I will be honest with you, lunch is my all-time least favorite meal. I can dominate at breakfast. And while my kids might complain sometimes, I can whip up a mean dinner.
Lunch leaves me stumped. I'm either making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches day after day after day, or I'm tossing lunch money at my kids as they run to the bus.
So in order to cure my own lunch ailments, I did a ton of research on how to make lunch easier, more fun and a whole lot more exciting - and I'm sharing that research with you!
First, Let's Talk About a Lunch System
Before we start talking about what to serve for lunch, let's talk about the "making" of lunch. Shall we?
I finally came to my senses a couple of years ago and realized that my kids are DEFINITELY old enough to be packing their own lunches. And I would be frustrated with myself for continuing to pack them for them morning after morning.
Until, duh, it hit me. And we implemented a new lunch-packing system that has been working like a charm ever since.
Yes, your kindergartener can (and should?) be packing their own lunch.
We now have lunch packing on our Sunday routine card, and it gets done every week. (Here's a link for the routine cards that I get SO MANY questions about. They're seriously life changing!).
And if your kids want to start spending even MORE time in the kitchen and cooking some meals that they can pack up for lunch, be sure to read these 30 recipes that kids can cook themselves!
And Now Let's Talk About Lunch Supplies...
In my house, lunch only happens when we have the right supplies. It shouldn't be that way, but I only need one tiny little excuse to give myself permission to forgo our entire system and routine and send my kids to school with twinkies for lunch.
Not really. But you know what I mean.
Once I finally just bit the bullet and purchased all of the lunch supplies we need, things got WAY easier around our house.
Here are my suggestions:
I think lunch boxes are such a personal preference, that I struggle to make a specific recommendation. My kids usually pick something they like at the store, and we go with it. I always make sure that there's plenty of room for their food and an ice pack. And I always like to make sure that it has a separate outside spot to hold a water bottle (like this one).
If your kids are more into Bento Boxes, I have heard amazing things about this one.
And (of course), don't forget the ice packs. I have a few packs of these that I keep in the freezer so even if my kids don't get theirs into the freezer after school, I still have one cold for them the next morning.
This was probably my biggest investment, but it's the one that has meant the most to us. In order for my three kids to pack lunch for four days at a time, that means I need enough containers to hold 12 lunches. But it's worth it for me to be able to have SO much extra time every morning before school. Here are the containers we love:
→ Like a Bento Box, but without the full-on commitment. These fit in my kids' lunch boxes perfectly, and we can slip a sandwich in each morning.
→ We also have a plethora of these containers for lunches that don't need a Bento Box. They're great for berries, yogurt, pretzels, veggies, sauce, condiments, etc.
→ These silicone muffin containers are a great way to further separate foods within a Bento Box. And I love the variety of shapes that are included in this set.
→ And, of course, don't forget the thermos. We don't pack this until the morning of (obviously), but we recently upgraded to this one, and the kids love it.
Water Bottles and Silverware
I don't have an official recommendation on water bottles, but you should get at least one water bottle for lunches. We have a drawer full of them that always seem to be lost, but hopefully your house is better at that than I am.
As for silverware, my kids usually grab what they need at school, but here are some other options for you:
→ These have a nice carrying case. Hopefully they make it all back home to you after school.
→ These are probably more up my alley, but I'd need to find a better set for the boys. I like that everything can be tossed into the dishwasher (including the carrying case.)
→ And, of course, you can always go with disposable silverware. I won't judge you, promise!
Disposable Items to Keep in Stock
Even if your goal is to be very green with your kids' lunches, it might not hurt to have these on hand just in case...
→ Fun lunch jokes and notes. (Yes, this makes me the laziest human alive, but last I checked my kids were more excited about getting SOMETHING in their lunch from me than they were concerned that it was personalized.)
Okay, you've been patient long enough. Now we can finally talk about WHAT to put in those lunches every single darn day...
More than 30 Great Packed Lunch Ideas
Whether your kids are eating at school or at home, I'm sharing 30 of my favorite packed lunch ideas for kids ages toddler to teens. From meal prep tips to ideas for picky eaters, these easy, make-ahead lunches include healthy options and even options for clean eating kids. Enjoy!
Healthy Chicken Nuggets
My son went through a phase and refused to eat anything OTHER than chicken nuggets. Luckily, I was able to find a healthy version so I didn't really care if he wouldn't eat anything else. I would bake up a massive batch on the weekends, and he would take them to lunch every single day. Click here for the recipe.
Taco Bell for Lunch
If your kids are obsessed with Taco Bell, you will amaze them with these copycat recipes. I'm sharing 15 of the very best Taco Bell copycat recipes. Whip up some for dinner and send the leftovers for lunch. Click here for the recipes.
Peanut Butter Dogs
My daughter is obsessed with these, and I am too. They are sweet, combine a ton of protein and fruit - you just can't lose. Click here for the recipe.
Clean Eating Recipes for Kids
My kids completely revolted when I suggested we try clean eating (after I explained what that meant.) They said they were NOT IN AGREEMENT - until I made some of these recipes. And now they're all begging for more clean eating. Click here for my 15 favorite clean eating recipes for kids.
I still don't understand why kids love lunchables so much, but you'll love this homemade version because it's so easy to create (and so much easier on the wallet). Click here for the recipe.
