25 Lunch Box Tips For Surviving the School Year

Let’s just clarify that the lunch box tips included here are not in any way going to be cute, pinnable bento box type lunches.  I may have pinned a few and started a new board called Lunchbox over on Pinterest but in all seriousness, I do not possess the talent to make artistic designs on my boys’ food.  They wouldn’t eat the food if I did that anyway.  Maybe I should re-title this post Lunch Box Tips and Ideas for the lazy Ziploc bag loving moms out there.  I’m basing these tips and ideas on roughly 9 plus years experience packing school lunches for my picky “normal food” loving boys.


  1. Do not send a banana in their lunch boxes.  It will make everything else in the lunch taste like banana.  This is per my husband and tested on the boys by me.  The husband was right.  I’m not sure about peeled banana slices though.  That is not a way my kids would eat a banana.

  2. Use juice-boxes and other cold foods together to keep the foods cold and dispense with the need for a reusable ice pack.  This is best done if you know your kids will be eating lunch fairly soon after they arrive at school.  I wouldn’t use this method for foods that MUST be kept cold  (i.e. chicken salad…not that my boys would touch that with a 10-foot fork!)

  3. Ice cubes in a Ziploc bag (double bag it!) make an easy and quick last-minute disposable ice pack.

  4. This is a good tip to remember for younger students especially!  Make sure packages are easily opened before packing them in the lunch box.  My boys like the yogurt tubes but they vary greatly in how easily they open.  I always inspect them before placing them in their lunch boxes.  Same thing with string cheese, I usually start the package.  Teachers will help the younger kids but some kids are too shy to ask and lunch is quick with a lot of students!  It saves a lot of stress to start or open packages at home.

  5. Do not overwhelm your kids with too many choices!  I will forever be grateful for the teaching assistant that pulled me aside when J was in Kindergarten and told me he was throwing most of his lunch in the trash every day.  I was sending in way too much food for a Kindergartener and he was overwhelmed by it and so not really eating any of it.

  6. If your kids are picky, give them a few choices!  Yes, this basically says just the opposite of #5.  However, if you aren’t sure your kid is going to like the checkerboard designed sandwich, sending them a cheese stick option is sort of like food insurance that they’ll eat something in their lunch.

  7. Ask your kids if they liked their lunch and if they ate it at the end of the day.  Sometimes I had to specifically ask about each food but it was handy to find out they were throwing their apples away last year because they were turning brown.

  8. Hiding the lunchbox treats is a good idea.

  9. Emergency dessert ideas in case your hiding space for the treats didn’t work out so well:  Pop-tarts, Gourmet Graham Crackers (these have been known to be requested lunch box desserts), chocolate chips and mini-marshmallows together, marshmallows, leftover muffins, or even sweet breakfast cereal.

  10. Only put 3-4 juice-boxes in the fridge at a time.  This saves them from being doled out as drink choices when friends and neighbors come over to play.  It is also good to buy them in bulk and only put one “set” in at a time.

  11. If you have to send them a skimpy lunch (it will happen and I promise they’ll survive), plan to have a hearty after school snack ready and waiting!

  12. Ask your kids what they want in their lunches.  I was stressing a bit at the beginning of this school year because they had both told me they were sick of ham and peanut butter at various points this summer.  Guess what they both requested in their lunches this week?  Peanut butter sandwiches!

  13. If you need lunch stuff and don’t have time or money in the store, always remember you can divide up the single prepackaged items.  I can get 4 lunchbox desserts out of a $1 package of Zingers and 2 servings (at least) out of a larger single serve bag of chips.   More in the time shortage category but a fruit or vegetable tray saves time and makes a lot lunch items.

  14. Have some insulated paper lunch sacks on hand in case a lunch box gets left at school.  J did this several times last year.  I’m hoping the trend doesn’t continue in 4th grade.

  15. If your kids are opposed to soggy bread, send your deli cuts in a separate bag from the bread and let them make their own sandwich.

  16. Pickles are sort of like bananas.  I put them in a bag and then wrap the bag in foil.

  17. If you are sending a slice of leftover pizza in the lunch box, heat in the microwave and then place a piece of wax paper on the top before wrapping it in foil.  This keeps the cheese from sticking to the foil.  It should also stay fairly warm until lunchtime.

  18. Bento boxes look like a lot of fun and so do fancy wrapped sandwiches and cute desserts but my experience is that simpler is always better received.  It’s much easier as well 😉

  19. Practice placement!  Beware of the smashed sandwich (or even worse dessert!) or crumbled crackers.  Think about how the lunch box will sit or be jostled in the backpack or on the shelf at school.  Lunch box design also comes plays a part here.  I was just telling my husband how I need to find J a new lunch box because I can’t really send  him water bottles without them rolling around and smashing his lunch.  I love that G’s lunchbox has a mesh side for a water bottle but it is a vertical type which can also make packing it tricky.

