School Lunch Ideas

As one PSP Member wries: "my son is starting Kindergarten this fall after having been in a preschool / day care that took care of all of his meals every day. He's used to having hot, healthy meals which basically consist of rice / noodles and a protein and a vegetable (like a stir fry type of thing). Now I have to start making him lunch and I'm not sure where to start..."



Ideas from PSP Members:



- deconstructed sandwiches: crackers/pretzels, cheese, rolled up turkey slices

-Sunflower seed butter & jelly (nut allergy friendly)

- raisin bread with cream cheese, sandwich style cut into strips

- cold cuts

- simple cheese sandwiches


Wraps & Quesadillas:

- quesadillas: I use a small soft taco tortilla & monterrey jack with whatever fillings are "acceptable" that year (chicken, steak, etc). I cook it to melt the cheese, but then serve it cold

Pastas & PizzaL

- cold pizza : make with bagels, flatbread or pita for variety

-  lunch menu items include tortellini with cheese, spinach ravioli, fish sticks or chicken/turkey meatballs. All easy to fork or pick up with fingers



- fruits: clementines (my kids ask for pre-peeled)

- small apples or apple slices (Trader Joes are pre-cut and don't brown)

- cubed melon, blueberries.

- Other kids like strawberries, raspberries, plums, etc.

- veggies: cucumber slices,

- baby carrots or - carrot matchsticks

- raw green beans

- dried seaweed/nori

- raw snap peas, snapea crisps.

- Other kids like sliced bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, you can also give them something to "dip" into

- sliced cucumbers, or tomatoes or carrots for salad

- breakfast for lunch : french toast/waffles/pancakes with dip (yogurt, syrup, jam) & turkey bacon

- plain Greek yogurt with fruit, honey or just plain

- squeeze yogurts

 - hummus & pita chips (or veggies or pretzels)

- cheese stick for snack

- belvita biscuits for snack

-hard boiled egg

- cheese stick

- dried fruits, like raisins

- small juice box (I like vegetable juice ones)

 - "Siggi's yogurt tubes are good and have very little sugar. You can also buy silicon tubes and fill them with whatever."

- applesauce (tub or squeeze container)



- chicken salad (in or out of a sandwich)

- pasta salad (with cut cooked or raw veggies, chicken or cheese)

- egg salad (alone or in a sandwich)

- cous cous or quinoa

- black bean, corn, and tomato salad


Thermos foods:

"Get an appealing thermos and lunch box combo...have your child pick it out and be a "big kid" by using it. Have a lesson in how to eat lunch now that "you're a big kid and going to kindergarten."

- we use the foogo thermos flasks for food

- thermos of pasta: Amy's Organic & Trader Joes make great frozen ones like pesto/cheese tortellini, ziti & ravioli. They both have great stir-fry, noodle/rice based meals that could go over well with your son too?

- "Other mamas have suggested making zucchini muffins, corn muffins etc but with another little one I just haven't had the energy to on a Sunday evening. I boil the pasta at the beginning of the week (read Monday super AM) with a little bit of butter and it seems to keep well for a few days of the week. I Nuke the days warm item in the microwave 5 mins before stepping out, put it in the thermos and into the lunch bag. It seems to stay warm enough till noon. Some days it's all finished and some days it's untouched. But a combination of the above seems to do the trick.

- thermos with chicken noodle soup

- thermos with mac & cheese (Annie's boxed and Trader Joes frozen are a hit here)

- "I frequently pack scrambled eggs for my daughter for school lunch. I put them in her thermos flask. A really good brand is the Thermos Funtainer Food Jar which can keep food hot and at safe levels for 4 hours."

 - "I would recommend buying a small Thermos container (Thermos brand, more expensive but worth it). You can easily still send noodle and rice dishes, and soups, and while the temperature won't be what your child is used to, my kids say the soups stay warm and generally it comes back empty. I heat the food as hot as possible (for example, boil the soup) and make it the last thing I pack before heading out the door."


