65 School Lunch Ideas: Back-to-School Lunches Kids Will Actually Eat

A perfectly packed lunchbox helps kick the school blues. Photo courtesy of www.YumboxLunch.com
Back to School lunchbox: packed lunch ideas that are healthy, fun, and easy

Chances are you've had a healthy, well-packed school lunch delivered back into your hands virtually untouched at the end of the school day. There should be a special name for the heartbreak one endures at the words, "I told you I hate peanut-butter and jelly," when not only is this the first you're hearing of it, but you spent extra on organic jelly and freshly ground peanut butter. And if not PBJ, then what? Well, we've got 65 answers to the question of what to pack in a successful school lunch.

It's true what they say about good things and small packages when it comes to kids and lunches. I watched a painful number of sandwiches make the round trip from home to school and back again before working out that a lunchbox doesn't have to contain a sandwich. So we bought a cool lunchbox (and yes, cool absolutely helps) made up of small containers, and now I fill them with a variety of healthy finger foods. The one we bought is made by Yubo, and I love it because it completely disassembles, has a nifty fitted ice pack, and is treated with an anti-microbial agent to cope with those maddening Friday "I left it (to rot) at school" blues.

Of course, any variation on a subdivided, Bento box theme will do, as long as it's free of BPA, PVC, and Phthalates. Most manufacturers offer these assurances for kids' lunch boxes.

Moving on to what's inside: variety is the key for winning school lunch. The suggestions below can be put in small containers (kept cold by a frozen water bottle) and mixed and matched like Garanimals. Keep a dozen in the kitchen at any given time, so each day's lunch can be different. And if some do come back, don't be sad—cause two out of three ain't bad.

Lunchbox Items with Protein

1. BLT in a mini pita
2. Cream cheese and strawberries in a mini waffle sandwich
3. Jello cubes
4. Celery with peanut butter or cream cheese
5. Hummus with carrots/chips/sliced veggies in another
6. A hard-boiled egg with a tiny salt packet
7. Mini pita, shredded mozzarella, and tomato sauce — all in separate containers — for assembling a lunchbox pizza
8. Cubes of interesting cheeses - tasting booth style
9. Yogurt with fruit and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar
10. Pistachios or other nuts (but pistachios are fun!)
11. Peanut butter (or a nut-butter alternative) on crackers
12. Cream cheese and jelly on crackers
13. Shredded cheese
14. Deviled egg
15. Roll a tortilla with favorite sandwich filling, then slice off just a couple of bite-sized rolls
16. Trail mix
17. Guacamole in one cup, tortilla chips in another
18. Nacho cheese sauce in one cup, chips in another
19. Slices of sausage or hot dog
20. Shelled sunflower seeds
21. Slice of baguette with cream cheese or mascarpone and pesto
22. Babybel cheese (the ones in the red wax)
23. Bagel and toppings
24. Yogurt tubes (they can be frozen when you pack them)
25. Sliced cheese and salami rolled into a tube
26. For the connoisseur kid: strips of prosciutto wrapped around cubes of melon

Fruit and Veggie School Lunch Ideas

27. Sliced cucumber with a wedge of lemon and a little salt
28. Melon balls
29. Carrots cut into long spaghetti strands
30. Cherry tomatoes
31. Slices of star fruit (so fun to play with!)
32. Salad in one cup, dressing in another
33. Applesauce
34. Watermelon chunks
35. A radish sliced in a flower shape
36. Itty bitty champagne grapes (so cute and sweet!)
37. Cucumber sandwich wedges (like at high tea)
38. Apple slices with peanut butter
39. Any dried fruit
40. Mandarin orange slices (fresh is great, but keep a can in the cabinet!)
41. A couple of pieces of veggie sushi with a packet of soy sauce
42. Roasted seaweed or kale snacks (they come in great flavors)
43. Fried plantain slices
44. Pickles!
45. Any berries with a decadent little cup of whipped cream

Snacks for School To Help Fill Bellies

46. Pretzels (with whatever they might dip in)
47. Plain, cold pasta (try different colors and shapes)
48. Cornbread (maybe with cheese baked on top)
49. A mini-muffin 
50. Potato salad
51. Popcorn
52. Mini croissant with jam
53. Mini bagels (or slices of bagel) with cream cheese
54. Cold spaghetti in a favorite dressing or peanut sauce
55. Olives
56. Rice cakes
57. Pancake with a mini syrup packet
58. DIY Chex mix (be sure to include goldfish!)
59. Fruit roll-ups made from real fruit
60. Old-school mini-box of Sunmaid raisins
61. Any kind of granola bar or breakfast bar
62. Dry cereal and a small carton of milk
63. Lunchbox s'mores: graham crackers with fluff and Nutella
64. Rice pudding
65. Any sandwich made on a little slider bun becomes super cute.

A version of this article first published November 2, 2012