Guacamole, Bacon and Turkey Sandwich
I had to work to get my kids to give this one a try, but once they tried it, they all loved it. It's a sandwich with a twist, and it will quickly top your list of favorite lunch meals. Click here for the recipe.
Chipotle for Lunch
If your kids are obsessed with Chipotle, you will amaze them with these copycat recipes. I'm sharing 15 of the very best Chipotle copycat recipes. Whip up some for dinner and send the leftovers for lunch. Click here for the recipes.
DIY Uncrustables Sandwiches
You can whip up a massive batch of these Uncrustables sandwiches and have them in the freezer - ready and waiting to be tossed into lunchboxes. Click here for the recipe.
Grilled Cheese and Apple Sandwich
If you have a way to keep this hot until lunch, your kids will be LOVING this grilled cheese and apple sandwich. Serve it with some carrots and popcorn, and it's the perfect fall lunch. Click here for the recipe.
DIY Frozen Fruit Cups
These frozen fruit cups are just like buying fruit cups at the store except they're not full of all of the added sugar, and they're not as expensive. Woo hoo! Click here for the recipe.
Chick-fil-A for Lunch
If your kids are obsessed with Chick-fil-A, you will amaze them with these copycat recipes. I'm sharing 15 of the very best Chick-fil-A copycat recipes. Whip up some for dinner and send the leftovers for lunch. Click here for the recipes.
Coneys in a Blanket
These are so good and such a fun way to change up lunch every once in awhile. Your kids can heat them up at the school microwave, or you can send in a thermos. Click here for the recipe.
I really didn't think my kids would like these pretzel twists, but they LOVED them. And beg for them multiple times a day. Click here for the recipe.
Is there anything more fun than a kabob? Sometimes my kids don't like a particular sandwich, but when I serve it as a SANDWICH KABOB, they love it. Kids - they're crazy! Click here for the recipe.
Pepperoni Pizza Burgers
My kids love these as burgers, but they also love to eat them without the bun - which makes this a perfect lunch for a thermos. Click here for the recipe.
Tacos for Lunch
These lunch tacos are super simple to make and super yummy to eat. Your kids will love them! Click here for the recipe.
Leftovers for Lunch
In theory, leftovers for lunch seems like such a great idea. In reality, it can actually be harder than it seems. Check out this post to get the lowdown on how to make two packed lunches for every dinner you make. Genius.
This is another recipe that you're going to want to make every single week so that you always have some in the fridge or freezer to heat up for lunches, snacks or even quick dinners on the go. Click here for the recipe.
Vegetarian Sausage Rolls
Have a little vegetarian in your house? He or she will love these sausage rolls. (Seriously!) Click here for the recipe.
Tuna Checkerboard Sandwiches
I'm going to be honest. You're going to make these for your kids, and then you're going to want to steal them for your own lunch. Just be sure to make enough for everyone in the family! Click here for the recipe.
Cheesy Goodness Pasta
How many ways can we spell YUM? You're going to want to make a triple batch of this. Trust me. Click here for the recipe.
Smoothies for Lunch
My son would eat a smoothie for breakfast, lunch and dinner if we let him. If your kids are interested in taking a smoothie for lunch, here's everything you need to know to get started. Smoothies 101
Mini Spaghetti Cups
I would have died and gone to heaven if my mom packed these in my lunch for me when I was a kid. (So do yourself a favor and pack some in your own lunch too!) Click here for the recipe.
Granola Protein Muffins
I whip up a batch of these every week, and sometimes the kids will opt to take two muffins in their lunch instead of a sandwich or other main course. They love them because they're delicious. I love them because they are full of protein. Win-Win. Click here for the recipe.
Snacks for Lunch
My daughter loves having "snacks" for lunch. You can obviously go a variety of ways for this, but here are some great "snacks for lunch" ideas that your kids will love. Click here to see them all.
Packing Lunches? These Should Help!
- 30 Great Packed Lunch Ideas for Kids
- More than 250 Lunch Box Quotes and Notes for your Husband
- More than 150 lunch note ideas to make your kids smile
- Do Uncrustables Need to be Refrigerated or Frozen?
- 35 of The Very Best Lunch Boxes to Keep Food Warm
- 22 OF THE BEST BACKPACK LUNCH BOXES FOR KIDS AND ADULTS
- The Ultimate Guide to Electric Lunch Boxes: Our Top 20 Picks
- Top Picks: More than 30 of the Best Lunch Bags for Nurses
Looking for More Great Lunch Ideas?
Just in case you didn't find enough inspiration here, I have 50 MORE great lunch ideas ready to go for you.
Mastering Back to School Together
Back to school can be hectic, but it doesn’t have to be hard!
With three kids in school, I’ve learned a few things along the way that help to simplify the entire back-to-school process, while also keeping me sane.
And I’m sharing them all with you!
- The organizational systems we have in place
- The routines we use (and how we remember them)
- Why my kids haven't missed the bus in three years
- How to have the best first day of school EVER
- How to put an end to homework battles
- How I get my kids talking (and talking and talking and talking) every day after school
- How we manage busy sports seasons without going insane
- The simple tech hack that EVERY parents needs to know
- And so much more!
Plus you can see how I made this amazing command center that keeps me crazy organized - using supplies from the Dollar Store!
Pretty great, huh?!?