It’s no secret that students need a healthy, mid-day meal to fuel their bodies and minds during the long day at school. Tired of feeling stressed about what to pack and how to pack it? Build a better lunchbox this school year with the help of the following tips and tricks.

Reusable separators: Use reusable cupcake liners in round or square shapes to separate foods in larger plastic containers. Fill with cheese cubes, cut fruit, vegetables or crackers (bonus for picky eaters – the foods don’t touch). Available at for around $10 for a 12-pack.

Buildable sandwiches: Make kids think they are eating a Lunchable, but made with ingredients you hand pick. Put everything needed to make mini sandwiches – one piece of bread cut into quarters, slices of cheese, sliced meat, thin-sliced carrots and lettuce. Serve ranch or mayo on the side. Kids can build the sandwiches or eat ingredients separately.

Make-ahead yogurt pops: Purchase a silicone ice pop maker set online or at a local retailer. To make 8-10 you will also need: 1 32 oz. container of plain or vanilla Greek yogurt, 2 cups fresh or frozen fruit and 2-3 tbsp. honey (optional). Blend ingredients, pour into molds and freeze at least 5 hours before popping in the lunch box.

Lunch box smoothies: You can pack lots of nutrients into a smoothie for easy eating at lunch time. Blend favorite frozen fruits in a blender and add orange juice, milk or yogurt. Pour into freezable containers such as 8-ounce Ball Plastic Freezer Jars. Freeze and pack into the lunch box with a spoon (they double as an ice pack).

Lunch kabobs: Combine any of the following onto bamboo skewers to mix up lunch. Try turkey and cheddar cheese with cucumbers, salami and provolone with bell peppers, chicken and Monterey jack cheese with pickles, roast beef and Swiss cheese with olives. You could also do this with fruit.

Use mini muffin tins: Bake kid-sized snacks in these tins, which fit easily into a lunch box with other foods. Look up healthy muffin recipes including whole grains and fruits. Other ideas include baking macaroni and cheese cups, pizza bites, mini meatloaf, corn dog muffins and more. Find these ideas on Pinterest by searching kid foods in muffin tins.

Easy as a Sandwich:

Roll ups: these skip the traditional sandwich, but keep in line with a child’s taste. Flatten a favorite piece of bread with a rolling pin and add peanut butter and jelly, lunch meat and cheese or Nutella and fruit. Roll the bread and slice into individual rolls for easy eating.

Quesadillas: they don’t have to be hot for most kids to enjoy them. Mix it up with different types of tortillas, cheeses, meats and vegetables.

Breakfast food: waffles and pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausages, and you can even use leftovers from a previous breakfast.

Leftovers: warm up any food from the night before and put into a Thermos to keep it warm until lunch time. This can be spaghetti, soup, casserole, etc. and make sure to pack a kid-friendly plastic utensil

Side options: 

  • Hummus and pita or vegetables
  • Sliced avocado
  • Grapes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Sliced and peeled tangerines
  • Cut strawberries
  • Popped popcorn
  • Sliced vegetables like celery, carrots and cucumbers
  • Yogurt
  • Nut butters and crackers to dip
  • Cheese sticks or cubes
  • Applesauce

Start a System

Bento-style lunch systems have gained popularity in recent years, since they are visually appealing to kids and make the lunch packing process easier for parents. Even if you opt to use a traditional lunch box, packing can be simplified by making sure your kitchen is well-stocked with lunchbox essentials like bags, plastic spoons and reusable containers

Think Outside the Sandwich

Sure, some kids love sandwiches, but there are many other options to consider. Wrap meat and veggies in tortillas and then slice them to create pinwheels. Keep dinner leftovers like soup and pasta warm in a thermos. Send small tapas-style portions of many different foods to appeal to picky eaters.

Prioritize Protein

A protein-packed lunch will help your child to think clearly and concentrate in the classroom – and provide the energy he or she needs to make it through the rest of the day. Hard-boiled eggs, tuna, nuts and nut butters, meats and low-fat cheese or yogurt are all good, high-quality sources of lunchbox protein.

Dip Those Fruits and Veggies

Have kids who aren’t eating their carrot sticks and strawberries at lunchtime? You’re not alone. Make fruits and vegetables more enticing by including a dip for kids to enjoy. Send hummus, ranch dressing or even ketchup to accompany veggies.

Get Kids in the Kitchen

Kids inevitably have opinions about what they do and don’t like in their lunches, so why not pass along the responsibility of packing their own lunchboxes? Set a few ground rules about what they need to include, stock your fridge and pantry with plenty of parent-approved options and then, if you’re lucky, cross the entire task off your own never ending to-do list.

–Alyssa Chirco, Teresa Farkas and Amanda Miller Allen 

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