A Back-to-School Eat Well, Spend Less: ABC Ideas for Your Lunchbox

Looking for inspiration on what to pack in your kids’ lunchboxes as they head back to school? Here are a few fun lunchbox ideas to get you through the year (or at least the first half of it) in this month’s Eat Well, Spend Less series.

I pull the white cotton sheet over my head and pretend the world does not exist. Being woken up to the sound of my husband’s alarm blaring at 5:45 a.m. after having just crawled into bed at 2:17 a.m. is a painful reality. If I can just keep my eyes shut.

Slowly I succumb to the inevitable. School is back in session. There will be no snooze buttons if I am to get four kids moving in the morning, three with lunches in their hands.

Today was easy, though. Leftovers had been packaged the night before. The only things left to do were fill in with appropriate sides and preheat containers with boiling water so they are ready to be tightly packed with food for the masses. By this time next week, maybe even by tomorrow, I’ll start feeling like I’m packing the same things over and over again. I will stare into the cupboards and the refrigerator and strain to think of lunch possibilities.

It’s for those days when I can’t seem to think, when I’m standing at the grocery store and thinking that individually-packaged crackers and cheese are a good idea, when I just want things to be easier than they are that I am creating this list. A list of ideas to fall back on when packing lunch seems exceptionally difficult for people who have no had morning coffee, who would rather sleep for a few more hours, and who are doing it all while reminding the kids to brush their teeth, their hair, put socks on, grab their library book, and to please, please, please remember to pick up the signed field trip slip this morning.

