How To Take The Hassle Out Of Making School Lunches

How To Take The Hassle Out Of Making School Lunches

It’s hard enough trying to figure out what to make for your own lunch. When you’re packing lunch for kids every day, the problem is exponentially multiplied — especially if your children are picky eaters or have food allergies. Let’s get out of this school lunch rut and find ways to make a variety of healthy lunches that kids will actually eat.

Find More Lunch Ideas

How To Take The Hassle Out Of Making School Lunches

Probably the worst part of making school lunches is just figuring out what the heck to pack. After your 100th packed lunch, both you and your child are probably bored sick of peanut butter or Vegemite sandwiches.

Thankfully, there are lots of great sources for lunch ideas:

  • School lunch plans.Check out how kids around the world eat lunch at Cozi or What’s For School Lunch?.
  • Expand your concept of lunch. Anything your kid will eat is game — including more “breakfast” or “dinner” foods — as long as his or her meals are balanced the rest of the day. (Heck, we often have waffles for dinner.)
  • Check out lunch roundups. The image above is from a infographic on one month of easy school lunch ideas (which you can see in full at the bottom of this post). In addition to checking that out, there’s 100 Days of Real Food’s School Lunch Roundup, Tip Junkie’s 27 best lunch food recipes, Food with Kid Appeal’s index of healthy foods, the Food Network’s 15 Kid-Approved Lunches, and ParentMap’s bento lunch ideas (for when you’re feeling ambitious). Or, for the more sophisticated young gourmands out there, these 25 “quick and easy” school lunches from Bon Appetit.
  • Spin the wheel. Lunchtaker, a site dedicated to fresh, healthy lunch ideas (for both kids and adults) offers a “lunch food lottery” random menu planner complete with vegan and dairy-free options (the results can be hit and miss though).

Use The Right Containers

How To Take The Hassle Out Of Making School Lunches

It sounds silly, but the kind of container you use to pack lunches can make a big difference on your lunch-making Zen. Containers that have lost their covers and a shortage of plastic bags just add more obstacles to an already stressful morning.

The right lunch container, however, can make packing a school lunch almost enjoyable, like an art. (Literally, have you seen these crazy bento lunches?) In addition, lunch boxes like the PlanetBox shown above encourage you to offer a balanced meal with portion sizes that don’t overwhelm kids.

In addition, having insulated food jars and containers that can be chilled expand your options and make morning lunch prep easier.

Create a School Lunch “Menu” with Your Child for More Variety

How To Take The Hassle Out Of Making School Lunches

Especially if you have a picky eater, it helps to have a list of everything your kid likes (and try to expand options as they get older). Giving kids lots of choices can also ease the lunch-making process.

Tip Junkie has a very smart Pick Your Lunch food checklist you can download and print (free site registration required) or you can create something similar based on your kids’ preferences.

How To Take The Hassle Out Of Making School Lunches

I’m doing something similar with my daughter, creating a “menu book” with sections that flip over to switch up the main food, vegetable, fruit and snack options. Take a spiral notebook and use an X-Acto knife to create the four sections. Paste in photos of foods and then you can flip through to create a meal. It’s still a work in progress, but the combination of photos plus having her do it with me might just work.

Use Basic Cooking Shortcuts

How To Take The Hassle Out Of Making School Lunches

So basically we’re talking about good old planning ahead so you’re not scrambling, but too often we focus on dinner when lunch deserves more attention too. Some other things you can do to save time include creating grab-and-go snack stations in your fridge and pantry and making a week’s worth of lunches in one day.

Hopefully the tips and resources above will help you survive Operation Lunch until your kid is old enough to pack her own lunch. (So then you only have to worry about your own brown bag blahs.)

Here’s that infographic I mentioned earlier:

How To Take The Hassle Out Of Making School Lunches


  • In 2010 I did a year long series of recipes, one for every week of the school year, for lunch box baking. It started from a rant about muesli bars marketed as suitable for kids’ lunchboxes. I bet that I could bake easy, fast, lunchbox treats that were healthy, real food and would actually get eaten. I had a team of kids, kindergarden to high school, to review. The challenger won every week.

  • I only found out a few weeks ago that the “jelly” in a peanut butter & jelly sandwich is usually what we would call “jam”. Resolved a lifetime of mystery about weird American tastes.

    • I found out the hard way.

      we rarely have peanut butter (as my father is very allergic to them).
      so last time we had jelly, i raced over to coles, got peanut butter and ice cream sticks (i use them as a single use knife then throw them out).

      Jelly and peanut butter tastes weird, and jelly isn’t spreadable.

    • Correct in that their jelly is made like a jam with pectin as the thickening agent, whereas our jelly is gelatin based. However, it’s filtered to remove any solids so it’s clear like our jelly. Also, the jelly in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches tends to be grape flavoured, which is not a common flavour seen here.

  • Two problems.
    1/ has U.S.A written all ver it
    2/ the author of the article,has never had children.
    That’s my opinion,and therefore I am not wrong!

    • Can’t tell if the last line is tongue in cheek or not 😛

      The author actually mentions a project she’s running with her daughter in the article – a notebook, an x-acto knife and photos of food items. Which, by the way, looks freakin’ rad and is something I’m going to file away.

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