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Expert School Lunch Tips

Though many families choose to partake of Branch’s catered lunch option, parents are also welcome to send children to school with a lunch packed from home. However, when it comes to making lunches, many parents and kids alike might cringe at the very thought.  Making it fun and easy are ways to overcome this daily chore.


Packing Lunches

Ideally, getting your kids involved is the way to go.  The more involved they are, the more likely they are to be interested in actually eating what is packed.  Added benefits include teaching them healthy eating habits and responsibility.  Have them plan what needs to be purchased from the grocery store so you are certain food will actually be consumed and not given to a friend or tossed in the trash.    Young kids can help pack the items into their lunchbox until they are old enough to be able to actually make their lunch.  Older kids can help cut up veggies and fruits and make their sandwich.

Time savers

Think about packing lunches the night before as mornings tend to be rather hectic.  Be careful though as some foods don’t always taste as good having been made the evening before.  My kids aren’t fans of a 15 hour old peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  The bread tends to get soggy.  Other items such as veggies can be prepared ahead of time; even pre-bagged dry items can be tossed into lunchboxes the night before.  Freezing tubes of yogurt can be a good option as by lunchtime, they’re usually defrosted.  I do still include ice packs in lunchboxes to keep them cool.  Another time saver are pre-bagged chips, fruits and veggies.  These sometimes aren’t as cost effective; however, saving time sometimes outweighs the extra cost.


Lunch notes

Adding a lunch note to your child’s lunch is a fun way to brighten their day.  Parents can create the notes or even siblings!  This can be as simple as writing a quick note on a napkin wishing them a happy Tuesday, good luck on a test or mentioning something they’ll be doing after school.  There are various ones you can also purchase from stores that include trivia, jokes and words of encouragement.  I think generally they’re meant to just be tossed in the trash; however, in our house we reuse them!!

The kids and I tend to date them and then throw them back into a baggie for reuse with future lunches.  The kids get a kick out of seeing when they had been previously used.  When my youngest was born, I wrote messages on the older kids’ lunch notes and now we plan to use those same lunch notes for our youngest now that she’s in school.  This of course is probably way over the top in the planning department though!


You can also make lunch creative.  I’ve seen a commercial where snacks are in a resealable bag and then a clothespin is attached to the center to make it look like a butterfly.  You can use cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into various shapes which could be seasonally themed, letters or numbers.  You or someone else in the house can draw a quick picture on a napkin.  On birthdays, you can include a birthday napkin and even some confetti.


Healthy choices

Be sure to try and include each food group when making lunches.  An easy way to get protein is through cheese, peanut butter, deli meat slices, pepperoni slices or a handful of nuts.  With cheese, you can wrap sliced turkey or ham around a cheese stick.  As far as sandwiches go, I have one picky eater who doesn’t like regular sandwich bread.  I end up buying dinner rolls for her turkey sandwiches.  To include peanut butter, you can use it as part of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, as a dip for celery or even spread on celery with raisins on top for ‘ants on a log’.  To get a taste of pizza at lunch, include pepperoni slices or turkey pepperoni and shredded mozzarella.  When it comes to fruit, you can include it whole, sliced up or prepackaged for ease.  Though not as cost effective for me, my kids have taken to the squeeze packets of applesauce and it does save time when packing lunches in the morning.  I also make sure my kids have a vegetable in their lunches.  Their choices range between varied types of carrots, edamame, celery, sugar snap peas or even cooked peas!  Some sort of chip/snack cracker is usually included in their lunches.  I used to buy large bags from the store and then use storage containers for their chips/crackers; however, as time became a factor for them, I opted to buy individually packaged chips.    Again, the most important thing is that they get to make their own choice so they’re more likely to actually eat what gets packed. 


Be sure to include a drink with lunch.  When the kids were younger, we actually packed milk in drink containers which would stay cool for several hours.  As the kids grew older, we just stuck with water.  You can pour the beverage of their choice into any chillable drink container.   Juice boxes are another alternative.  Be sure those straw wrappers make it in the trash though!



Finding the right type of storage is important.  You want to be sure you have something that can contain all you want to pack.  You also want to be sure it won’t rip!  Paper lunch bags seem to have gone away.  For our house, they don’t hold all the kids want and they tend to rip when adding in cold items.  Plus, they’re not as ecofriendly as other options.  When selecting a reusable lunchbox, you want to be sure you find one you can easily clean.  We try to wipe ours down after any major spills and at a minimum down at the end of each week to keep them fresh.  Sometimes you can find them with water bottles included and/or storage containers.  We like storage containers because they keep food from spilling and getting smooshed.  The kids empty their lunchboxes when they get home and pop all containers in the dishwasher for use the next day.  When using something like peanut butter as a dip, we like to put it in a cupcake paper holder and then inside the container.  This keeps the container from being a super peanut butter mess in regards to cleaning.  We’ve tried the silicone cupcake holders for peanut butter and they do work; however, if you’re looking for the cleanest option, disposable paper cupcake holders is what we recommend.

Happy lunch making!


Liz Mitchell teaches 5th-8th Grade Spanish and 8th Grade Social Studies.  As a mom of 4, she knows all about school lunches!