Back to School – Lunch Box Ideas

LUNCH BOX IDEAS

Every parent of a school-aged child is faced with the decision of what their  child will eat at school each day.  Will they bring a home-made lunch, or buy food that day?  And some parents must leave so early for work due to work hours, commutes, etc., they also have the added burden of providing a breakfast and snacks to take along to get them through their day.  For this discussion we’ll focus on lunch.

Even though buying lunch is so much easier, you’d be shocked at how much of the school-bought foods ends up in the garbage can.  All kids are different and no one knows your child’s eating habits better than you.  By making your child’s lunch, you can pack together items you know they will eat.

Below are some creative Lunch Box ideas that you can use, or adjust to your child’s taste.  You may be surprised to find that your child is eating healthier and enjoying their school lunch experience a whole lot more, when they bring a lunch from home.

*Keepsake Crafter Tip”  Have your child go through the lunch menu their school provides each month.  Let them tell you the lunches that they would like to eat and the days that have the meals they won’t touch.  Schedule their Lunch Box Days around those “Ew, gross!” days.

Lunch Box Tips:

  • Keeping sliced fruit from turning brown:  Fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, bananas and avocados, will turn brown once they’ve sat in the air for a bit.  To prevent browning, place the cut fruit into a Ziploc baggie, squirt in several drops of lemon juice, seal the baggie, and gently mix the lemon juice around the fruit.  The citric acid in the lemon juice prevents the fruit from turning brown.    You can also mix the cut fruit and lemon juice ahead of time in a bowl before adding the fruit to the baggie.  Or use a powdered citric acid which is used in canning fruit.  Sprinkle a small amount on the cut fruit and gently mix to coat all of your fruit (always read the manufacturers instructions).
  • Keeping Lunch Box Items Cold – for Younger Kids:   Keeping something cold in your younger child’s lunch box, like a cup of yogurt or a juice box is easy.  Freeze a small water bottle, and place it at the bottom of the bag, place the food items on top that need to stay cold, top with a paper towel.  The paper towel will help insulate this area and keep it everything cold.    Then add the rest of your child’s lunch to the bag.   After they’ve eaten, they can just throw away the bottle with the rest of the bagged items.  Or if they have a lunch box, you can ask them to bring it home in the lunch box to be refrozen for another day.
  • Keeping Lunch Box Items Cold – for Older Kids:   Use this keep-cold trick, place the item/s that need to be kept cold in a Ziploc baggie large enough to hold them, and fill the baggie with ice.  I usually double-baggie the item for extra protection from the melting ice leaking out before lunch.  As above, place the baggie at the bottom of the lunch bag, place a napkin or paper towel on top, and place the rest of your lunch items in the bag.  At lunch time your child can easily open the baggie, remove the cold item, re-zip the baggie and throw it away!  Or, send them along with a throw-away cup and they can add the ice cubes and the drink they brought along, and enjoy an iced beverage with their lunch.
  • Lunch Box Love Notes:  While you can’t be there to support your child every minute of the day, it’s nice to send them off with a note in their lunchbox.  It’s the perfect opportunity to remind them of how special and loved they are.  A daily inspiration can help boost the rest of their day.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, or long.  With a pen and a napkin you can send along your inspiration.  Or grab a banana and Sharpy and write a quick note on the peeling!  Be creative.  If you’re reading this tutorial, I already know that you are!

Lunch Box Ideas:

