Suggestions For School Lunches

An empty lunch box can be an intimidating thing at 6 am when you are wiping the sleep from you eyes and wishing you had taken the time to prepare and program the coffee maker the night before. To help you out of this predicament, I offer the following suggestions. You can mix and match them as you see fit, creating a good combination for your crew. All the suggestions are cheap and nutritious. Some require work the day before, but many can be made quickly, even in a bleary morning fog. Some women will print this page out and keep it on their refrigerator for ideas. Other women will have their kids look it over and check or circle all of the ideas they like. Be sure to add your own ideas too.

Ideas for packed school lunches

Sandwiches are the backbone of box lunches. They are easy and quick to prepare in the morning, or can be prepared and packaged the night before. Variety abounds, making monotony something only to be endured by choice. Tommy is going through a stage where he only wants grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. I fry them in the morning, wrap them in foil, and pack them in one of the side pockets of his insulated lunch bag. They seem to be a little warm at lunch, and he is satisfied with them. Sometimes there are so many variables in a child’s day that it is nice to know that lunch is predictable. I allow my children to indulge in monotony until they tire of it. Then I encourage them to explore the complex joys of variety. The following sandwich fillings include proven favorites and new adventures.

  • Tuna Salad with Celery
  • Egg Salad with Pickles
  • Chicken Salad with Raisins
  • Turkey Salad with Curry Powder
  • Baloney & Cheese & Mustard & Mayo
  • Turkey and Cranberry sauce
  • Fried Spam & Cheese
  • Fried Canned Corned Beef & Sauerkraut
  • Meatballs in a hotdog bun with tomato sauce
  • Meat Loaf with Tomato Slices
  • Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato
  • Bacon and Fried Eggs
  • Fried Baloney or Spam & Fried Eggs
  • Sloppy Joes
  • Turkey & Bacon and bean sprouts
  • Sliced Cucumbers & Butter
  • Sliced Cucumbers & Cream Cheese
  • Cream Cheese & Jelly
  • Peanut Butter & Jelly
  • Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Fluff
  • Peanut Butter & Raisins
  • Sausage & Egg Biscuit
  • Egg & Cheese Sandwich
  • Pork Roast & BBQ Sauce & coleslaw
  • Sliced Beef Roast & horseradish
  • Sliced Beef and Swiss Cheese
  • Sliced Beef & Cream Cheese
  • Sliced Beef & fried onions or mushrooms
  • Loose fried hamburger & onions & cheese
  • Burritos with beef or beans & cheese
  • Tacos
  • Quesadilla (fried cheese tortillas)
  • Baloney, mayonnaise & Pineapple Rings
  • Cream Cheese & minced peppers
  • Baked beans with pickle relish
  • Hamburgers with fixings
  • Corn Dogs
  • Hot Dogs with Chili
  • Hot Dogs with Cheese
  • Hot Dogs with Coleslaw
  • Chopped Chicken & BBQ Sauce
  • Ham Salad with Pickles
  • Fajitas with Beef or Chicken
  • Baloney, Mustard & Sprouts, wrapped in a tortilla

Sandwiches may be the mainstay of packed lunches, but other main dishes lend variety and interest to the same old thing. The following main dishes are packed cold in the lunch box. They taste good, and are usually favorites among the lunch box crowd. Some of these items will fit in flip top sandwich bags, others will need to be packed into plasitc resealable container. Remember to send a spoon or fork if the dish requires it.

  • Fried Chicken
  • Leftover Pizza
  • Chef Salad
  • Pasta & Meat Salad
  • Individual Meat Loaves
  • BBQ Chicken or Ribs
  • Chicken Teriyaki
  • Boiled Eggs

If you have a thermos at your disposal, there is no end to the variety you can send along. Many casseroles, soups and skillet meals pack nicely, making a very interesting lunch for the lucky eater. Give a few of the following a whirl when sandwiches seem boring or old. Remember to pre-heat the thermos with hot tap water. Also make certain the food is well heated before spooning it into the thermos. I heat up soupy things on the stove, and more solid things I heat in the microwave. Be sure to get everything very hot before packing it.

