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Make-Ahead Back-to-School Lunch Ideas

image of snack bags in kitchen
While we've been sending lunches for our kids to their grandmother’s (who kindly sits for us) for several years, this is the first year our son will be actually eating lunch at school. Can you hear my anxiousness about this whole thing? Kindergarten is rough, guys. ;-) Add to that the fact that I'm starting at a new school in our district so my hours are way earlier (leaving a lot to fall on my poor husband) and, y’know, my pregnancy, I’m looking for ways to streamline and simplify our lives to make mornings easier on everyone. Enter meal planning, stage left. When we think of this concept, it usually involves dinner planning - and that's something I'm hoping to do more of - but today I'm talking LUNCHTIME! As far as our son’s concerned, he's all ready to go - he got his Beat Bugs lunch tote. For us, there's more to it - y’know, filling it with food he’ll actually eat. Isn't that the way? So, here are some of our favorite go-to’s that we know are kid-friendly and can be made the night before, plus a few things I’m hoping to try. Even if your child's too young for school lunches, maybe the make-ahead ideas will get you thinking about making life easier on yourself this fall...
image of food items in kitchen
Main Dish
  • PB&J (or a seed butter if there are allergies, which he’s already shown concern about after having friends with this issue in pre-K)
  • Ham and cheese (on a whole wheat wrap or sandwich)
  • Quesadilla (heated quickly at home; he doesn't mind room temp)
  • Mac 'n cheese, maybe with a handful of peas (heated up and in a preheated Thermos - just fill it with boiling water for 5 minutes, empty, then put the heated food in; this is simple since we always have a teapot going in the morning)
  • Leftover whole wheat pasta and sauce (or butter and Parmesan cheese) with meatballs if ambitious (same Thermos treatment)
  • Tomato soup with pasta (in Thermos)
  • Pasta salad (Italian dressing or oil and vinegar, cooked pasta, some meat, shredded carrots, and any other veggies you may like; I'd probably send a cheese stick separately rather than have the cheese get slimy)
  • Chicken panini (again, he’s cool with room temp or chilled with an ice pack...I hope ;-))
  • Cream cheese pinwheels (softened cream cheese + favorite spices & herbs + thinly sliced veggies or meat rolled up and sliced OR softened cream cheese + jam or sliced fruit rolled up)  
Fruit/Veggie Sides
  • Apple slices (sprinkled with lemon...and maybe some cinnamon)
  • Sliced grapes
  • Carrot or pepper slices
  • Banana
  • Applesauce pouch/cup
  • Raisins or dried cranberries (our kids love both with a handful of white chocolate chips thrown in)
  • Berries
  • Orange slices
  • Natural fruit snacks/strips (this could be considered snacky depending on the sugar content)
Salty/Treat-Like Snack Sides
  • Granola or “cereal” bar
  • Cheese stick
  • Pretzels
  • Snack mix (mix the bottom of the bags of cereal and other “snacky” stuff together! Add seasoning and a bit of melted butter and bake briefly if necessary)
  • Cheese snacks (we use Annie’s bunnies from time to time)
  • Crackers
  • Yogurt tube (we use Chobani since it’s a local company and GMO free; not perfect, but their current superhero themes are popular with our kiddo - just pack an ice pack!)
Obviously, while we try to eat relatively healthily, we keep our options pretty traditional. Maybe it’s the way we’ve raised the kids or maybe it’s just their taste buds, but they’re just not into exotic flavors or Seriously, there are days our son isn’t really into chicken or mac ‘n cheese. What’re ya gonna do? I try to find a balance between what he’ll actually eat and nutrition. He also has a new Thermos water bottle (with silicon straw - not perfect, but great for zero waste) that goes with his beloved bag but doesn’t scream “trademarked characters!” that will be filled daily. Some days we’ll toss in an organic, 100% juice box or pouch for a little surprise, though. Oh, and we eat mostly natural/organic (think real food rules: 5 recognizable ingredients or less for a store-bought food, if possible) but he’ll have a choice of what cafeteria meal he'd like each week. It not only makes things easier for us on those days, but gives him the “cafeteria experience.” I'm guessing it'll be pizza day. ;-) Regardless of age, what’s your child’s favorite lunch? Do you have any tips to share with us that make your mornings go smoother? We’d love to hear them in the comments!
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