Use whole wheat tortillas and even pasta made with legumes and veggies to up the nutritional content.

  • Mac and cheese
  • Spaghetti and meatballs
  • Burritos
  • Quesadillas
  • Rice and Beans topped with cheese

Do The Dip

Nothing encourages kids to eat their veggies like ha

ving something fun to dip it in! Studies show that eating a little fat in combination with a fresh vegetable actually boosts the absorption of nutrients like lycopene and beta-carotene.  These little salad dressing containers are perfect for sending kid-size portions of hummus, guacamole, ranch, yogurt dip, or nut butter of your choice. Nutritious and delicious!

Go Easy on Yourself

You know what they say about the best laid plans. Sometimes life is crazy, and I thank the Lord that my kids think it’s awesome to have leftover pizza in their lunchbox. When you’re in a time crunch and preparing lunch gets put on the back burner, nobody is going to die when they are not served a Pinterest-perfect Bento box with organic juice box. A sandwich, cheese stick and applesauce will probably do just fine, too.

Natalie is a Lee’s Summit freelance writer and mom to a sweet girl, Adelyn, and a spicy boy, Gage. She’s married to David, a dermatologist. This means she's that mom at the park in the wide-brimmed hat with nine bottles of sunscreen in her oversized purse. Natalie’s first job out of journalism school was as a health and cuisine reporter for a small-town newspaper. Today, her continued love for food, fitness, and family adventures are manifested on her lifestyle blog, Lovely Inside Out. Making healthy food from scratch is her jam, and you’ll often find her trashing her kitchen while making cashew butter, protein balls or plantain tortillas.


  1. These are some great tips! My kiddos aren’t old enough for packed school lunches yet (although I am going to make them that banana sushi!) so I am going to use them for myself! I try to be good and take my lunch most days and am always looking for ways to shake things up!

  2. Um, banana sushi is brilliant, as is your very inventive mama’s idea for V8 over noodles with cheese!!?!? That sounds delicious! Thanks for the great tips, Natalie! And thanks for being my photog last night! 😉

  3. Once my daughter hit 1st grade, it became her job to make her lunch each night for the next day. She knows the rules on how many fruits and veggies she needs to pack, etc., but then she doesn’t complain about what is in her lunch and we have one more thing off our to-do list. Win, win. (We do oversee for safety and assist here and there.) We just invested in some insulated containers, so I’m happy to have warm options and leftover options this year. Thanks for the ideas!

  4. Tanya, that’s awesome that you give your daughter the responsibility and encouragement to make healthy choices! Glad this gave you a few ideas for the new school year!

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