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Help a Mom: What to pack for school lunches

Posted August 20, 2013

School lunch generic

I had the school lunch conversation with a colleague who is sending her only son off to kindergarten.

What do I pack him for lunch? she asked me. 

I'm far from an expert in the school lunch idea discussion. But I have been packing school lunches for the past eight years for my kids. And I've gotten pretty good at figuring out what works for them. No sandwiches for my older daughter but, if that's all we have, certainly no mayonnaise. Sandwiches, but only those cut in shapes with a cookie cutter, for my younger daughter. Mayonnaise is a must for her.

Here's what's worked for me. These all are things that I know one or both of my kids, who are both good eaters, will actually eat. My older daughter buys lunch at school once a week. She picks the day.

Protein, entree ideas

  • Greek yogurt with granola packed separately so it doesn't get mushy
  • Cheese slices or cubes and crackers
  • A couple of cheese sticks
  • Cottage cheese
  • Boiled egg
  • Nuts or trail mix - pistachios and almonds are favorites.
  • Deli meat and cheese roll-ups. Just roll up a piece of meat inside a slice of cheese
  • Hummus with chips or vegetables, though my three-year-old loves hummus so much she actually just eats it with a spoon
  • Pasta salad with whatever I have on hand, including black olives, capers, diced cheese, cherry tomatoes and basil, all tossed in olive oil. 
  • Bagel with cream cheese
  • Sandwiches - deli meat and cheese or peanut butter and jelly, of course. My younger daughter also enjoys cream cheese and jelly or honey. Sometimes I roll up the sandwich in a flour tortilla, though that's not a favorite for my kids.
  • Edamame
  • Chicken noodle soup in thermos. That seems to be the only thing they'll eat in the thermos.
  • Leftover pizza
  • Leftover macaroni and cheese (a favorite of my younger daughter who loves it cold)
  • Black bean and corn salad - an equal mix of black beans and corn, seasoned with salt and pepper and tossed with some olive oil. I sometimes add grape tomatoes to the salad.

I always add some combination of fruit, vegetables and grain to the above. Favorites at my house are any kind of fresh fruit, baby carrots, grape tomatoes, sliced bell peppers, celery, cucumber and sugar snap peas. I also usually stick in a granola bar, small cup of yogurt, raisins, pretzels, dried cranberries, dried apricots, muffin, popcorn and a very occasional treat.

I pack milk for my preschooler and a bottle of water for my grade schooler, but I'll be attempting to switch her over to milk from time to time too.

So I'd love to hear what you're packing in your kids' lunches. Please share favorites in the comments box below. (If you don't see the comments box below, you'll need to log in or sign up for a WRAL account. You can do that by going to the top of the page and clicking on either "log in" or "register").

Help a Mom features questions from readers every Wednesday. If you have a question that you'd like to ask Go Ask Mom readers, click here to email it to me.



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  • shall6 Aug 21, 2013

    Glad to know I'm not the only one raising aliens and nerds! We've been feeding the kids the same foods we eat since they started eating food as babies and, thankfully, they have become great eaters. Love some of these ideas ... Faye, I think my little one would be all over those cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches! Can't believe I hadn't thought of that before!

    I don't have the bento boxes, but I do use reusable containers. I agree, it's great to know what gets eaten and what isn't so I can switch things up if needed.


  • PartyOfSix Aug 21, 2013

    They are normal kids with a parent who is informed enough to provide healthy food for her kids! Good for the author! I'm a huge fan of bento containers since they make it easier to pack a well-rounded lunch with zero waste (plus what doesn't get eaten gets brought home so you know what works and what wasn't a hit). We have 4 laptop lunchboxes and two of them are still in great shape after four years. We do a lot of the same lunches above but one not mentioned is a homemade pizza lunchable - whole grain crust cut in rectangles to fit the container, a side of mozzarella, and a side of pizza sauce. I include a fruit or vegetable in the 4th container. This one has been a big hit!

  • JLAllen Aug 21, 2013

    Check out this website for ideas:

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Aug 21, 2013

    Along with almost everything Sarah posted above, my kids like cold tofu with soy sauce (obviously this is a food they have enjoyed since they were little), warm mac & cheese in the thermos, warm pasta with butter and parm in the thermos, cream cheese and cucumber finger sandwiches, homemade "lunchables" with appetizer-like foods including Wheat Thins, cheese cubes, rolled up slices of deli meat.

    My girls (one in middle school and one in high school) prefer fruit over veggies in their lunch so I send grapes, apples, peaches, plums, watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries - whatever is in season. Sometimes it's canned pineapple chunks. I put the fruit I cut into leak-proof hard containers so they don't get smashed or drip.

  • NCMom1 Aug 21, 2013

    Peanut butter isnt band from all schools. My son takes it regularly....and he loves boiled eggs as well as egg salad too :-)

  • snowl Aug 21, 2013

    Oh, peanut butter at school... I must be old school. Have a good day.

  • snowl Aug 21, 2013

    What happened to peanut butter on white with chips and an apple? I'm just saying, LOL.

  • thinkoutloud Aug 20, 2013

    OR, they might be kids who have been exposed to those foods more than other kids and after the 7th or 8th try, they discovered they like them! More power to the author of the article if she can get her kids to eat such healthy foods. I appreciate the suggestions. I haven't tried getting my 4 yo to eat boiled eggs in a while... might give it another shot. Who knows?

  • dee7 Aug 20, 2013

    Most kids I have seen love hummus if you get them to try it.

  • beaupeep Aug 20, 2013

    Hummus? Cottage Cheese? Boiled Egg? Black Bean and Corn Salad?

    Those are not normal kids. They are aliens or nerds.