The new school year makes me feel nostalgic. I can still smell the distinct scent of opening up a box of brand new crayons, and still enjoy the satisfaction of a newly sharpened pencil, with a squishy pink eraser on the end. At our house, school supplies are marked off the list pretty easily. The more challenging part of back-to-school for so many families? The morning struggle for lunch box ideas.
Lunch Box Ideas:
Lunch Menu #1: Pre-K through Kindergarten
Make things a bit easier for smaller hands and fingers by including bite-sized and pre-cut items to packed lunches for younger kids. And look for a container or lunch box that is easy to open. I’ve found kids love dipping things no matter what their age is, but it’s an especially good option for younger kids. If this looks like more food than your little one can manage, you can totally scale it down to whatever works for your child’s appetite. At our school, part of the packed lunch becomes the morning and/or afternoon snack — so packing more food makes sense.
This lunch includes:
– Yogurt Pouch
– 2 ounces small cubes of cooked chicken (or substitute slices of lunch meat)
– 1-2 ounces small cheese cubes
– mini whole grain crackers
– mini chocolate chip cookies
– bite-size cucumber slices and pea pods
– diced fresh peaches
– Ranch dip
Lunch Menu #2: First through Third Grades
One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that lunch boxes sometimes come back full of sandwich crusts at best, and a half eaten (or barely touched) sandwich at worst. The solution? Make the sandwiches easier and more tempting to eat by cutting into smaller squares.
PB and J is a total kid favorite, but changing it up a bit with a more “grown-up” yet still kid-friendly chicken salad is a big hit at our house. The recipe we use is easy as can be (you’ll find it below) and leaves out the typical celery, raisins, and nuts, in favor of chicken mixed with dressing and served with thin slices of cucumber for crunch. If your kiddos are fans of pickles, totally swap them for the fresh cucumbers in these tasty sandwich squares.
A hard boiled egg adds some extra protein as an optional side. Yogurt, carrots, and grapes round things out. with yummy homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for a sweet treat.
This lunch includes:
– Yogurt Tube ( freeze these overnight before adding them to their lunchbox)
– chicken salad sandwiches (cut into smaller pieces — optional, but fun), see recipe below
– baby carrots
– hard boiled egg, sliced and sprinkled with salt and pepper
– small oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (add an extra or two to share with friends)
Recipe — Easy Kid-Friendly Chicken Salad Sandwiches
1 cup diced or shredded cooked chicken
1/4 plus 2 tablespoons homemade or store-bought Ranch dressing
1/2 English cucumber, very thinly sliced
8 slices whole grain bread
In a bowl, combine the chicken and Ranch dressing. Add more Ranch if needed. The mixture shouldn’t be too runny or dry.
Lay the bread slices out on a clean surface. Divide the chicken salad evenly between four pieces of the bread and spread to the edges. Top each on with the thinly sliced cucumber. Top with the bread and press down. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes to allow sandwiches to set up before cutting.
Lunch Menu #3: Fourth through Sixth Grades — and Beyond
Wraps are a super fun alternative to the traditional “sandwich.” Kids can get bored with sandwiches, so a wrap changes things up in a interesting way. You can load them up with just about anything. Here we used a combo of turkey and Swiss, plus some leafy greens and a yummy dipping sauce. Flavored tortillas are fun to use and add extra color. We like hitting up the deli counter for freshly sliced cheeses and meats that are cut extra thin for easier rolling.
The sauce is a combo of mayo, brown mustard, and honey…and is delicious! Find the recipe below. The Stonyfield Kids Protein Smoothie (peach is our fave!) rounds things out with an extra bit of protein and a tangy taste that can’t be beat. (My kids love these smoothies as on-the-go breakfasts too!)
This lunch includes:
– Yogurt Smoothie
– turkey, swiss, and spinach wrap
– black olives
– baby carrots and cucumber slices
– whole apple
– PB cups (optional — swap with plain chocolate for nut-free schools)
Recipe — Turkey + Swiss Wraps with Honey Mustard Sauce
4 extra large (burrito size) tortillas, plain or flavored
1 pound thinly sliced smoked or roasted deli turkey (you can also substitute chicken)
8 ounces very thinly sliced Swiss cheese (cheddar, havarti, and muenster are also great)
1 cup fresh baby spinach or lettuce leaves, washed and patted dry
2 Roma tomatoes, very thinly sliced (remove seeds and pat with paper towel to remove excess water)
Salt and pepper
For dipping sauce:
1/4 cup each: mayonnaise, honey, spicy brown mustard (or your favorite mustard)
If wraps aren’t soft and pliable, gently warm for 10-15 seconds in microwave.
Lay each tortilla out on a clean surface. Divide the sliced turkey, cheese, spinach, and tomatoes between the four tortillas. Leave an inch border all the way around. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and pepper.
Starting at the end closest to you, tightly roll the tortilla over the filling, tucking the edge in as you go. Fold the right and left sides over towards the center, just like you would a burrito. Continue rolling tightly. Wrap each one with plastic film or waxed paper. Refrigerate for several hours or up to several days before cutting and serving.
To make dipping sauce, whisk the mayo, honey, and mustard together. Taste and adjust amounts of the mayo, honey, and mustard according to personal preference. (This version is a little on the sweeter side. Use half as much honey for a more savory sauce.) Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes about 3/4 cup or 4-6 servings.
If desired, a little of the sauce can be spread directly onto the tortilla before rolling, but it can make the tortilla soggy, so we wait until serving time. These wraps will keep for 3-5 days in the fridge and are great to make ahead.
Your turn! What are your kids loving in their lunches these days? Are you the lunch maker? Or are they old enough to pack their own? Does anyone at your house ever pack lunches the night before? Any favorite lunch bags or reusable containers you’ve discovered? Feel free to share — I always love your tips and tricks.
P.S. — Need more lunch box ideas? Here are a month’s worth.
Photos and recipes by Lindsey Rose Johnson for Design Mom.