ABCs of School Lunch

  • Ants on a Log: Celery + peanut butter or other nut or sunflower seed butter + raisins or other dried fruit.
  • Apples: Fresh, freeze-dried, dehydrated, chips.
  • Apples and Peanut Butter: My kids love apple slices with nut butter to dip them in. I’ve taken to packing SunButter to avoid any allergy issues.
  • Applesauce: Homemade, in a pouch, from a jar.
  • Apricots: Fresh, freeze-dried, dehydrated.
  • Avocados: With salt and baguette to spread them on.
  • Bagels with Cream Cheese
  • Bean Salad: My kids are fans of the Mediterranean one I shared, but you could do just about any kind of bean salad and serve it with chips or pita.
  • Blueberries: Fresh, freeze-dried, dehydrated.
  • Breakfast Sandwich: Apple cinnamon bread or cinnamon swirl bread, cream cheese, fresh fruit slices.
  • Carrot Sticks with Ranch Dressing
  • Cheese: String, slices, sticks, cubes, and otherwise.
  • Chex Mix: Homemade Chex Mix is easy to make and easy to pack. Plus, you have control over the ingredients and the add-ins. Peanut/nut allergies? Eliminated.
  • Chicken Pasta Salad: Leftover chicken, leftover pasta, celery (pickles if you’re Ole), onions, mayonnaise, squirt of lemon, fresh herbs if you’re feeling fancy.
  • Chicken Salad: Spread it on crackers, press it between bread, roll it in butter lettuce leaves.
  • Crackers and Cheese: AKA – Lunchables Made by Mom.
  • Crackers with Cream Cheese: Send crackers, a container of spread, and a few fresh vegetables (cherry tomato halves, cucumber slices), and maybe even a bit of dill or parsley if your kids are into that (mine happen to be).
  • Cucumber Coins
  • Deviled Eggs: Again, the possibilities are endless.
  • Egg Salad: Served with crackers or between bread.
  • Fried Rice: Preheat the container with boiling water before packing it with hot food.
  • Fruit Rolls: Have the kids help when you’re making them, and then they can decide on different flavors as well like.
  • Fruit Skewers: Make lunch fun by sticking it on a skewer. A great way to use up odds and ends at the end of the week.
  • Fruit Snacks: Whether you make these at home or opt for a packaged variety (all fruit, of course), these are a great small treat.
  • Grapes: Easy peasy.
  • Granola: Send with milk or yogurt and fresh fruit (or my favorite: yogurt-covered raisins.
  • Hard-Boiled Eggs: Peel them first so your kids don’t waste precious lunch minutes trying to pick the shells apart.
  • Hummus: Paired with pita, pita chips, vegetable sticks.
  • Indian Food: Served over rice, these saucy meats and vegetables (saag, josh, curry, masala) are perfect foods for packing in thermal containers.
  • Jello: My kids are always interested in the little gelatin containers. I make it in Knox Blox form using real fruit juices instead and pack them in prepped thermal containers so they hold up until lunchtime.
  • Kiwi: Sliced in half and served with a spoon to scoop it out.
  • Leftovers: My favorites are rice dishes and pasta, but all sorts of leftovers make for easy lunches.
  • Macaroni and Cheese: Boil extra water for adding to the containers, and then make the sauce while the noodles cook. If you are a planner, making noodles ahead and having them ready to go in the refrigerator is a great cheat.
  • Muffins: I’m a fan of the peaches & cream variety I’ve shared. I would pack this along with a healthy serving of apples and nut butter to complement.
  • Naan Sandwiches: Spread with hummus and topped with roasted red peppers.
  • Oatmeal: Nutella oatmeal was a hit in the thermal jars (preheated, of course), and I believe cardamom pear oatmeal would be, too.
  • Pears: Under-appreciated and oft overlooked. Fresh is best, but freeze-dried and dehydrated also make the list.
  • Pretzels: Pack them alone or with a dip (like SunButter or PB).
  • Pineapple: Chunked, rings, dehydrated, freeze-dried.
  • Pizza Rolls: Tortilla, thinly sliced cheddar, and large pepperoni slices rolled up and sliced into pinwheels.
  • Plums: Fresh if they’re plums, because they magically change to prunes when you dehydrate them.
  • Popcorn: Some kids pack potato chips, I sent stove-popped popcorn and kettle corn.
  • Pudding: Homemade.
  • Pumpkin Seeds: Roasted & salted or raw.
  • Quesadillas: Cheese, chicken, salsa, tortilla = lunch.
  • Quiche: Leftover quiche or freshly made makes an easy lunch.
  • Raspberries: Fresh, filled with chocolate chips as dessert.
  • Rice Crackers: Because they are good.
  • Salad in a Jar: The possibilities are endless, but I did a ranch chicken pasta salad last year.
  • Salmon Wrap: Wrap, avocado smashed and spread with a light sprinkle of pepper, smoked salmon, cucumber, greens.
  • Sandwiches: Lunchmeat and cheese or PB&J varieties.
  • Smoothies: Freeze them and pack frozen in an insulated lunchbox with an ice pack. They will thaw to the right consistency for stirring and slurping by lunchtime.
  • Soup: Sometimes we even pack soup in our thermal containers. Whether you prefer tomato, potato leek, or a chunky wild rice, don’t overlook this lunch option.
  • Strawberries: Fresh, freeze-dried, dehydrated.
  • Sunflower Seeds: Roasted & salted or raw.
  • Sushi: I send leftovers if we go out for sushi, but sometimes I’ll buy an extra roll or two as a treat.
  • Trail Mix: My kids think trail mix is a special treat, and tossing together a few seeds, chocolate chips, and dried fruit is an easy way to get them fed happily.
  • Udon: I was just having a conversation with Alice when I was in Seattle about how all kids adore udon. ‘Tis true.
  • Vermicelli: Or any kind of pasta with vegetables.
  • Waffle Sandwiches: Waffles spread with cream cheese and strawberries, filled with PB&J, etc.
  • Xylitol Gum: My younger kids can’t have gum, but in junior high you can, and it’s good for getting junk out of the braces, so it definitely makes the eldest’s lunchbox list.
  • Yogurt: Frozen in tubes, in a container, homemade in a jar.
  • Zucchini and Summer Squash Sticks
  • Orange Pecan Zucchini Bread: Add cream cheese or just send alone.

Disclaimers: Every kid is different, just like you as their parent(s) are different. You have different likes, dislikes, eating habits. This is a list of ideas. If your kids hates hard-boiled eggs, for example, then this wouldn’t make your list of things to pack. Maybe you have one kid who loves them and one who hates them.

