Lunchbox 101 - Fresh Ideas for the School Lunchbox


It’s back to school time which brings a flurry of emotions – sadness that the precious days of summer are over, joy that order and routine may be restored to your household and relief that you don’t have to figure out where your kids will be next week and beyond.

And, then there's the dreaded school lunch box. Such a yawner of a task!! How can you possibly face another year of packing school lunches when your lunchbox creativity expired a few years ago???

Well, relax, because here are some tips that will put the happy back into your lunchbox creations. To help you re-master the skill of lunch making, take this quick course in Lunchbox 101. In these pages, you’ll find simple strategies for streamlining the lunch making process while bringing excitement and nourishment to your child’s day. Hey, and how about getting the kids involved in this crusade!

Make packing school lunch fun and exciting again with these #lunchbox 101 tips and recipes. #backtoschool #cleaneating Click To Tweet

Quick Tip: Print these pages and attach them to the inside of a kitchen cabinet between the pantry and the fridge for quick reference.

5 Basic Tips for Lunch Box Packing

1. Include these food categories in each lunch:

  • Protein
  • Vegetable
  • Fruit
  • Grain
  • Healthy dipper (opt.)
  • Healthy sweet treat (opt.)

Check out these tables for a variety of choices in each food category and get your children’s input into which options they would like each week.


2. Have a schedule of lunches for each day of the week.
Create enough ideas for 2 weeks of lunches and rotate these 2 weeks the entire school year. That’s more variety than most humans eat!

Struggling with creative ideas for lunch menus? Be sure to check out the lunch box menu web links and iPhone apps at the end of this blog!

Here are a few fun lunch themes:

All foods are round


Vanilla Greek yogurt with fresh or frozen blueberries
Individual Cheese Balls
Peanut Butter Pinwheels (recipe)
Grape tomatoes, carrot pennies and cucumber slices with ranch dressing for dip


All foods are square


Turkey chili in a thermos (recipe) – served in square bowl
Cornbread square
Cheese cubes
Pineapple, kiwi and watermelon cubes


All foods are stars


Star shaped bread, ham and cheese
Star fruit and/or apples cut on the horizon to expose the star in the middle


All foods are on sticks or shaped like a stick


Fruit kabob with grapes, strawberries, pineapple (on coffee stir sticks instead of wood)
Carrot and cucumber sticks
String cheese
Grilled chicken breast sticks
Bread stick


Includes all colors of the rainbow


Red – Spaghetti with meat sauce in a thermos (recipe)
Orange – Carrot sticks
Yellow – Pineapple spears
Green – Salad greens with ranch dressing
Blue/Purple – Blueberries and/or purple grapes


3. Freeze your child’s water bottle overnight and use it to keep cold foods cold in the lunchbox. It will be thawed by lunch so it then becomes the lunch beverage.

Or, buy thin ice packs and slide them inside the top of your child’s lunchbox or lunchbox tote. See link below.

4. On Sundays, pre-package any foods that can be proportioned in individual servings and keep in containers. Line the kids up on Sunday and pre-assemble lunches with any non-perishables. Store them, then grab and drop in the perishable items the day they are needed. This can cut lunch prep time in half during the week.

5. Also on Sundays, grill chicken, turkey and/or shrimp in large quantities to include in lunch boxes for the week. This gives your kids a break from processed luncheon meats.


Need More School Lunch Menus?
Check out these websites and apps for a goldmine of school lunch menus.

Blogs and Websites


  • LaLa Luncbox by LaLa Lunchbox, LLC - FREE
    No more "what's for lunch" arguments! Involves kids in the lunch planning process by creating virtual lunchboxes and selecting meals for the week ahead by feeding a hungry monster.  Kids' choices then become a handy grocery list for parents. Available for Apple devices.
  • The Ultimate Mix & Match School Lunchbox by - FREE
    Add more variety, creativity and health to school lunches with more than 27,000 combinations. Every meal combination comes with an immediate shopping list and calendar to make each week's meal prep quick and easy! Available for Apple and Android devices.


Tools of the Trade
Here are some new tools that can inject the fun factor into your child’s lunch while also protecting the planet:

Eco-Friendly Bento Lunchboxes

Silicone baking cups for placing into bento box lunch boxes

Vegetable cutters – for making fun shaped vegetables, luncheon meats and cheeses

Ice Packs

Water Bottles

  • Kid Zinger – lets your child make their own orange or lemonade directly into their water bottles. You get to control the amount of sugar (if any) that goes in.

About Author

Cathy Greer Mazanec, MPH, RDN, LDN

Cathy is the Senior Manager of Nutrition and Healthy Living Programs at SAS Institute Inc in Cary, NC. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, functional medicine nutritionist, blogger and food photographer. Cathy's specialties include integrative and functional nutrition, gut health, food allergies and intolerances and culinary nutrition. She is also a Certified Biofeedback instructor. An avid lover of the outdoors, Cathy spends her free time biking, golfing, kayaking, paddleboarding, sitting under the stars and spending time with her grandson. Follow @CmazanecRD on Twitter.


  1. Roslyn Padgett on

    As always, Cathy, you have provided such helpful information that I can use & put into practice TODAY. Thank you!

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