  • Baked Beans & Sliced Hotdogs
  • 1/2 cup Hot Rice with 1/2 cup Beef & Broccoli overtop
  • Mashed potatoes with creamed chicken or turkey & gravy
  • Tuna Casserole
  • Chicken & Rice Casserole
  • Beef & Tomato Casserole
  • Canned Soups
  • Chowders
  • Creamed Soups
  • Hot Pinto Beans & Salt Pork or Bacon
  • Chili with beans
  • Spaghetti and Sauce
  • Chopped up Lasagna
  • Scalloped Potatoes or Potatoes Au Gratin
  • Macaroni & Cheese
  • Lentils & Rice
  • Beef Stew
  • Hamburger Gravy to spoon over bread
  • Sausage Gravy to spoon over biscuits
  • Creamed Ham to spoon over biscuits
  • Mashed Potatoes with Cheese
  • Ramen Noodles & Veggies

If you have a cold-pack thermos that holds 1/2-cup or 4 ounces or so, then even more options open up for you. If you don’t have a cold-pack thermos, then you can pack a blue freezer-pack along with the lunch, and rest assured that everything will remain cold until lunch time. This is the method I prefer. I use small 4oz and 8oz resealable containers put out by Glad and Zip-Lock. Rubbermaid also makes some nice ones. They are just the right size to hold a serving of pudding or yogurt or fruit. They come home every day to be washed. Try filling them with the following:

  • Deviled Eggs
  • Custard style Yogurt
  • Vanilla Yogurt
  • Yogurt with fruit
  • Yogurt with Jam
  • Cottage Cheese & cut up or Canned Fruit
  • Cottage Cheese & minced veggies
  • Plain Cottage Cheese
  • Instant Pudding
  • Homemade Pudding
  • Rice Pudding
  • Bread Pudding
  • Fruit Flavored Gelatin
  • Gelatin with Fruit
  • Gelatin with Veggies
  • Carrot Raisin Salad
  • Macaroni Salad
  • Coleslaw
  • Potato Salad
  • Waldorf Salad
  • Dip or Dressing for
    Vegetable Sticks
  • Fruit Cobbler or Crisps
  • Fruit or Cream Pies
  • Pea & Cheese Salad
  • Canned Pineapple
  • Canned Peaches
  • Canned Pears
  • Canned Fruit Cocktail
  • Applesauce
  • Prunes cooked in Orange Juice
  • Green Salad, with dressing in a separate small container
  • Frozen Strawberries

Other items can be packaged in flip top baggies and sent along for crunching. Children usually like a variety of extra nibbles throughout the week. If you send fresh fruit, it will more likely be eaten if it is cut into easy to eat wedges, than if it is left whole. Also, small fruit like bananas or apples will result in fewer leftovers than large fruit. If I only have large fruit, I will give each child half of it, which is more in keeping with their appetite.

  • Apple Wedges
  • Orange Smiles
  • Cluster of Grapes
  • Small Banana
  • Carrot Sticks
  • Celery Sticks
  • Broccoli Trees
  • Turnip Sticks
  • Radishes
  • Boiled Eggs
  • Green Pepper Strips
  • Cucumber Slices
  • Cheese Cubes
  • Peanut Butter Crackers
  • Crackers & Baloney Triangles
  • Crackers & Cheese Slices
  • Crackers & Cream Cheese
  • Pretzels
  • Popcorn
  • Caramel Corn
  • Raisins
  • Dry Apricots
  • Prunes
  • Banana Chips
  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Cheese Crackers
  • Celery stuffed with Peanut Butter
  • Celery stuffed with Cream Cheese
  • Granola
  • Gorp
  • Homemade Cereal Snack Mix (like chex mix)

Next in line is something sweet to nibble on when the rest of the food is eaten. At my house this usually means a baked good. All of the following items can be made at home the day before, or on Baking Day. They pack easily in flip-top baggies and provide the extra nourishment that makes sure everyone gets enough to eat.

