Helpful Tips and Lunch Ideas for Back to School

Do you need lunch ideas for back to school? if you’re like me you find the hardest part of packing lunches is coming up with ideas for what to pack! In this post, I’ll share my master list of lunch ideas and a few tips to help make packing lunches more manageable.

lunch box with drink carrots granola bar sandwich kabobs
My kids loved snacky lunches.

What Does a Healthy Lunch Look Like

To me, a healthy lunch includes nutrient rich, minimally processed foods from as many food groups as possible. Think veggies, fruits, whole grains and protein foods – just like Canada’s Food Guide recommends. The more variety, the greater the chance you’ll get long lasting energy to see you through the afternoon.

7 Tips to Make Packing Lunch Easier

1.Plan Ahead

Eliminate the last-minute scramble of deciding what to pack. Make a master list of lunch ideas including your family’s favourite sandwiches, salads, thermos foods, leftovers, breakfast foods, fruits, veggies, dips, breads snacks, etc. List everything you can think of, so you never have to come up with ideas on the spur of the moment again!  Check out my master list below for inspiration.

chart of lunch ideas in categories
A master list of lunch ideas to stick on your fridge.

Once you have your list of ideas, you and your family can pick favourites every week and shop accordingly. You’ll save time, money and you’ll usually make more nutritious food choices.

Want a pdf version with clickable links to recipes listed? Click here for Printable/Clickable PDF of Master Lunch Ideas

2. Prep For the Week

The more prep work you can do before the morning rush, the calmer packing lunches will be. In addition to chopping veggies for the week ahead, make extra soups, stews, chili, frittatas or roasts so you have easy to pack lunch ideas. Tasks that can be done ahead include washing and chopping veggies, repackaging bulk foods into smaller portion sizes and preparing homemade snacks and dips.

3. Get Kids Involved

It takes more time to get kids to help versus doing it yourself at first, but it’s worth the effort. Think of it as an investment with a future payback. The sooner and more frequently you involve kids, the sooner they’ll be able to pack their own lunch.

When they’re little, let them decide which flavour of fruit roll up or yogurt they want, count crackers or grapes into little containers and help empty their lunch box after school. As they get older, they can chop veggies, prep simple dishes, wash their water bottle and so on.

boy helping make lunch at counter
Get kids involved in making their lunches as early as possible.

4.Make Lunch/Snack Bins

For easy grab and go snacks you approve of, make designated lunch or snack bins in your fridge and pantry. Refill them two or three times a week so everyone has easy access. To save money and packaging, buy in bulk and make smaller portion sizes in reusable containers instead of buying ready to go snackables.

Ideas for the pantry bin: crackers, pretzels, popcorn, trail mix, granola bars, cookies, fruit leather and shelf stable pudding or canned fruit.

Ideas for the fridge bin: cheese, fruit, yogurt, hummus, chopped veggies, apple sauce, homemade pudding or canned fruit.  

5. Think Outside the Lunchbox

Don’t be limited by “traditional” lunch foods. And don’t get hung up on a “main dish” and sides. My kids LOVED snacky lunches – a collection of different little things to eat. Having a “main” was not a big deal for them, so don’t let it be a big deal for you.

Basically, if your kids will eat it, you approve and it can be safely packed – it’s fair game! Go ahead and pack leftovers or foods we often associate with breakfast or dinner. Pancakes with applesauce, last night’s lasagna or a thermos full of chickpea curry are all great lunch ideas.

French toast fingers in stewed rhubarb
French toast fingers with a side of stewed rhubarb or apple sauce makes a great lunch.

Even sandwiches can be spiffed up and changed. Instead of sliced bread use pita, naan or wraps. Instead of butter and mustard try tzatziki, hummus, pesto, guacamole, salsa, refried beans or mayo mixed with Sriracha, curry paste or sundried tomatoes to add a little zip.

6. Relax

Lunch is just one meal of the day. If you pack the same thing a couple days in a row or you’re missing some food groups, it’s okay. There are plenty of other eating opportunities where you can catch up on anything you feel you might be missing.

And please, stop comparing your child’s lunches to those you see on social media! Those lunches are NOT reality, they’ve been styled, polished, photo-shopped and staged to look amazing. Do you have 2 hours to style your child’s lunch?! I didn’t think so. If you need a reality check, ask your parents and grandparents what they ate for lunch when they went to school. Now that’s reality!

I rarely made fancy lunches for my kids. Only a handful of times a year would I do anything out of the ordinary like these apple heart cut outs or St.Patrick’s Day wraps (if you can call cream cheese on green wraps fancy!).

hearts cut into side of apples
You don’t need to make decorative lunches. If you enjoy it, go for it, if you don’t, don’t!

7. Keep it Food Safe

Finally, when packing, keep food safety in mind.

  • Keep hot things hot and cold things cold (above 74°C/165°F) or below 4°C/40°F). Use ice packs for cold foods and a thermos for hot.
  • Invest in a high-quality thermos that’s rated to keep food hot for at least 6 hours (it’s five hours until noon if you pack lunch at 7 am).
  • Pre-heat or pre-cool a thermos by filling and soaking with boiling hot or cold water for 5-10 minutes before filling with food.

Recipes for Lunch Ideas

How about trying one of these recipes for your lunch box?

Go conquer those lunches! Let me know how it goes, down below in the comments or on Instagram @GetGettyS or on Facebook  @GettyStewart.HomeEconomist.

Getty Stewart is a Professional Home Economist,  speaker, frequent media guest and writer dedicated to putting good food on tables and agendas.  She is the author of several recipe books on enjoying and preserving fruit, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener. Sign up to get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this.

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