  20. Remove the lunch box from the backpack as soon as your child comes home from school.  Open it to air it out (and to makes sure it is empty or to remove and wash any silverware or containers).  It is much better to find out about things like spilled yogurt sooner than later.

  21. Have a specific spot to store lunch boxes that aren’t in use.  I store our lunch boxes on top of the fridge.

  22. It’s a good idea to wipe the lunch boxes off (inside and out) every week (or more often).  I use a Clorox wipe for this.

  23. My personal lunchbox equation for the boys is drink, dessert, protein, side (chips or crackers), fruit and/or vegetable.  If I have yogurt tubes on hand, I’ll add them as well.  If not, I don’t worry about it.

  24. Don’t forget to send them a napkin and/or silverware!  This is especially important if you send something messy or finger staining like Cheetos.  I wouldn’t know anything about one time sending a pudding cup in a lunch box and not including a spoon.  Oops.

  25. Sometimes I struggle with this final tip but really, don’t stress too much over the lunch box contents.  Sometimes breakfast or dinner is a bust and everyone leaves the table wishing it would have been better or something else entirely.  That is going to happen with the school lunch you pack sometimes as well.  If you are feeding them a good breakfast and dinner, life will go on when a lunch box lunch travels to the trash or returns home uneaten.

Those are my real, imperfect and practical mom lunchbox tips.   What would you add?  Also, if you do make those amazing Bento box lunches for your kids, would you make me one?  I’d love to eat one for my own lunch!



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11 thoughts on “25 Lunch Box Tips For Surviving the School Year

  1. Elizabeth

    i don’t pack my kids lunches i have found the school gives more variety and a more balanced meal than i would and heck most the time i don’t find the time to pack my lunches but there is one thing i love for when i pack my lunches it is called a bento box but is tubberware like and keeps everything together and has a reusable ice pack that also serves for holding the trays together. it was under 10 dollars and i found it at walmart and i really suggest it especially if you find yourself sending different items like fruit, veggies, dips, larger food items like sandwiches or even dinner leftovers. — otherwise great tips to the folks making up lunches everyday 🙂 .. and yes my phone is being stupid it dislikes the shift key with blogs

    1. Jean Post author

      I think you are probably right about the school but I do like knowing exactly what my kids are getting for lunch and knowing that they’ll at least eat some part of their lunches. I did buy 2 Ziploc type Bento box containers this year for myself 🙂

    1. Jean Post author

      Thank you. That is a good idea about bringing home what they don’t eat. I struggle with my younger son throwing stuff away that he could bring home. He said they practiced lunch procedures during PE yesterday so I’m going to have to see what that is all about the next time I am at the school.

    1. Jean Post author

      I have super picky kids as well but they both have become better about trying foods (sometimes as long as the foods don’t look too funny or smell wrong…I’m sure you understand). I’m so glad you found the tips helpful 🙂

  2. Joey Lynn Resciniti (@BTaC_blog)

    I was making fresh mac and cheese to send to school in a warmed thermos for my daughter last year. She was bringing it home completely full. Like unopened. I became frustrated and told her to pack her own lunch. She took a hostess cupcake and a juice box to school for the rest of the year. She is still alive.

    I agree with each and every one of these tips. I will try to do better this year!
    Joey Lynn Resciniti (@BTaC_blog) recently posted..I can has kabobs?My Profile

    1. Jean Post author

      Your comment made me smile. I’m sure my boys would do something very similar (and survive) if I had them pack their own lunches. I probably should make them pack their own but I really don’t mind doing it as long as I don’t have to make them into works of art.

  3. Lisa @ The Meaning of Me\

    My daughter started off full-day Kindergarten last year with terrific home-packed lunches. Then she decided she wanted to buy at the cafeteria. Ours is decent food, well-run by moms, so I said OK. After a few weeks, the novelty wore off and she decided she liked “Mamma food” better than school because it tasted better. I love that she prefers good food from home – no matter how good a cafeteria is, it’s not the same as knowing exactly what’s in your kid’s lunch. And with Kidzilla’s food issues (dye allergies, HFCS, etc.) it’s just better overall. She kind of likes feeling special because she can’t eat the “junk” stuff.
    We do use sort of a Bento system, but mostly because it makes sense to carry the things she likes. I definitely don’t get fancy and do designs and cut=outs and toothpicks and such. Definitely cute, but not all that necessary. Great tips!
    Lisa @ The Meaning of Me\ recently posted..TToT – A Dizzying WeekMy Profile

    1. Jean Post author

      I also like to know exactly what my kids are hopefully eating even if it’s junk I sent them. A bento box system actually would make sense for some of what I send the boys. Maybe I’ll have to try it out on my 8th grader once we get better settled back into the routine of school.

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