25 Lunch Box Hacks For Back-To-School

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During the school week I like to make life as easy as possible. School morning can easily get out of hand with a kindergartener and 2-year-old. Amid arguing over outfits to wear, 5,000 requests for them to put their shoes on and trying to get school bags together, I still to get myself ready to be seen in public, make sure each of them has been fed and pack lunch. School morning can be the most stressful part of everyone’s day here.

To make mornings run a little more smoothly, I try to be as prepared as possible when it comes to things like picking out clothes and packing lunch. For lunch there are some hacks and tips I employ to make sure I can pack quickly and ensure my daughter gets a good variety along with nutritious choices in her lunch box.

25 Lunch Box Hacks

Put your sandwiches on ice

One of the easiest ways to make sure you have lunch ready to go is meal prep. You can make sandwiches the night before, or even the weekend before, and freeze them. In the morning grab one sandwich out of the fridge and toss it in the lunch box. By the time lunch rolls around the sandwich will thaw out and you won’t need an ice pack.

Portion it out on Sunday

Sandwiches aren’t the only thing you should be making ahead of time. Spend time over the weekend to portioning fruits and veggies into baggies. Each day you can just pull out an already sliced, nutritious side for the lunch bag. Think sliced apples, pears, cucumbers, carrots, celery and sweet peppers.

Banana messages

Send your kids a message right on their lunch by writing sweet messages on a bananas. It will be the perfect pick-me-up for the middle of the school day.

Lunch Box HacksBag of apples that don’t brown

Instead of just tossing the apple into the lunch bag, slice it up and put the slices in a bowl of water with a bit of lemon juice. The citric acid in the lemon juice will keep the apple slices from browning and you can then put them into a plastic baggy or a container for easy transport.

Or…

Use a rubber band to keep them from browning

If you don’t have lemons, you can slice the apple instead and then band it back together like a puzzle. This will keep the slices from being exposed to air, which will oxidize the apple and cause it to brown. See how easy it is in this video.

Make your own fruit cups ahead of time

Using the lemon juice and water mixture, you can also chop your Lil’ Snappers apples and pears to make fruit cups. After chopping let the fruit sit in the lemon bath for a minute and then layer a mason jar with the apples and/or pears and other fruit. You can make these ahead of time pull one out each day.

Think out of the box with thermos

When I was a kid my mom often put soup into my thermos, but these work for so many more lunchtime favorites. You can add hotdogs, pizza bites, taquitos and even chicken nuggets into the lunch box by using a thermos. I used these chicken and cheese roll ups.

Planning for condiments

If your child loves condiments plan on packing them in small, individual containers the night before and refrigerate them. Then you can easily pull them out the next day and add in mayo, mustard, ranch or even ketchup. Something like this is perfect.

Roll it up

Sometimes just making food more fun for kids can help brighten their day. Roll up various types of sandwiches to make them fun and easier to hold for small hands. This also makes more room in the lunch box for other things. Think PB&J, turkey and cheese or even shredded chicken and salsa rolls (and then stick those in that thermos).

Separate snacks

Use cupcake wrappers to help separate snacks in a lunch box. You can use disposable ones (because you know you always have extra) or re-usable silicone ones.

Make your own trail mix

Make your own trail-mix before the week starts so your kids always have a snack they love. This is one of the easier things to make on your own and you get to control what goes into it too. That’s always a bonus.

Wrap the top of a banana

Individually wrapping the tops of your bananas at the beginning of the week will help them stay ripe longer. In fact, don’t just wrap them with plastic wrap (like I’m sure you’ve seen before) but tape them up too. Bananas brown because ethylenel escapes from the fruit when it is pulled apart at the stems. The gas causes them (and any other fruit around them) to brown faster. When you put a banana in a brown paper bag, or a lunch box, the gas is trapped inside with the banana, which is why they brown faster. Wrapping the stems helps to keep the gas from leaking out and helps to keep your bananas ripe after they’re put into the lunch box.

Easy to fit drink containers

Including reusable, squeezable drink containers in a lunch box will allow you to give your child drink variety, save money and help the environment. Drink containers like this can be used multiple times and can be filled with milk, juice or water. Including one of these saves my daughter time because then she doesn’t have to buy milk at school, which wastes precious minutes since lunch is only 20 minutes.

Lunch mat wrap

Wrap sandwiches in parchment paper or sandwich paper so kids can use the wrapping as a lunch mat when they eat. You can find some here.

Use fun shapes for sandwiches

Everyone has seen these but seriously they always put a smile on my kids’ faces and can be a fun way to get your kids interested in food. My daughter will often come home from school without eating most of her sandwich, even though she likes it. When I make it a fun shape it just makes lunch more fun. You can do this before you freeze them for the week. 🙂

Use a sponge as an ice pack

If you don’t have ice packs, or seem to frequently run out, use a new sponge as an ice pack. Get it wet, squeeze it out, put it in a baggy and toss it in the freezer overnight. Then you’re ready to go the next morning.