More on Back-to-School Lunches

The Art of Back-to-School Lunches Where I tackle everything about back-to-school from breakfast to creative lunch ideas to easy snacks to last-minute dinner.

Breaking Down School Lunch Box Ideas Rethinking ideas for the school lunch box from sandwiches to wraps to crackers and cheese and fruit on a stick.

As always, you can check out what others are writing in the Eat Well, Spend Less series and how they are preparing for the back-to-school season:


  1. What a great list of ideas! My kids love putting all sorts of “bugs” on a log. 🙂

  2. These aren’t just great ideas for kids. They’re great ideas for picky husbands too.

  3. These are great ideas. I don’t know how you handle four and work, amazing!

  4. Fabulous list Shaina!!……..I’ll be using many of these ideas for my own lunch!

  5. Awesome list – it’s printed off, taped to the inside of my cupboard door, for moments of lunchbox boredom!!!

  6. What great ideas!!

  7. Incredible, Sommer.
    First year in 30 that I am not back to school myself.

  8. Love your colorful bento box. That list sure will cover the whole school year.

  9. Great ideas Shaina. I’m looking forward to making school lunch fun for my kids this year. No more boring turkey sandwiches. 🙂

  10. Such great lunch ideas!

  11. Wow, what a huge collection of recipes! Thanks for all these fabulous ideas!

  12. Great round-up, Shaina! This will be super useful in the coming year.

  13. What a super great roundup! I’m going to be making a few of those chicken salads in a jar for the kids next week! xoxo

  14. Thanks for this list. Packing lunch for my son is the bane of my existence. I’m always struggling for ideas. He’s a picky eater anyway and three of the things he loves, peanutbutter, nuts and granola bars aren’t allowed at school because three children out of 250 have nut allergies.

    • our school is also nut free I have recently found wow butter made from soy looks and tastes like PB it even comes with little stickers to put on food containers letting school know it is a nut free product

  15. This is such a great list! I don’t have kids and I like these ideas for myself. 🙂

  16. What a great list! I am craving homemade hummus now!

  17. So creative and motivated. My older boys eat at my SIL’s grocery store where she serves up soups, sandwiches and such. My little guy begs for me to pack his lunch. I will give some of these things a try and I know he will love them. You really are a great Mom!

  18. Some more ideas:

    1. Mini loaves. I’ve been using my new USA Pans mini loaf pan (which is awesome). It makes 8 loaves at a time. Wrap them in wax paper and put them in the pantry. The kids can grab one and put it in their backpacks for their daily snack at school.

    2. Buy #2 apples from your local orchard and make applesauce (freeze it in small containers). Add chopped, frozen cranberries to the apples (adding a bit of sugar to counter the extra tartness) and the resulting red applesauce will be a great surprise to them when they open their lunchboxes.

    3. Soup: vegetable, chicken noodle and Greek avgolemono soup (using leftover roasted chicken).

    4. Grill extra chicken thighs or chicken legs with homemade BBQ sauce and put them cold in their lunchboxes the next day.

  19. Can you adopt me and make me lunch every day? Plskthx.

  20. LOVE.this.list.
    Thank you, Shaina. My kids just discovered and devoured an entire bag of freeze dried bananas – that would definitely be on my ABC list as well. Am now looking for nut free recommendations for granola bars that are not loaded with sugar or processed junk. Would love to hear your suggestions?

  21. Love that salad in a jar! yummy looking thing but it look more like a display that I wouldn’t want touching…so delicate.

  22. This list doesn’t come in handy just for school lunches but for home lunches as well! Thanks for putting it together Shaina! Saving it for future inspiration

  23. Thanks for this post! Such great ideas!

  24. What dish is in the picture, looks like rice and sausage… Is there a recipe?

  25. Heplo there! This blog post could not be written any better!
    Going through this articl reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He constantly kept talking aboyt this. I’ll ssend this article to him.
    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thaanks
    for sharing!


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