Back to School Lunches

School Lunch

I don’t know where you are, but school starts up here next week, and we are trying to prepare ourselves for the early mornings and the full days of learning! I always start off the year with great intentions of perfectly packed lunches and smiling children. Somewhere around Tuesday of the first week, reality sets in!

Usually I give my kids the option of picking a hot lunch one day a week. I have three kids in school, so they have to agree on a day for all of them, otherwise I’m still making lunches five days in a row! Last year, due to pregnancy, my kids definitely had more hot lunches than homemade lunches, but we’re starting fresh!

I don’t have a problem with the hot lunches at school, except they don’t really fill my kids up, which means extra helpings, and extra money. Hot lunch is a great value if you can fill up on the single serving, but once you start in with the extra drinks and extra corn dogs, then the value goes way down. With three kids in school the cost grows exponentially. I get a lot better value from making lunch at home.

Here’s the trick with lunch from home, you have to make it interesting. Also, it can’t smell bad (sorry tuna!). We have a lunch formula at our house: 1 main course, 1 fruit, 1 side, something sweet, & a drink. Usually the main course is some kind of sandwich, but there’s no parental requirement involving two slices of bread, so shake things up with a tortilla, or serve hot leftovers in an insulated container. Kids really love to dip foods, so sending veggies and hummus is a perfect kid friendly lunch.  At our school, lunches start at 10:30 and then stagger until noon, so you don’t really have to worry about hot food getting cold. I keep yogurt in the freezer so that it acts as an ice pack, but it’s also thawed enough to eat by lunch. If you do decide to serve sandwiches, you can mix things up by cutting the bread into shapes. There are specially made sandwich cutters, but cookie cutters also work.


If you have very hungry kids, add some filling things. I will send extra slices of cheese, or a couple of graham crackers. When it comes to dessert, they only need a taste of something sweet. One cookie is more than enough, or lots of times I’ll do a make your own s’mores (chocolate chips, a mini marshmallow and a graham cracker). At the grocery store you can buy snack size servings of everything, but they are a lot more expensive per serving, and when it comes to sweet things, it’s a lot more than you really want to give your kids. Buy big bags of whatever you want to serve, and then portion it out yourself. The same goes for cheese sticks. Buy a block of cheese and slice it up (there are less preservatives that way, too).

For the fruit serving, I like to send apple sauce or orange slices. Sometimes we’ll do dried fruit. If you want to do apple slices, just use a slicer and then put the apple back together so that the slices don’t go brown.

Drinks at my house are normally just re-usable bottles with water. If it’s a special occasion or a field trip, I’ll do a juice box. Whatever you send your kids with, make sure they’re okay opening it. My kids only get 20 minutes for lunch, and if they’re spending 5 minutes trying to open a milk bottle, that doesn’t leave them a lot of time for food. By the way, if you’re looking for a great way to volunteer at your school, help out in the lunch room! I think lunch helpers are the most under-appreciated, but most necessary volunteers. There are hundreds of kids in the lunch room, and it’s the volunteers who make sure that wrappers are opened, and kids aren’t running wild. Make sure you thank your lunch helper!

When it comes to putting it all together, I’ll usually make the main dish, and then let the kids pack the rest. They know the routine, and they know where the lunch supplies are kept. You can make everything the night before and keep the whole thing in the fridge.

If you want to be a big hit with your kids, don’t forget to include the lunch note, or the knock-knock joke for your child to tell in the cafeteria! Little kids love getting the love note, but as children get older the heart can be embarrassing, so jokes are a great way for you to let them know you’re thinking of them without ruining the cool factor! Don’t forget to put in wet wipes; your child won’t necessarily be washing their hands before lunch, and I think we all know what that can mean!

Fun Ideas:

Dippers: Every kid loves to dip!

  • Pita chips/veggies and hummus or salsa
  • Fruit slices and yogurt dip

Little Finger Friendly Fruit:

  • Mandarin oranges
  • Grapes
  • Apple slices
  • Raisins
  • Apple sauce

Creative Mains:

  • Ham & cheese shapes
  • English muffin pizzas
  • Tortilla roll-ups
  • Pasta salad
  • Shaped sandwiches

For Your Sweet Tooth:

  • Make your own s’mores
  • Popcorn
  • Sweet potato chips

 What are some fun ideas or tips you have for making your child’s lunch?

Sarah is originally from the east coast of Canada and moved to San Antonio from Salt Lake City 6 years ago for her husband’s job. They have 6 children: Samuel (9), William (7), Benjamin (5), Afton Rose (4), Charles (2), and a baby girl that was born on July 1st. She’s a busy stay at home mom, and she loves her job! She loves entertaining and cooking and spending time with friends and family. She’s also come to fully embrace the family road trip! You can read more about Sarah and her family over at Frankly Entertaining.


  1. Bridget: Let me know how it goes!
    Katy: I love the ideas about color. I do send pasta a lot because my kids love it! I stay away from tomatoes because I have irrational fears about food exploding, so I stick with hard veggies only!

  2. Another good “main” is cheese tortellini, which is good at room temperature. On the occassions I’ve had to pack a lunch for my child, I also give thought to the colors and shapes. For example, I might send cherry tomatos, carrot sticks, cucumber rounds, and tortellini. The variety makes for better eye-appeal than if everything were a similar color/shape.

  3. Sarah- I loved your tip on tv last week about putting the apple back together with Saran Wrap after slicing it to keep it from going brown. I never would have thought of that and I can’t wait to try it next week!

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