  • Lunch in a jar – there are so many recipes you can find online that use a canning jar as the storage for a quick meal.  Just type “lunch in a jar ideas” in your favorite search engine and you will find tons of great ideas!  But, don’t use an actual Glass Jar for younger children.  If the recipe calls for placing the canning jar into the refrigerator overnight, TRANSFER FOOD TO A PLASTIC CONTAINER THE NEXT MORNING to carry to school for lunch to eliminate breakage and possible injuries.
  • Core an apple and stuff the inside with peanut butter.  Top with raisins, nuts, sunflower seeds or toasted coconut.  The filling will keep the core from turning brown.
  • Cream cheese and jelly sandwiches, or spread bread with cream cheese and top with dried fruits like raisins, apples or apricots.
  • Pack fresh fruit slices with yogurt to dip.
  • Yogurt and cheese sticks are another favorite.
  • Mash a banana together with cream cheese, place in an airtight container.  In a baggie, supply fresh apple, pineapple or pear slices for dipping.
  • Turn a sandwich into a fun-which by cutting shapes out of the bread with a cookie cutter (save the scraps of bread to make breadcrumbs or croutons for another meal).  Spread on peanut butter and jelly or their favorite lunch meat and/or cheese.
  • Wrap deli meat around string cheese, carrot sticks, broccoli florets or other favorite raw veggie.  You can do this with a cooked veggie as well.  Grill some asparagus spears for a few minutes (you want them firm, not mushy).  Let cool, then wrap with the deli meat.
  • Make kebabs that are sized to fit in a lunch bag.  Skewer fruits like strawberries, grapes, melon chunks.  Or for more substance, make kebabs with chunks of cheese and/or meats like sausage, beef, or chicken.  For young children use a flat, blunt-edged bamboo stick that is not pointy to avoid injury.
  • Change the whole look of your child’s sandwich just by changing up the bread!  Bagels, crackers, fresh baked french loaves and flat bread are all great alternatives.
  • Pita pockets are another great bread alternative – fill them with lunch meat and cheese, peanut butter and apples…anything you would put between bread and so much more, because the bottom is sealed it holds everything together nicely.  You can use sauces and melt cheeses that you couldn’t use on regular bread.
  • Tortilla wraps – this is an idea that we all know, but sometimes forget.  You can roll just about any salad or sandwich into a flour tortilla and call it a wrap.  Keep whole, or slice into pieces.  How about sliced turkey, some shredded cheese and a dab of ranch dressing?  Or how about a simple hummus, shredded carrots and lettuce?  The possibilities are endless, depending on your child’s taste-buds, of course.
  • Cottage cheese is a good way to add calcium to your child’s meal.  Take a small container and fill 3/4 full of cottage cheese.  Add a “topper” such as salsa, pesto, veggies, fresh or canned fruit.   Milk products should always be kept refrigerated, so this container should be kept cold by using one of the stay-cold methods  in Lunch Box Tips to stay cold and fresh.
  • Peanut Butter & Crackers  – Ritz Crackers or Regular White Saltine Crackers spread with peanut butter and placed into a Ziploc baggie make a great lunch box addition.
  • Peanut Butter & Pretzels – Put a small amount of peanut butter into a small container that has a lid.  Put some pretzels into a baggie.  Place both in a lunch bag for dipping.  Add some fruit and a drink and this is a healthy meal at lunch time.
  • Peanut Butter & Celery – Clean a celery stalk thoroughly.  Slice off each end and then slice into 4 equal sizes.  Spread with peanut butter and place into a baggie.  This is a nice side addition to a lunch bag.
  • Peanut Butter & Banana – Spread peanut butter across a hot dog bun.  Insert a whole, peeled banana.  Add a squirt of honey for a sweat treat.

Lunch Box Recipes:

Hot Dog Fishin’

This is a fun recipe your kids will love!  Be sure to try this at home first, so your child will know what to do at school.

  • Cook the hot dog by boiling on the stove top or by microwave oven.
  • Tie a clean piece of kitchen string around the hot dog and place it in a Thermos full of very warm (NOT HOT) water.  Make sure the string is long enough to hold the hot dog inside the Thermos and hang over the edge of the lid by at least 2″.  Close the Thermos cap tightly (but not too tightly that your child can’t open on their own).
  • Add a hot dog bun and individual wrapped mustard and/or ketchup packet to the lunch bag (however your child likes their hot dog topped).  I keep leftover ketchup and mustard packets when we have fast food; these are perfect for a lunch bag.

Other Hot Dog suggestions:

*Substitute the water in the thermos with your child’s favorite soup.  They now have soup and a hot dog for lunch.

*Brown a hot dog in a bit of oil in a frying pan in the morning while getting ready for school.  Toast a hot dog bun and place the hot dog inside of it.  Wrap this in a paper towel and wrap in aluminum foil.  Don’t forget the ketchup and/or mustard packets!

Lunchably Delicious!

Why buy an expensive boxed lunch at the grocery store, when you and your child can easily put one together yourselves?   Select your child’s favorite crackers, cheese and lunch meat and follow the basic directions:

  • 10 – 12 crackers – a few extra in case some break.
  • 6 – 10 (depending on your child’s appetite) pre-sliced lunch meat such as ham, turkey, pepperoni and/or salami.  To get a little fancy you can use a cookie cutter the same shape and size as your crackers to create the perfect-sized pieces.
  • 6 – 10 cracker-sized slices of cheese such as American, cheddar and/or Swiss
  • Place these into individual baggies (separating the wet items from the dry items) and then into a lunch bag.  Add some fruit, a pickle and a drink and your child has a yummy nutritional meal.

Burrito Roll-Ups

This is a great way to use left over ground beef or chicken!

