Lunch Box Ideas for Real Moms

I have a Pinterest board devoted to school lunches… Kabobs made from pineapple cut into tiny stars, alternated with strawberries that somehow look like hearts. Bento boxes filled with grains and veggies and artfully arranged cheese wedges. Mini tea sandwiches, veggies and homemade dip…

There are few problems with this board. First, no one has answered my ad for a personal chef that charges $10 per week. Second, my children wouldn’t eat half of what’s on my Pinterest board even if I did actually get creative and make it one day.

For those of us not into tiny cookie cutters, here are some lunch box ideas that might save time and sanity. I should specify, however, that I have the type of kids who eat four bites of food and declare themselves utterly stuffed. If you’ve got kids that eat normal amounts of food, you may need to modify these ideas.

Lunch box “sushi”

Ok, this is not actually sushi at all. Remember the appitizer pizza everyone made in the 90s? The one with the amazing ranch dip/cream cheese spread that you CAN’T STOP EATING?!? (It’s not just me, right?) This is a pinwhell roll up version of that pizza! My girls love helping to make these roll ups- the first grader is great at dumping and mixing ingredients and shredding carrots and the fourth grader is surprisingly good at chopping the rest of the veggies. These roll-ups are so good that I take them in my lunch too.


Great for adult lunch boxes too!

Homemade lunchables

I’m willing to admit that there is probably very little difference between lunch meat that I cut up myself and the kind that comes in the pre-made lunchables, but I still feel better making my own. A few years ago I found the containers below, and we now own about six of them. (And yes, I realize I’m feeding my kids lunch meat out of plastic containers, but some kids eat dirt and glue. They’ll all be fine in my opinion.)

On Sunday nights I line up the containers, cut up meat and cheese into small squares, throw in crackers and fruit and shove them all into the fridge. It makes for easy grab-and-go lunches throughout the week.

We make another varitation called “pizza lunchables.” I buy the small sandwich rounds, pull each one apart into two “crusts,” and fill our containers with pepperoni, shredded cheese and a small containers of sauce.

Nutbutter dippers

Be careful! Many schools are now to peanut-free zones. I had a conversation with a fellow mom a few years back who told me that her two sons had such a severe allergy to nuts that they had to eat lunch in the nurse’s office with the sick/vomiting kids every day. Since then I’ve been much more sensitive about sending nuts or peanut butter in lunches or snacks, however there are some good peanut free spreads on the market.

Sometimes I throw a small container of nut butter into lunch boxes along with any variety of dippable choices- apple slices, celery, pretzel rods, crackers, etc.

A variation on this is something we call “make-your-own-peanut-butter-banana.” Somehow Peanut Butter Banana has become the go-to meal replacement in our house when no other food is acceptable. Basically, I slice up a banana into coins and put a small dollop of peanut butter on each one. Voila! fruit, protein…everyone’s happy. For the lunch version I send a whole banana, plastic knife and small container of nutbutter. My kids complained that they might get in trouble for having a plastic knife. I said “Then don’t wave it around in the cafeteria.” (I win at this mom thing!)

Yogurt dippers

Hey, you know what’s good dipped in yogurt? Anything that’s good dipped in nutbutter! (Ok, almost anything). Send a small container of yogurt along with apple slices, pretzels, banana (with or without plastic knife), or grapes. Even shortbread cookies work well.

My daughter also loves the “flip” yogurts that come with a little corner filled with toppings. We can have the discussion about how half the toppings are candy and yogurt is quite full of sugar, but she’s eating a ton of protein and calcium. Choose your battles, people!

Cold food

Kids eat all sorts of weird stuff. Do you think they are phased by cold food?

A friend was talking recently about making homemade meatballs and how it was her kids’ favorite thing to take for lunch. I asked “How do they heat them up?” They don’t, of course, they eat them cold and dipped in BBQ sauce. Why not?!?

The other day I sent my kids to school with cold chicken fajitas, because cold chicken fajitas are basically chicken wraps. Delicious!

Think of all the food your kids might eat cold: waffles, hotdogs, pizza (obviously). Let’s get creative!

Have a lunch “menu”

My least favorite part of packing lunches, besides the actual packing, is the indecision. In my opinion, six in the morning is not the time to play the “Let-me-name-all-the-food-in-the-house-so-you-can-reject-it-all” game. I’ve actually learned that whatever is easiest to make I should name third because my kids will always reject the first two options.

I just stole the GREATEST idea from another friend, though. She explained that she has a weekly schedule of packed lunches. Monday is peanut butter sandwich. Tuesday is breakfast for lunch (yogurt, fruit and granola bar). Wednesday is lunch meat, cheese and crackers. You get the idea…

Each day her children have the choice between buying their lunches at school or packing whatever is on the “menu” for the day. 


If you have any great lunch box ideas please, please share them in the comments. While my system works well, we all get tired of the same stuff over and over again.

Happy packing!



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