As I prepare for my children to return to school, I have mixed emotions (P.S. – pic on the right is out of date! My oldest graduated and my littlest is about to turn 1!). In many ways, I love having them home during the summer. But I also long for the controlled chaos and hint of structure that comes with the fall. Last year during registration, I heard a woman who works in the cafeteria tell someone else that hot lunch comes to about $50.00 per month per child. YIKES! For my family, that’d be $250 per month just for LUNCH! My little boys LOVE to have “hot lunch” at school. My older kids… not so much.
My plan of attack:
#1 Get the Kids Involved
Over the past two years, my kids have been in charge of making their own lunches. It’s an easy thing for them to do if I’m prepared and have all the tools ready for them. I think it’s also important for kids to have responsibilities at home (more than just keeping their room clean). With 6 in school this year, an active 1-year-old and a kindergartner, mornings will be CRAZY! So my kids MUST be a huge part of the lunch making process.
#2 Menu Plan
- There’s no reason I can’t come up with a weekly lunch time menu! Make a list of 5-10 lunch ideas and then rotate through it every 1 or 2 weeks. Below you’ll find a long list of lunch ideas and a free printable (see below) for you to keep in a handy place! Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments!
- Hang the list inside a cupboard drawer, in your pantry, or on your fridge for quick and easy inspiration.
#3 Be Organized
- We have a “lunch cupboard” at our house. Inside you’ll find the bags, baggies, containers, peanut butter, honey, and other lunch time snacks. It’s all in one place kept together, easy to find! Don’t have the extra space? Place items in a tote in your pantry!
- I know some people (namely my sister) that will make up sandwiches for the entire week on Sunday evening and then throw them in the freezer. This is great for busy mornings! Just pull the sandwich out of the freezer, grab your fruit, snack and drink and lunch is ready!
- Another family I know would make the lunches the night before. Each night someone is assigned to make lunch for everyone the next day. Bags/totes are packed and placed in the fridge. This definitely helps with the morning rush!
- We thought this was pretty brilliant…
You fill bins with the items for lunch, with a number of how many to take, and then the kids grab whatever they choose from each of the bins! You can see more details on the original picture on Facebook.
- Tortilla Pinwheel Recipe (Super delicious with ranch spread!)
- Pizza Puffs Recipe (Because what kid doesn’t love pizza!)
- PB&J (Wow your kids with this fast easy homemade strawberry freezer jam recipe! Homemade is the best!)
- Or try this version of a PB&J Roll-up!
- Healthy PB&J Muffins
- Ham/Turkey Sandwich
- Tuna Sandwich
- Homemade Uncrustables (use a cut and seal tool like this)
- Lunch Box Smoothies
- Angry Birds Lunch
- “Sandwich Sushi” – tortillas with a layer of cream cheese, ham, cheese, spinach leaves – rolled up and then sliced.
- Mac & Cheese (see how to keep it hot in the tools section below)
- Cubed Chicken/Ham/Cheese (Kebabs)
- Lettuce Wraps
- Bagel Sandwiches
- Waffle with peanut butter or applesauce
- Homemade lunchables
- Healthy Zucchini Muffins
- Fresh Fruit
- Triscuits with cream cheese & sliced cucumbers
- Fresh Veggies
- Homemade Cheez-it Crackers
- Healthy muffins (Here’s another healthy muffin recipe you may like.)
- Fruit Leather (How to make fruit leather)
- Popcorn (Look for popcorn coupons. Check out this DIY Microwave Popcorn and other popcorn recipes.)
- Homemade cookies (Admit it, they’ll love this the most! There are some that are healthier too!)
- No-Bake Peanut Butter Oat Bars
- No-Bake Chocolate Granola Bites Recipe
- No-Bake Energy Bites
Print this handy little page with lots of school lunch ideas! Hang the list inside a cupboard, drawer, in your pantry, or on your fridge for quick and easy inspiration!
Get the tools:
When I asked our readers about this last year, they had a TON of great ideas for making cold lunch “cool” (and “hot”!). And it starts with the tools!
- Freeze low sugar jello/fruit/cottage cheese salad in muffin liners for individual portions. (I like these silicone muffin cups!)
- Use reusable lunch bags that can be stored in the freezer (like this PackIt brand).
- Ice packs (like these skinny ice packs).
- Rubbermaid containers – there are some for sandwiches, some with compartments, a whole kit of different sized containers, or the Blox kits.
- A nice thermos (see our readers’ testimonial here), or a cheaper one. Use a thermos for hot meals like chicken, spaghetti, stew, leftover dinners, and so on… Here is a large selection of top-rated Thermoses on Amazon. Just make sure you get one that has a wide opening so it’s easy to eat from!
- Got picky eaters? Use these cute animal shape sandwich cutters!
- Or make your own “uncrustables” with this cool cut and seal tool!
- Reusable water bottles… keep ’em hydrated! We especially love the Contigo water bottles! The schools my kids go to allow them to keep a water bottle at their desk too.
Shop the Deals and Save Money:
- In August there will be a TON of coupons you can use towards school lunch stuff! You can easily sort through what coupons.com has right here. Printable coupons can make saving money really easy… just click on the ones you want and print away!
- Typically, there is a huge Kraft sale at most grocery stores in August as well. And in years past Kraft also puts out a ton of coupons that you can match with those sales. You can stock up on cheese and lunch meat and the pop them in your freezer. (Cheese will store well, unopened in your fridge, for at least 6 months.)
- When you find a great price on food and/or supplies, stock up to last you for the whole school year if you can. You can find our weekly match-ups, back to school shopping trips, and Amazon deals all in one place! Not only is it nice to save tons of $, it’s also awesome to never have to run out of some of those every day items.
Got Special Diets?
- Check out Vitacost! They have a TON of gluten free and organic food! Sign up using our link, you’ll get a $10 credit to use on your first order! (We’ll get a $10 credit too, thank you!)
- Here are some recent Gluten Free Recipes and Gluten Free Deals we’ve found.
So… what else?
Anything I’m missing? What have I forgotten? Do you have favorite brands that you love to use for some of these items? What are you putting in your kids cold lunch?
See more of our favorite deals on lunch containers!
Find even more healthy ideas from this list of healthy snacks!
Start the day off right with one of these breakfast recipes!