Back-to-School Lunches: How to Keep It Interesting

by Cate on September 4, 2012

Back-to-School readiness
The new school supplies have been bought.

The first day outfits selected with care.

The summer reading has been completed.

Backpacks packed.

And now the lunchbox battle begins.

As in … how to pack lunch for your kids every day.

And keep it interesting.

And healthy.

Without losing your mind.

Or your wallet.

First things first. You need to be prepared.

Lunchbox. Containers. Sandwich wraps.

All the tools of the trade.

I use reusable containers for the kids’ lunches for a variety of reasons. Mostly because I hate the thought of creating extra waste with disposable bags. And it’s a heck of a lot cheaper. I have a variety of food storage containers from Glad, because they’re easy to clean, are inexpensive, and are pretty leak-proof. Think of all the money you’re saving now that you’re not buying disposable sandwich bags. (*I do keep a few plastic sandwich bags on hand just for those field trip/activity days where they have to have a completely disposable lunch)

Now for the actual lunch. For Nick, I buy lunch a few times a week from his school, as its part of a school fundraiser, and I make lunch the other days. That way he has the best of both worlds. As Madeline starts a new school this week, I’ll be doing the same thing for her as well. As far as keeping the contents interesting, I think the key is to make sure you have a variety, so it’s not groan-inducing as the kids unzips their lunchbox in the cafeteria.

  • Sandwiches are a given, but I change up the bread and what I put inside. Sometimes it’s a bagel sandwich, or a wrap, or a homemade sub, or peanut butter on English muffins with sliced bananas and a drizzle of honey. Even a sandwich on a waffle! The folks at Kraft have this fun checkerboard sandwich that I will definitely be doing.
  • A finger-food lunch. I’ll fill a container with homemade hummus, and then include carrots, celery, and pretzels for dippers. Add a yogurt, a drink, and some snacks and we’re golden. Homemade chicken fingers and marinara sauce. Cold pieces of rotisserie chicken with ranch for dipping (these mini round Glad containers are perfect for this).
  • Mini taco cups with all the fixins’ (ground beef, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, cheese).
  • Tuna fish or egg salad, with crackers alongside for munching, instead of the usual sandwich.
  • Salads. While Nick will eat a regular salad without hesitation, his younger sister isn’t a fan yet. Something like the Tomato, Salami, and Mozzarella Salad recipe included below or a tortellini salad is perfect.
  • Use a thermos. Nick loves soup, and they both love pasta and mini meatballs. Put your thermos to work for some quick and easy warm meals.
  • Get creative – breakfast for dinner! I’ll make the kids French Toast sticks, banana pancakes (with syrup on the side in a separate container), or an omelet to break up the routine a bit.
  • Make your own Uncrustables. I confess, I totally love Uncrustables, especially the whole wheat bread one with peanut butter and honey. But a cheaper alternative is to buy this handy little item for $1.97 and make your own Uncrustables. Pretty cool, right? And this way you’re not just limited to the handful of Uncrustables that are for sale at your local grocery story – you can go crazy coming up with your own favorite combinations for what goes inside.
  • Leftovers. If they liked dinner a lot, then I’ll try to include leftovers when it makes sense.

Getting creative:

  • I sometimes put notes, pictures, stickers, and other small items in the kids’ lunchboxes. Not every day, not even every week. Random and completely unexpected times. Totally more fun that way. Speaking of lunchbox notes,the folks at Welch’s want to hear about yours. Enter their “Lunchbox Notes” contest and you could win big! Go to and click on the “Lunchbox Notes” banner. Follow instructions and submit a photo of a recent lunchbox packed with a note and your child’s favorite variety of Welch’s® Fruit Snacks. One Grand Prize winner will receive $1,000 to go towards a year’s worth of lunches, a one-year supply of Welch’s® Fruit Snacks and a one-year supply of Welch’s® Jams, Jellies, and Spreads via coupons. Entries will be judged based on creativity and inspiration of the message. The contest runs through September 30th.
  • There are a variety of plastic sandwich cutters available that you can use to turn a boring sandwich into something more unique and fun. Nick is, of course, too old for something like this, but Madeline is the perfect age.
  • Frozen grapes are a perfect way to keep your lunch cold, and they do double duty as a snack. Also, if you’re packing juice boxes, freeze them. They’ll keep the lunch items cold and will defrost in time for lunch period.
  • See that small stack of green things in the top right corner of the drawer pictured above? They are silicone cupcake holders. I can put four of these in a small square container, making it easy to portion out different items (for example, ham slices, cheese cubes, cherry tomatoes, and pretzels make a good go-to lunch).

Did you know that kids need an average of 180 packed lunches during an average school year? Yikes. If *you* have an awesome idea, recipe, or creative tip for packing a fun lunchbox, please do share with us in the comment section below.

Hungry for more lunchbox ideas?
I have a Pinterest board for just this very topic – tons of inspiration there.
Sarah had a great post recently with lots of lunchbox ideas.
This is an awesome web site that shows photos of lunches that have been packed, and a list of what’s inside. Great source of new and fresh ideas.
This link from has a bunch of recipes perfect for lunchboxes, snack ideas, tips on how to pack a greener lunch and more.

Salami Salad with Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Recipe courtesy of Michael Chiarello

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 8 to 10 servings

1 pound salami, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6 tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 pound mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil, for drizzling
Vinegar, for drizzling

In a large bowl, combine salami, tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar and toss well.


I have partnered with The Glad Products Company through DailyBuzz Moms to help promote their Food Storage products. I have been compensated for my time commitment to review this product, however, my opinions are naturally all mine. Thank you GLAD!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Cyndi September 4, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Cate, thanks so much for the pinterest sites! I will be jumping back into substituting after we get back from Colorado – something I want and need to do now that I’m retired. I want great lunch ideas, too! These are all great!
Cyndi recently posted..Jumping into Freezer Meals


JOanne September 5, 2012 at 6:30 am

My mom was pretty boring when it came to our lunches…it was always turkey and muenster on a roll. With fruit of some kind and sometimes a granola bar. There were many times when I definitely wished she would change it up a bit!
JOanne recently posted..Recipe: Peanut Butter and Honey Ice Cream


paula September 5, 2012 at 8:23 am

Keeping lunches interesting isn’t the problem – it’s getting Nick to actually eat lunch during the short lunch period. It’s social time for him, not eating time. So much food gets wasted. I have to remind myself that I shouldn’t pack too much, and that any treat included will be the main course.

Dan gets lunch free with Pre-K now. It’s basic fare but it will be good for him since at home he’s not good about trying new things. I love that I have one less lunch to pack.
paula recently posted..Ah, finally! Chorizo Carbonara


Amy September 5, 2012 at 8:51 am

If you want to add a lunch note please take a look at my site Every school day I post free printable lunch notes. They are illustrated jokes, fun facts, etc. – please take a look.
Amy recently posted..panda food


Tara September 7, 2012 at 3:59 pm

I just bought the Wonder uncrustable sandwich maker and I feel weird to be excited to make sandwiches for lunch!!! It makes packing lunch so simple, just take it out of freezer and Voila, done!! Love idea of breakfast for lunch…we have breakfast for dinner often! :) I hope to find more ideas for a whole school worth of lunches!!


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