Back-to-School: Great Lunch Box Ideas & Tips

Starting a new school year is like moving to another planet.  But making lunches doesn’t have to be!  Here is all you need for lunch box success; food, recipes, lunch box comparisons and buying guides, the best containers and fantastic tips!
Back-to-School Lunch Ideas - BoulderLocavore.com This is the time of year that I begin to get desperate emails from friends begging for good lunch box ideas.  We’ve all become used to the spontaneity of summer’s meals and the idea of packing a nutritious lunch feels overwhelming.  Creativity often is stymied, overtaken by all the other deliverables and meetings for starting the school year.  I myself often stand in a stare down with the lunch boxes in my kitchen the first weeks of school wondering what I’ve filled them with all the prior school years.

This year I’m jumping on it, for you and for me.  There are so many little tricks to making lunch fun and more interesting while still keeping it nutritious.  Perhaps I’m responding to my own tendency to become very bored very quickly with repetition but I’ve found some things that work well with my family that I’m passing along.  I’ve also been very busy reading and collecting links for lunch box ideas, sources for lunch boxes and other items to make lunch box dining something to look forward to!

BoulderLocavore Pinterest Back-to-School: Lunch Box Board

I have started a Back-to-School:  Lunch Box Fun board full of hundreds of great lunch links.  I feel confident we’ll never run out of new ideas now!  I will say I love the whimsical Bento box lunch ideas for kids; sandwiches decorated like elephants, elaborately cut vegetables and assorted presentations leaving them looking more like art than lunch.  Practically I can’t pull that off with my time schedule and really seek easy, yet still fun, healthy ideas for my kids’ lunches.

Back-to-School Lunch Ideas (specifics)  - BoulderLocavore

Some favorite gluten-free snack options, or additions to a main lunch dish:

Edamame

Pretzels

Cashews or almonds

Gluten-Free Granola Bars

Cheese Sticks

Fruit (the more novel the better)

Sliced or cut vegetables

Hard boiled Eggs

Hummus and gluten-free crackers

Salsa and chips

Yogurt

Lunch Ideas- Champagne Grapes - BoulderLocavore.com

The Power of Novelty: this time of year offers an abundance of different fruits and vegetables. I’ve found kids LOVE anything out of the ordinary from the produce world. These miniature Champagne Grapes have kept my son’s lunch table rapt with fascination for the past week. I’ve received “where can I buy this” emails from parents after their kids come home begging for yellow watermelon when tasting a sample from my kid’s lunch, or asking where to find purple cauliflower and Dragon carrots. ‘Keep them Interested’ is my lunch box making motto!

Hard Boiled Egg Animal Molds - BoulderLocavore.com

These whimsical Hard Boiled Egg Molds turn your basic egg into fun shapes with ease. Wouldn’t you rather eat a Fish or a Bunny?

Lunch Ideas-  Bento cut Carrots - BoulderLocavore.com

Your Best Lunch Box Friend: the Unexpected. Surprising kids (or adults) with fruits and vegetables cut out with inexpensive Japanese vegetable cutters or mini cookie cutters go a long way to entice your luncher toward gobbling up fun looking food.

Some favorite lunch box recipes for cooler temperatures:

Turkey Tortilla Soup  

French Potato Leek Soup 

Big Red Barn Chili

Rustic Grilled Vegetable and Sausage Pasta

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese with Chicken Apple Sausage and Bacon

Green Chile Stew

Back-to-School Lunch boxes Lunch Sacks

These lunch boxes are actually mine, not my kids’. Everyone needs a functional lunch box and there are great options to be found.

LUNCH BOXES

Truth be told everyone needs a good lunch box; adults included.  I’ve tested many for durability, stain resistance and size over the years.  While in elementary school all the kids lunch boxes are tossed into a bin and carried to the lunch room and back leaving the opportunity for rugged treatment and staining.  As my elder child has her own locker but also needs more space for her lunch items graduating us to a small cooler style box.  The options are endless.  Following are some links to different lunch box options, comparisons and what we are hot on in our household this year.

