How to Pack a School Lunch Your Kids Will Eat

The following post is from Shaina of Food for My Family and Olmanson Photography:

source: Shaina Olmanson


Just like that, we’re back to school. This year, it’s hot to brown bag your lunch again, packing up food from home and bypassing the preservative-laden pizza, translucent mashed potatoes and the steamed vegetable medley.

But when you’re competing with cheese pizza and chicken nuggets every day, how can you ensure that the lunch you so lovingly packed for your child is the one that gets eaten and not tossed in the trash?

Here are a few tips to make those brown bags fun and interesting. Not only can homemade lunches be healthier for your children, but they can be more exciting, too.

Get Them Involved

Yes, kids really do respond when you ask them what they want and give them a choice. Try offering up two selections that they can choose from: “Would you like hard-boiled eggs or a sandwich for lunch tomorrow?”

I like to get my kids involved in the packing as well, letting them fill containers with fresh fruit or pretzels. Give kids a task that gives them a sense of ownership over the meal you’re preparing for them.

Finger Food is Fun

Grapes, crackers, cheese cubes and carrots are only a few of the possibilities. Pack a lunch that gets kids involved. One of my favorite “tricks” to getting my kids to eat something they’re not usually interested in is providing bite-sized pieces and a toothpick. They are so drawn in by poking the tiny pieces of food that they forget they were protesting a minute earlier.

Send along a coffee stirrer for kids to poke cheese cubes and peach chunks with. If you’re serving a small piece of snack cake for dessert, make an improvised pastry bag with a tiny snack-sized zip-top bag, cutting off one small piece of the corner. Your kid will love making squiggly frosting lines on their cake when lunch rolls around. Also try dipping sauces, hummus, salad dressings, nut butters and chocolate sauce for dipping pieces of fruit, crackers and vegetables into.

Not All Leftovers are Boring

Some of my favorite meals come from repurposed leftovers. Take fried rice, for example: leftover rice, whatever vegetables you have lying around from other meals, leftover meat. A few minutes in the wok with a bit of oil and soy sauce and you have a completely new meal that is lunch-box friendly.

Invest in a thermal container to pack leftovers like macaroni and cheese, casseroles or fried rice to send a warm meal with your child. Don’t stop at warm food items, though. Pasta salads and yogurt can also be sent in food jars and the like.

Eat a Rainbow

Eating a rainbow is good for you. You want to be seeking out foods in different food groups and that provide different nutrients and vitamins for little bodies to grow strong and healthy. Not only is one-note food unappealing and unappetizing, it’s usually not the best meal you could be eating.

Pick bright and colorful produce to fill your child’s lunchbox. Make celery interesting by providing the peanut butter and raisins for them to create their own ants on a log. Alternate cheese cubes and grapes and berries on coffee stirrer skewers for them to bite off one by one.

Let Them Eat Cake

Include something special in there for your young soul. I like to toss in small fruit leather rolls that my kids can eat right away or save for later. Yogurt-covered pretzels and raisins are other favorites in our house. A sweet treat is a great end to a meal, whether you’re young or old, so give them a little something to satisfy that craving.

Other Resources

Do you pack lunches to send with your kids to school? If you homeschool, do you pack lunch ahead like Jessica does?

Shaina Olmanson is the freelance writer, photographer, and home cook behind Food for My Family. Cooking daily with and for her four kids and husband, Ole, drives her desire to inspire other families to do the same. Shaina is also the author of Desserts in Jars and contributes regularly to a variety of online sites and traditional print magazines.