School Lunches from Home, Made Easy

It is that time of year again and with it comes the choice of packing your children’s lunches or letting them eat school lunch. Many people shy away from packing school lunches because it can be too time-consuming. The following are some very simple ideas to organize your kitchen so that your kids can pack their own sack lunch with just a little bit of up-front preparation from you.

Keep plastic bins in the refrigerator that are labeled. In each have pre-filled sandwich baggies full of some of the following lunch options:
• Cut up assorted fruit — apples, oranges, strawberries, grapes, bananas, watermelon
• Cut up assorted vegetables — carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, green peppers and small containers of ranch or other salad dressing for dipping
• Cut-up cubes or slices of various types of cheese
• Cold cut meats such as pepperoni, turkey, ham and roast beef
• Crackers
• Yogurt
• Pre-popped popcorn, which can be seasoned in the baggie
• Pretzels
• Tortilla chips
• Boiled eggs
• Mini water bottles
• Hummus in a small container
• Pita chips

These are just a few ideas. Use your imagination. If you are feeling a little more adventuresome, you can make these the night before and put them in your kids’ lunch boxes.
• Cheese quesadillas
• Cream cheese and lunch meat tortilla roll-ups, cut into circles
• Soft-shelled taco
• Chicken or tuna salad that they can either make a sandwich with or eat with crackers
• Mini pancakes topped with peanut butter

Here are some additional ideas from The Kitchen food website, “10 Sandwich-Free Lunch Ideas for Kids and Adults Alike,” at

Many times there are dinner leftovers from the night before. There is nothing wrong with using those in your child’s lunch. If you make oven-baked fried chicken and potato salad, make a picnic lunch for your child’s lunch with some fruit, vegetables and a bottle of water. Some other examples would be spaghetti and meatballs and garlic bread, or stew. The options are limitless depending on your leftover choices.

If you are in the mood to bake sweets for your child’s lunches, you can bake cookies, cakes and brownies sugar free by substituting 1 cup of apple sauce per 1 cup of sugar. This makes the recipe moist and taste sweet but without the added sugar. Many times you will not even taste the apple sauce.

The most important part of preparing lunches for children is make it fun and get them involved. Let them assist in the preparation of the lunch and have a say in what they want to have in their lunch. Take them to the grocery store to shop for the items in their lunch for the week. Another idea is set up a calendar with your children for the month, showing what is going to be in their lunches. The more variety, creativity and fun you have, the more your children will enjoy their lunches.

If you set parameters that they have to choose a fruit and a vegetable to go along with every lunch, many children will grow a lifelong love of eating produce. Also, keep the sugar content low in children’s lunches. They get plenty of sugar naturally from fruits. Instead of putting juice in their lunch box, buy small bottles of water to include. Don’t forget to set the same example for your own lunch box if you make lunches for work. Children watch what you eat and they model after you. Have a great school year and happy lunch packing.

Adrian Kohrt is the family nutrition coordinator for Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For questions, she can be contacted at or (907)-474-7930.