{Good Housekeeping} Best Kid’s Lunch Box review (Pros and Cons for 32 popular lunch box options)

{Sound Feelings} Lunch Box Reviews (a wide variety of lunch box types)

{100 Days of Real Food} Lunch Box Product Review (neatly organized charts of lunch box types, brand and their rating)

What the BoulderLocavore.com kids are toting this school lunch season:

{Elementary school} Wildkin Double Decker Lunch Box in Bengal Orange  (benefits:  two sections, robust construction, lots of cool color choices)

Wildkin Double Decker Lunch Box in Bengal Orange | BoulderLocavore.com

Wildkin Double Decker Lunch Box in Bengal Orange. (Photo Courtesy: Wildkin)

 

{High School}  Scout Double Decker in Piccadilly Circus pattern (benefits:  plenty of room, two sections, cute graphics, and sturdy portable lunch box strap)

Scout Double Decker Lunch Box in Piccadilly Circus pattern | BoulderLocavore.com

Scout Double Decker Lunch Box in Piccadilly Circus pattern. Photo Courtesy: Scout.

CONTAINERS

I currently have a fifth grader and a high schooler and have been packing their lunches since Pre-School.  I’ve tried every possible container style seeking the perfect form, function and fit.  Following are some of our favorites that have stood the test of time.

Dipping container for vegetables/fruit and dip or chips and salsa (my daughter loved taking Peanut Butter and Apple slices): 

We are environmentally minded as are our children from living in a very recycling conscious community.  They each have toured the local recycling facility as a school field trip and have come home doing audits of our green practices to see how we can improve.  Early on I purchased an inexpensive, gender-neutral colored set of cotton napkins online and had them monogrammed (fortunately both my kids have the same letter of their first names so the napkins have been shared between them) which are in their lunch boxes daily.  We’ve had them for years now and they are easy to pop in the wash.  I’ve saved tons on buying paper napkins and know we are being ‘green’!

 

Pottery Barn monogrammed napkins | BoulderLocavore.com

Cloth napkins are not only environmentally friendly but they can be fun. Having a special selection of monogrammed cotton lunch box napkins are a great lunch box addition which last for years, such as these from Pottery Barn. Photo courtesy: Pottery Barn.

Ice packs can be found everywhere from supermarket to larger convenience stores.  I tend to like flatter options so I can pack more into the lunch boxes easily.  World Market has a lunch box sized ice mat that works great.  Keep it in the freezer until using and just refreeze it.  It contains purified water so is non-toxic if it leaks. 

Fit & Fresh has some fantastic containers.  Their stand out design offers removable ice packs that snap out to be frozen, then snap back into the lid of the container to keep foods cold all day.  I’ve used their snack containers, larger lunch containers as well as the crown jewel Salad Container.  The salad container has a container for dressing inserted into the lid which allows it to be opening when the salad will be eaten.  The salad stays fresh and chilled all day with no soggy greens from hours of having been pre-dressed.  I will note the smaller containers are more difficult for younger children to open from my experience.

Ironically some of the containers that have remained a great size and have held up for years are those I purchased when my kids were babies.  First Years makes colorful snack size containers (BPA-free) and in my search I found a line of colorful glass lunch containers in various sizes from Wean Green Garden Lunch Containers.  Though purchasing glass containers may seem costly, they last forever, are very robust without the concerns of some plastic containers.

Wean Green Glass Containers | BoulderLocavore.com

Though glass containers can be pricier than toss-away plastic bags or their plastic counterpart, they last forever, allow ‘eating green’, and can be safely microwaved without concerns from additives such as BPA’s found in plastic. Wean Green has a colorful line of every size container to fit your food storage and lunch box needs. Photo courtesy: Wean Green.

 

I think most kids take water bottles to school for lunch and during the day.  Styles abound but two manufacturers we like for their durability as well as healthy construction are Sigg (lightweight and metal) and Nalgene (plastic).  They each offer variations on their lids styles to accommodate people of all ages.  Post Script:  After writing this post I made a new, life-changing discovery I must share.  The O2Cool Mist-n-Sip, a personal water bottle with a mister built in.  Personal misters were suggested at my son’s elementary to beat the in-class heat.  These bottles are fantastic offering 20 ounces of water storage, an easy drink spout and a small lever on the side to ignite a discrete mister on the top of the bottle to release some cooling spray.

In the cooler months small thermoses are a lunch box ‘must’ in my book.  They can hold everything from soup, mac and cheese, leftovers to keep your tot warm.  They are easily found at most stores such as Target, Walmart, etc. though the Thermos website has a number of smaller sizes sporting popular icons (my fave: Hello Kitty of course).