Start with a flour tortilla.  Place the tortilla in a heated frying pan that has a teaspoon of melted butter in it.  Fry the tortilla for a few minutes on each side and remove to a plate.  In the center of the tortilla add a small amount of warm refried-beans and ground beef or chicken, shredded cheddar cheese and some mild salsa (optional).  Roll by folding 2 sides of the tortilla to the center.  Then, starting on one of an open end of the tortilla, fold this end over the ingredients and pull the this end back towards yourself until you have a nice round shape.  Being careful to keep all of the ingredients inside the tortilla.  Then finish rolling the burrito forward until completely wrapped.

Wrap the burrito into a paper towel or napkin, and then wrap in aluminum foil.  This double wrapping will help keep the tortilla soft and warm.  Pack this in a paper bag.  Add some Nacho Cheese chips, some fruit and a drink and your child has a nice lunch!

Chewy Granola Bars

Extra chewy granola bars would be a special treat for a lunch bag!  Use any combination that equals 2 cups like chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, chopped almonds or peanuts, chopped dried fruits, raisins or candy-coated chocolate pieces.   Make these selections with your child’s favorites in mind.  If there is one item in this granola bar they don’t like…..they won’t eat it!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup softened butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 cups miniature semisweet chocolate chips (or combination of items as noted above)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Lightly grease a 9″ x 13″ baking pan with butter and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl combine the flour and baking soda.  Then add the rolled oats and brown sugar, mix thoroughly.
  3. Add the vanilla extract, butter and honey and mix into a dough.
  4. Add the 2 cups of mixed goodies and thoroughly mix into your dough.
  5. Press this mixture into the prepared baking pan.
  6. Bake at 325 degrees for 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes then cut into bars.
  8. Let bars cool completely before removing from the pan.
  9. Remove individual bars and put them in a small Ziploc baggie.
  10. These will last for a few days.  But, I like to keep a few out and place the rest of the individual baggies into a large freezer Ziploc bag.  I put the freezer bag into the freezer and take them out as I need them.  They thaw out in about 20 minutes and taste just as fresh as if you’d just made them!

Breakfast 4 Lunch Ideas:

Bowl of Cereal – Put one serving of cereal into a Ziploc baggie and pack a throw-away bowl and spoon.  Have your child purchase a container of milk at school, if the school sells them indivitually.  If not send them with a small amount of milk in a thermos, which will keep the milk cold.  If you don’t have a thermos use a sealed container that you can put on ice by using one of the stay-cold methods explained  in Lunch Box Tips to stay cold.  There’s nothing worse than warm milk!

Tasty French Toast Critters – These can be done the night before, and reheated in the morning.  Use sliced bread and cut out animal shapes with cookie cutters and set aside.  In a small bowl add 1 egg, 3 tablespoons of milk, 1/4 teaspoon of brown sugar, a sprinkle of cinnamon to taste and a drop of vanilla, beat together thoroughly.  Add a tablespoon or two of butter to a frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Then, one at a time, dip the animal shape into the egg mixture, thoroughly soaking both sides.  Place into the heated pan.  Keep dipping and adding animal shapes until the frying pan is about 3/4 full.  You don’t want the shapes to touch each other, they should be at least a 1/2″ apart from each other.  Cook at medium low heat for about 3 minutes on each side.  Keep a close eye on the stove temperature, you don’t want to burn the butter.  Add more butter when needed.  Since this recipe contains eggs, make sure the french toast critters are completely cooked before removing from them stove.  You can flip them back and forth until you’re sure.   Repeat until all of the shapes have been cooked.

If you are making these the night before, place them in a sealed container and refrigerate.  In the morning reheat in a microwave or toaster.

Once warmed, wrap them up in some aluminum foil and place in the lunch bag.  The aluminum foil should keep the french toast warm for several hours.

Add a small container of maple syrup to the lunch bag for dipping.

Reminder: You don’t want to put a warm lunch item in the same bag as a cold item.  Bag warm and cold items separately.

Mini Pancakes & Sausages 

Spear a mini pancake and a sausage link with a toothpick.  Make 3 of these and place them in a baggie.  Add to your lunch bag, add a small container of maple syrup for dipping.

Cookie Recipes Kids Love!

Peanut Butter Krispies

This is a no-bake cookie bar treat.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar,
  • 1/3 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 4 cups of Kellog’s Rice Krispies cereal

Directions:

  1. Using a paper towel, spread a tablespoon of butter evenly around a 9″ x 13″ baking pan and set aside.
  2. In a 3-quart saucepan, combine the brown sugar and corn syrup.
  3. Heat at a low heat until the sugar is completely melted, remove from heat.
  4. Stir in the peanut butter until thoroughly mixed.
  5. Add the cereal and mix gently until evenly mixed.
  6. Spread into prepared baking pan and let cool.
  7. Cut into 2″ squares and place into Ziploc baggies for a special lunch bag treat!

.