School lunches: How to switch up the same old PB&J

A month into the new school year and parents might already be adjusting their school lunch routines. Here are some ways to mix up the routine and keep kids from swapping their lunchbox contents as soon as they hit the cafeteria.

Jennifer Bumba
A bento box lunch creation from mom Jennifer Bumba, who creates special lunches for holidays, such as this Valentine's Day-themed meal.

For many kids, lunch is one of the best parts of the school day. Now more than ever, there are plenty of options to not only make lunchtime fun and delicious for kids (a guarantee it won’t be traded for a friend’s treats), without a lot of extra work from parents. 

Parents who have had to coax sleepy kids out of bed, find missing pieces of homework at the last minute, and remind the kids that no, Halloween costumes are not appropriate school attire, know that mornings can get a bit disorganized. As a result, little time is left to prepare a healthy, let alone interesting, lunch. By planning ahead and mapping out meals over the weekend or even the night before, mornings lunch prep can be easy. 

Kay Davis, a mother of twins in 5th grade, finds that one of the best times to prepare lunches is right after dinner when the kitchen is already messy and many of the needed items are out. 

She uses dinner leftovers to create a whole new meal such as delicious wraps with extra chicken breast or by packing up the veggies and tossing in some hummus in the morning. 

“As I grocery shop each week, I map out the meals ahead of time and plan to make enough so there are always extras for lunch,” Ms. Davis explains. By streamlining the process you will make your mornings faster and easier than ever.

Casseroles, spaghetti, and other one-pot dishes can easily be frozen for grab-and-go meals in a pinch. Keeping fresh, frozen, and pantry ingredients at the ready is one way to spice up leftovers and guarantee endless lunch combinations. 

Another trick Jennifer Bumba uses for quicker mornings and successful lunch preparation with her 5th grader, is to keep a variety of reusable lunch containers on hand. By having a selection of sizes and shapes, lunch packing is much quicker. Plus, choosing containers that can also be used for storage helps eliminate the extra step of locating food packaging in the morning. 

“Bento boxes!” Ms. Bumba says, “Life got so much simpler when I started using them.” She sends her 5th grade son to school with one and finds it easy to put his favorite leftovers in there, as well as a sandwich, or any kind of fruit. Bento boxes come in all shapes and sizes as well as a variety of affordable prices. For a little inspiration, check out these bento boxes created by Li Ming, a mom in Singapore recently featured on, whose adorable creations take lunch to a whole new level.

According to the website, it's good to involve your kids as you prepare and pack lunches. Create an assembly line so everyone plays a part in the process. This will not only get the job done faster, but it is also a way to get picky eaters to make their own choices. 

Including kids in the lunch-making procedures empowers them and could also result in kids being more likely to eat what you send with them. They won’t be surprised when they open their lunchbox, and might be more inclined to think, “I picked this out!”

Most of all, have fun with the preparation. After all, it is just lunch! Throw in a little note to let your child know you’re thinking of them, or include a special sticker or a small toy. Cool Mom Tech and Lunchbox Dad offer great inspiration for lunchbox messages.

When you keep the focus on fun, creating fresh, healthy and time-saving meals will come naturally. It’s not about making the perfect school lunch every day, it’s about doing the best you can with the ingredients you have. 

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