Once you have your great new lunch box, water bottle and great containers you have to label them or dig through the deadly Lost and Found pile at school to find them if accidentally left behind at school.  Years ago I discovered a label company through a fundraiser and was so glad I did.  Label Your Stuff offers a bounty of useful labels for school-goers and not.  They have waterproof name labels which can be customized to your information needs.  I can attest our containers and have endured years of dish-washing and the labels are still clear.  They carry shoe labels perfect to insert in shoes of tinier people.  You can even make allergy-sensitive labels and tags which has been a savior for our family.

Lunch Ideas-  Sandwich Cutters - BoulderLocavore.com

Sandwich cutters can turn a boring slice of bread into dolphins, firetrucks, dinosaurs and more. I’ve also used cookie cutters for the same result.

Do you have great gluten-free lunch box ideas or are you looking for more?  We’ve been talking about this very thing in Udi’s Gluten-Free Community.  Hop over, have a look and tell us your best recipes!

Disclosure: I am compensated for my role as a leader in the Udi’s Gluten-free community, a forum designed to share knowledge of gluten-free living with others. All opinions expressed are my own.

 

Comments

    • says

      Juliana your comment made my day! I’m so happy you found me and hope you’ll pop by in the future. I appreciate your impression and feedback on the blog, and thank you. The egg molds really are fun, aren’t they? So inexpensive and so unexpected.

    • says

      I hope there are some ideas and finds that are useful Jennifer! This is definitely a place we all need some easy ‘go to’ help to make it easy while still nutritious and fun for our kids.

  1. Colleen says

    My favorite post of all time! So much creativity, and I myself need these ideas for a life on the go, even without any kids of my own. I can’t wait to eat a hard boiled egg bunny :) THANK YOU.

    • says

      This post isn’t really just for Back-to-School it just conveniently coincides with it. Everything in this post is a reflection of what I have found cool and the stage for using them just happens to be my kid’s lunch boxes!

  2. says

    What a wonderful post. It is packed wiht terrific info and tips on great products. Those egg molds are a scream. I graduated from high school in 1970. Our lunches wee NEVER like this. How about yours? Kids today are pretty forptunate, if you ask me. Champagne crapes? No way, but I would have loved to have had them. It was green grapes for us, until Cesar CHavez and the Farm Laborer’s strike, that is.

    This is a treasure trove of info for moms, dads and other caregivers who make lunches. By the way, the love for special lunches does not fade with age. I used to make lovely lunches for my husband to take to work, and he adored them. He always said it was the best part of his workday. In fact, so special were the meals that his colleagues used to cruise his office at lunch to see what he had. He is retired now, and I asked him if, aside from the camaraderie he shared with his colleagues, he missed anything about working. He waited a beat and replied “Lunch.”

    • says

      What a lovely reflection Adri. And NO I never had anything in my lunch that was notable enough to even remember what I ate! The food world is vastly different, with few seasonal boundaries and produce shipping internationally all year long.

      I also agree completely on this post not being just for kids. In fact a single friend of mine commented earlier excited to find the egg molds! We all need something of a surprise, fun and unexpected in our day. Why not in our lunch box?!

  3. says

    Great post with tons of info! I just recently bought myself the Rubbermaid Lunch Blox line for my lunches and so far am loving it. I do need a better water bottle though, so off to check out those links!

    • says

      Funny how life-changing the right containers can be, isn’t it?! My latest find is a ‘self misting water bottle’. Our elementary school teacher recommended it. It is both a water bottle and a discrete mister. Think I better add that to the list!

  4. says

    Love the veggie cutters! Looks like your lunchbox ideas showcase fresh foods. We have a Lunchbox Buddies guide free for the download right now (no spam, promise!) that’s full of fun, quick and healthy recipes for the kiddos: http://ow.ly/ojy9a

    Hope it helps!

    -Stemilt (world famous fruit) team

  5. Debby says

    Where can I find Fire Truck sandwich cutters?!?!? We have the dinos, dolphins, hearts, stars, butterflies, and I think that’s it. But I would LOVE to find the fire truck one for my girls. Yes, I said girls. Daddy’s in the fire department and my older one (14) is also a volunteer with the cadet program and the younger two (5 & 7) cannot WAIT to get into the cadet program as well. They would FLIP if they opened their lunches and saw fire trucks!

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