Bento-style Boxes:

"There are many cool lunchbox sets like Yumbox leakproof Bento lunchbox container for cold lunches. Those can be fun, too, Have your child go to the store with you and pick out yogurts, vegies, dips, hummus, nut butters, fruits, fruit sticks, etc to fill up the compartments."

- bento boxes: "we usually do either a bento-type option with lots of options in small amounts, or a bigger "entree" (pasta, sandwich) with a couple sides in small containers. I aim for a protein, veggie & fruit in each lunch with something starchy or whole grain to fill them up."

"The thing that really helped us last year was lunchbots. Look them up on Amazon or It's a metal container somewhat like a bento box that has 3, 4, or 5 compartments that you can fill. I found that in k my
daughter never ate lunch, maybe one item out of the several I packed. Then I realized that they have like less than 20 minutes to eat and pretty much no adult help. She didn't have the time or ability to open up all of those ziplock and containers. Now she has the box - just had to open one thing and can pick and chose in the allotted time. We also got the lunchbots for our two preschoolers and they've been great."

 -"He has a laptop lunchbox- we use that daily and I fill the other boxes with fruit, cheese, crackers, whatever makes sense."



 - "I sometimes make a batch of these egg frittata "muffins" for my daughter to eat during the week by itself or on bread with cheese." 

- "I often make double batches of porcupine meatballs in advance. I freeze them in small portions and send one portion as her lunch-- it's a hit. Here's the link. FWIW, I usually parboil the rice and add a healthy dose of umami paste to the meatballs. (Oh, and I use jarred tomato sauce, because I can't make better tomato sauce than Rao's.)"


Breakfast for lunch!

- "If you'd rather pack, my sons both like having breakfast for lunch and I will often pack pancakes, cereal with milk(in a separate container), waffles etc."


Back up ideas/ emergencies:

- "As a back up, there is always school lunches or a quick trip to the bagel store for a sandwich. My son has eaten the school lunches at PS 321 and they are ok on occasion. Don't know about other schools."



- "he's not really into sandwiches. He gets leftovers a lot - rice, broccoli, a bit of chicken. whatever we have left. I also make batches of things he likes and freeze in small ziplocs that I defrost the night before if we don't have leftovers. Mac and cheese, sloppy joe, veggie chili. If I don't have leftovers or need to stretch I throw one of those in. They last a long time, you can easily get away with making a batch of something every couple weeks to replenish."

 ""Make enough dinner or order enough take out the night before and heat up and pack in a thermos the next day or make sandwiches out of the leftover meat (e.g. chicken slices or chicken salad sandwiches)."


The case for school lunches:

"First, maybe just try buying lunch? Lots of kids do and he may like it better if that's what he's used to. PS 107 posts the menu online and it's actually catered by some outside somewhat healthy vendor. My 2nd grader hasn't tried it yet but told me she may be wiping to try pizza Friday this year."

"My son is going into 1st at 107 and gets school lunch occasionally. The menu is posted online and we look at it once and month and he chooses what says he'll eat at school. The problem for K is I find that they are shy and don't ask for the food at the salad bar etc so it ends up being way less food than he would normally eat when I pack it."


The case against school lunches:

"Avoid the school lunches for the most part (if your child attends a public school). As convenient as this might be for you, I saw many of these go straight in the trash and it was heartbreaking, both for the wasted food and for kids who didn't eat enough. At least with a packed lunch it's easier to tell how much your child is eating (or not)."


General tips and strategies:

"On weekends or during the week, make crock pot soup or stew. Freeze extra, Pack in thermos for lunch."

"Have your child help with getting the lunch together or with other meals."

"In our school parents volunteer to help at lunch and help kids open up containers and such. You could perhaps do this and check out what other kids are having?"


Related Reading:

Hiding Vegetables

Do You Eat Dinner as a Family? And How Do You Do It?

 Non Sugary Foods Ideas for Breakfast