  • Oatmeal Cookies
  • Peanut Butter Cookies
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Snickerdoodles
  • Brownies
  • Chocolate Cake
  • Vanilla Cake
  • Spice Cake
  • Gingerbread
  • Banana Cake
  • Oatmeal Cake
  • Blondies
  • Granola Bars
  • Blueberry Muffins
  • Banana Muffins
  • Oatmeal Muffins
  • Cheese Muffins
  • Corn Muffins
  • Whole Wheat Muffins
  • Bran Muffins
  • Zucchini Bread
  • Banana Bread
  • Peanut Butter Bread
  • Raisin Bread
  • Orange Juice Muffins
  • Coffee Cake
  • Cinnamon Raisin Biscuit
  • Cinnamon Toast

We end this litany of choices with beverages. A thermos will make toting these items easy and healthful. If you don’t have a thermos, then be sure to pack a blue freezer-pack along with the lunch, to keep everything cold and bacteria-free. If this isn’t an option then choose Kool-Aid, Tea, Water or Lemonade, because these items can withstand temperature change the easiest. My kids prefer pint (16oz) containers of beverage, so they can rehydrate easily during lunch.

  • Reconstituted Milk
  • Chocolate Milk
  • Hot Chocolate
  • Hot Coffee or Tea
  • Kool-Aid
  • Iced Tea
  • Ice Water
  • Fruit Smoothies
  • Orange Juice
  • Apple Juice
  • Grape Juice
  • Lemonade

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Comments

  1. Amber says

    an easy way to make sandwiches is to make up a batch of popovers and keep them carefully wrapped in the freezer. basically popovers are large hollow stand up rolls (which must be baked precisely according to directions or they turn out crispy and hollow.) then make up a few prepared sandwich fillings like tuna and egg salad and just tear open the top and spoon filling in side. The popovers will be thawed by lunch time while keeping the mayo fillings cold. These are great with any hot soup, creamed chicken or beef and broccoli in them too or scrambled eggs and sausage gravy. Also muffin tin made tuna cakes and meat loaves would work great for lunches. Another good one is to take thin square slices of ham and spray the muffin tin and then push the ham pieces down into the cups then crack an egg into each cup and bake at 350 til yolk is set, usually about 15 to 18 minutes. then salt and pepper. these are great for breakfast or lunch.

  2. Amber says

    ok last one, i love to pack “shake” salads. This is when you get a largish-like i don’t know-2 or 3 cup gladware plastic container with lid and you start by covering the bottom with a thin layer of dressing then you layer other salad ingredients like shredded cheese, egg, etc, “sealing” over the dressing. The last ingredient should be the lettuce and REMEMBER to not fill the container all the way full, about 2/3-max fullness is ideal. When it’s time to eat lunch, don’t even open it yet, just shake it up vigourously to toss the salad then eat it. This solves the problem of soggy lettuce by lunchtime or packing a separate small container of dressing.

  3. Barbara says

    Thanks so much for this list, Suzanne,(and Amber’s great ideas too!) My daughter works shift work at the mine and she works 12 hour shifts, sometimes longer. She has to pack enough food for a long day. There are so many great ideas on this list that I printed it out for her, so she can have some variety. There are so many great ideas and you included how to prepare and pack these tasty dishes too. What a great help! Thanks again!

  4. Kim says

    My VERY picky 9 year old will not eat sandwiches (go figure!), but loves it when I make home-made “lunchables”. I purchased a cheap Rubbermaid sandwich container with sections. Eacn section gets its own item (i.e., whole wheat crackers, deli meat and cheese sliced to ‘fit’ on the crackers, etc.). I am controlling the fat and salt, and he gets the lunch he wants. Round it out with a pint Rubbermaid bottle of milk, and an applesauce cup, and he and I are both happy campers.

  5. Veronica says

    not really school lunch, but my husband takes his lunch everyday and plain ol turkey & ham sandwiches were getting old….so I have started making burritos(chicken or steak,onions, tomatoes, beans.. fajita type)and i wrap them in foil and i fit 3 of them into his thermos. better than sandwiches

  6. Sunshine says

    My husband works 12-16 hour shifts at the county jail. I love all the ideas you have! The sandwich and chips are getting old for him. I will be trying some of your ideas this week.

