Soup’s On: Lunch Box Ideas

Lunch Box Ideas

It’s back to school time, and that means the family meal schedule – whatever it’s been since the end of June – is about to take a left-turn swerve into school lunches, after school snacks, and many, many exasperated conversations about where lunch boxes get left and why we don’t get to have what every single other child on planet Earth gets to have for lunch.

Here are some guidelines that I use with the families I work with when it comes to school lunches…

Power Hour Prep Time

Have the family work together for about 30 minutes (it doesn’t need to be a full hour) to pre-package lunchbox components and set them up for the week to come. This isn’t the time to make sandwiches, or things that will get soggy, but it will save tons of time if you have an easy way to grab all your “side dishes.”

This works especially well on Sunday mornings – don’t be fooled and go for a Sunday evening, because that’s when all the homework needs to get done!

Here’s a list of things that can be helpful to prep during power hour:

  • Pretzels
  • Crackers
  • Dried fruit
  • Fresh grapes
  • Fresh orange slices
  • Soy nuts or dried flavored chickpeas
  • Cookies
  • Graham crackers
  • Small bottles of dressings and sauces (if you’re into that)
  • Dry salami
  • Baby carrots (stick a piece of paper towel in the bag/container to keep them from getting slimy)
  • Cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Celery sticks
  • Pickles
  • Olives
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Cooked grains (rice, quinoa, pasta)

Here’s a few things to avoid prepping during power hour, as their texture or flavor deteriorates quickly, but are great for morning-of lunch prep:

  • Apple slices
  • Bell pepper slices
  • Tomato slices
  • Cheese slices
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Cubes of melon or watermelon

Stagger The Treats

Lots of parents are looking for ways to limit sugar in their kids’ diets. Right on! One way to avoid battles and uneaten lunches is to manage your kids’ expectations of lunchtime treats.

If your kids like surprises, or “earning their rewards,” you can have an escalating scale of more and more exiting treats for kids who remember to bring home their lunchboxes, or eat all their healthy foods at dinnertime (where you can be sure they’re not tossing them in the trash!).

If your kids don’t respond to that kind of reward system, you can tell them that they’re entitled to a certain number of dessert treats per week, and they can decide whether to have them all at one meal, or spread out over the course of a whole week.

A Few Unusual Lunch Box Items That Saved My Childhood

I’ll never forget the time I took hummus and pita bread to school. A staple in my own home, hummus had yet to catch on in the mainstream public, and was many years away from dominating the healthy-dips deli case. A girl in my class grabbed my container of hummus, sniffed it, made a terrible face and screeched that it looked and smelled liked diaper contents.

That was the last time I brought hummus to school.

Fortunately, my mom was on top of her lunch game, and quickly found a solution. In our town, with its large Korean expat population, it was easy to find big bags frozen of vegetable dumplings. While best served hot, the dumplings were still delicious, even after a few thawed hours in my lunch box. My mother simply microwave-steamed a batch of dumplings in a large container, sprinkled some soy sauce or rice vinegar over them, sealed it up, and I was good to go.

You can easily find frozen vegetable or meat dumplings now, and while some of the brands use MSG and other preservatives, there is a growing market for organic and wholesome dumplings. Of course, you can also make your own with your kiddos!

Another lunch of my mother’s creative genius: spinach tortilla “burritos” with black bean spread, or refried beans, a slice of cheddar cheese, and, if we were lucky, some fresh avocado.

[Photo credit: (cc) Nicholas Erwin]


Dane Kuttler

Dane writes poems and cooks food in Northampton, MA. When she isn’t engaged in one of her semiannual 30-poems-in-30-days sprints, she teaches people how to feed themselves tasty things at the Julia Poppins School of Cooking. Julia Poppins School of Cooking promotes food literacy through fun, confidence-building, hands-on cooking lessons in the Northampton area.



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