Take the Dread Out of Packing School Lunches

packing school lunches - Boston Moms Blog

That time is nearing. You know the one. Not only will you have to tighten up the kids’ schedules after a lax summer break, but to add insult to injury, you’ll be forced to pack school lunches! I had my first foray into lunch making last year with my son attending preschool. This year, it’s double trouble — my son will start kindergarten (one snack AND one lunch!) and my daughter will start preschool. I can feel my blood pressure rising. Let’s take deep breaths and plan this out. 

The beginning of the year is always filled with the best of intentions. I’m talking bento box gourmet lunches. Love notes for your little ones. Sandwiches cut into heart shapes. But mid-year you enter survival mode. You rely on leftovers heavily. Fast-forward to year-end. Quick! What’s in the fridge? Olives? Great. Carrot sticks. Lots of carrot sticks. I’m not saying this scenario won’t play out again, but in terms of presentation, we can at least get ahead of the game. I’ve broken down the game plan into categories:

1. What will you pack?
2. How will you pack it?
3. Creative strategies to get your child to eat their entire lunch. (Spoiler alert: I don’t have one.)

Hopefully some of these ideas will prove useful.

What lunch may look like at the beginning of the year.

What will you pack?

Here are the ground rules I aim for: Is it fast to put together? Will my child eat it? Can I make it at 10 p.m. when I realize I haven’t prepared lunches for anybody? With that as my base, I aim for as many food groups as possible in a lunch. With specific emphasis on protein (to fill them up), vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy all play a part as well.

Also, while it’s tempting to simplify to the max, I view every meal time as a chance to expand my child’s palette. So I’ll throw in some dried figs, or dates, or a new cheese just to keep it interesting. As you well know, a young person’s tastes seem to change with the wind, or in the case of my children, on a weekly basis. So while my son LOVED the prosciutto and parmesan sandwiches I made for him at the beginning of the week, by week’s end he loathes it, and uneaten remains are coming back to me. This is important to anticipate. You always have to be on your toes. If you detect the slightest whiff of discontent in the air, you must quickly change directions and alter your plan.

Meal plan on Sunday night — make a list, go to the grocery store, and make it happen. I rely heavily for lunch ideas on the following sources — do yourself a favor and check them out! 

What school lunch looks like at the end of the year.


Weelicious has tons of great ideas, not just for lunches but for all meal times.


Start a school lunches board if you haven’t already. Pinterest is, after all, a mom’s best friend.

Other great sources

Try Hip Foodie Mom, Bon Appetit, and Parents.com.

How will you pack it?

Last year I came across this super cool robot-shaped lunch box. It was amazing. I wanted it as my lunchbox. My son loved it. However, it was awkwardly shaped (as you can well imagine), and fitting everything in was, ahem, sometimes a challenge. I do struggle with my own flights of fancy vs. the actual reality of what my child needs. I am not the most practical mother. This year I vow to change that. I have already purchased a sensible backpack and an even more sensible lunch box.

Yet I can’t quite ignore the ever powerful pull of cool school accoutrements. So let’s meet halfway. You’ll find below my picks for cool school lunch transport options. Always remember the golden rules: Is it OK if it gets dirty? Can I wash it easily? If they drag it through mud and stamp on it, will I be OK with that? Once you’ve answered these questions, proceed with your purchase.

From top left clockwise: 1. Fjall Raven Kanken mini. A great preschool backpack. A little pricy, but it’ll last you a lifetime. Useful for all manner of travel. 2. Bentgo kids lunch. A stroke of pure genius. Does not leak. Perfect portions. 3. LLBean lunch. A classic. 4. Herschel backpack. Loving the lemons. 5. State backpack. Cool colors. No annoying characters. 6. Hannah Andersson backpack. Comes in classic solid colors. Sturdy and roomy.

Creative solutions!

I will humbly admit that I have absolutely zero expertise in this area. Aside from coercion, I have no idea how to get them to eat their entire lunch. Unless it’s composed 100% of candy, I wish you good luck. I have been the victim of limitless whimsy in this area. I do try to get them as involved as possible in the making and selecting of said lunch. Success seems to go up when they are involved. Lunch is a very social time, and if you make it look cool and fun, chances increase of it being eaten. Put fruit or veggies on a stick — kabobs are fun! Wraps are great — pinwheels are fancy! Make the food attractive from a kid point of view to increase your chances of success.

And with that, I wish you happy lunch making!