  7. TRISH says

    Wonderful ideas! Thank you. I am going to do some cut & paste and make a list for the grandkids. Then they can pick and choose what they want for lunches. They are much more likely to eat the bag lunch if they had “some say” about the contents. It also takes away that complaint….”I don’t like that”. OK, pick what you like.

  8. Deb says

    This is something I did when I had to pack lunches for my men.
    I bought several pounds of assorted sandwich meats (ham, turkey, smoked chicken, pepperoni, etc) and several dozen large rolls if I didn’t have time to make them. Then I set up an assembly line of buttered rolls and began putting on the toppings of mayo, mustard and meat with cheese. Every bun was wrapped in plastic and put into a large bag with the type of meat written on the bag. The bags went into the freezer and then come the time to fill a lunch bag they just grabbed whatever they were in the mood for, added some fruit, muffins (also wrapped and frozen) and they were set for the day. It was a fast easy way to fill them up and I only made filled rolls once every 2 weeks.

    • Kelli says

      I would caution you about freezing mayonnaise. Perhaps an investment into some packets of mayo would be a great remedy to this really good suggestion OR just place a spoonful of mayo/miracle whip in a baggie, seal it off. When ready, snip off the corner and squirt onto your sammie. Happy eating!

  9. DebraRuegg says

    Here’s a oldie but still goodie in my books;instead of using tuna,or other meats,mash or grind up bologna or cooked hot dogs,add chopped finely hard boiled eggs,onion,celery,pickles or relish,mayo. Mix well. refrigerate overnight or for several hours. Can also add some shredded cheese to the mix if desired. I grew up with these for school in the sixties and early seventies. Sometimes they were our supper,with soup or chips. This is still a cheap meal for hubby and me,and a blast from my past.

  10. Kelli says

    I like to take leftover chicken (like from a roaster at the deli… or cook it yourself) and place into a pan with caramelized onions, adding freshly minced rosemary then heating through, to blend all flavors. Place into a handy container and pop in the fridge. (Leave a breather hole until it cools). When ready, place filling into a couple of pieces of your favorite bread and grill like a grilled cheese sammie. Add a slice of your favorite cheese before grilling if you want, like provolone (my fav for this sammie) . Enjoy this savory sandwich paired with fresh fruit, pasta salad or just plain ol’ chips.

  11. Kathy says

    At my last job we were fortunate enough to have a toaster oven, toaster, microwave and a refrigerator/freezer so we could basically take a whole meal in. Even tho I am no longer working I am going to check out some of these ideas. I have my grand-children during the day….ages 2 & 4……and am trying to give them a variety of things for breakfast, lunch and snacks. I don’t want to fall back on the same old stuff every day.

  12. Sara says

    Thank you for all of the suggestions! I have 4 children of my own plus I babysit a few times a week, so these will make great lunches! :D Also, Amber, would you mind sharing the recipe for the pop overs? Those sound neat!!

  13. Ursula says

    Hi everyone I am a mother of 3. .Every day I am preparing lunches for kids in 2 schools.We have a program that offer a kids healthy ,nutritional hot lunch.We do not like a “junk”foods but we try to introduce them something that they would like it.We have a lot respond from parents that they know that their kids had a healthy lunch instead of “junk”.For the mothers- please spend 20 min every day to prepare a lunch that your kid love it.Try to put a lot varieties of food,make them colorful and also – very important- try to ask your kid what they Really like it and what they would like to see in them lunch box.

  14. Vanessa says

    I really like a lot of the ideas I have read! I have 4 children, and sometimes packing lunches can be a real chore. I have one child who is Type 1 diabetic and I prefer her to take lunches as the school lunches tend to be very high in carbohydrates, something she doesn’t need to much of. At the beginning of the school year I get all my children’s ideas for lunches and make a list. Then, I make a 2 to 4 week menu of lunch box meals. Then, I show them to my children and we tweak them a bit. This makes prepping and making lunches much easier! The night before, we get everything together that can be put in the lunch box and next morning we finish it off with anything that needs to made “fresh” like a sandwich with mayo. etc. I was just making my 4 week list and got to week 3 and was running out of ideas when I found this site. Thanks so much for the ideas!

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