Freeze the juice box

If you use juice boxes you can also freeze them to use them as ice packs. This is a win win. You have a cold drink and you keep everything else cold too.

Use wooden spoons for pudding, Jell-o, applesauce and more

Do you ever send utensils to school only to have them disappear forever? Try wooden spoons instead. They work and unlike plastic spoons, are better for the environment too. You can get a package of 250 here and be good through most of the school year.

Remove the juice first

If your kids like fruit cups add a straw to their bag so they can drink all the juice before they open it. That way it doesn’t explode on them when they open it, as they so often do.

Freeze yogurt pouches for a fun treat

Grab pre-packaged yogurt pouches and freeze them. By the time lunch rolls around the yogurt will be mostly thawed. But, they will taste more like frozen yogurt so your kids will think they’re getting a fun treat too.

Portion it out

Using a plastic lunch box with dividers or a bento box you can easily organize your kids’ portions. It makes it easy to plan out your meals and give them proper portions of each food group. You can fill these up the night before, or depending on the item, the weekend before. You can find similar Bento Boxes for kids here.

Make a Snack Station so kids can help

If your kids are old enough, they can help pack their own lunch via a snack station.

In my pantry, I have a shelf that has all the kids’ dry food options. It’s accessible and my daughter uses it to help pack her own lunch extras and her morning and afternoon snack, which we are required to provide. Making a pantry shelf like this for my kids has saved me time each morning and it allows the kids to have some responsibility in picking out their food. They always have to show me what they’re picking, just to be sure, and I keep cookies on a higher shelf (AKA daddy’s shelf).

Use a checklist as a guide

If your kids are helping to pack their own lunches, use the check list below to make sure they get something from each food group for a well-rounded meal. You can get a PDF of this printable here.

Pack single servings ahead of time

For things like pretzels or Goldfish Crackers, make single servings in small plastic bags or containers on the weekend. Add these to your snack station so your kids can easily grab them before school.

Add Lunch Box Notes to remind kids how wonderful they are

Sometimes just having a simple reminder of how much they’re loved can be what kids need. These lunch box notes will make them smile. Download them for free here.

Some of these things are simple, all of them make life easier with proper planning and/or make lunches less expensive. Do you have any hacks that you would add to the list?

For more parenting tips, click here.

25 Lunch Box Hacks


114 COMMENTS

  1. I have never though of maling my own fruit cups! It is seriously such i good idea!! Those thing are a rip off at the store and FULL of sugar! So many awesome ideas i will be using!!

  2. These look great and so fun! Unfortunately, my daughter really loves lunchables! lol I hate spending the money on them and she only gets like 2 a week for school lunches, but still!

  3. So many great ideas of this post. I love how the banana is being wrap at the top. I have problem of many fruit flies flying around the banana. This will solve my problem. I also love “Put your sandwiches on ice”. I never knew I could do that!

  4. These are great ideas! My son is a little young right now (2), but I will definitely refer back to this when he is a bit older. And BTW, I hadn’t seen those fun shapes for sandwiches. They are cute! Where do you get them?

  5. Honestly I’ve even wanted to start taking a lunch box to work some days and this is a little motivation to start! I don’t have a little one to pack for but this might be perfect for me 😉

  6. Thank you! I HATE making lunches. I’ve been trying to move into having the options there for my bigs to make their own. I have never seen that banana hack before! Maybe I’ve been under a rock but it sounds great!

  7. These are some very helpful ideas. I love the idea of the fruit cups using the mason jars, I have a lot of mason jars so should really start to make the most of them!

  8. My daughter told me that her sandwich bread cuts mushy by lunchtime. Now I have to reorder her sandwich and have her assemble it at school. The little things help make lunch boxes come home empty which is a great thing in my world.

  9. My husband and I will be sending our child to school for the first time, and one of the things that we prioritize is his snack or lunch. We wanted him to learn how to pack on his own for the lunch box that we will be buying this weekend. This is because we want to teach him to be independent as early as now. So I am really grateful for your article for mentioning it. Like you said, we can create a pantry shelf that is exclusively for our child’s snack so that he can easily access it and choose the food that he wants to put in his lunch box. Thanks!

  10. I have seen a lot of ideas for keeping apples from browning, but I’ve never heard of that rubber band method before. Thanks for sharing these great ideas!

  11. This is a great list of lunch box hacks! Our kids always loved the fun-shaped sandwiches when they were younger. I’ll have to try this apple trick because they prefer them sliced but won’t touch them once they turn a little brown.

  12. I love these ideas! I need to get that puzzle piece sandwich cutter – maybe it would help my kids eat their crusts? Love the sponge tip too!

  13. These are some really great hacks. Having to pack for three kids becomes time consuming and so these would really help.

  14. I love the anti-browning apple hack! My family loves cut up apples, but cutting them ahead of time never worked for me because they’d always turn. I’ll definitely be trying this!

  15. Loving these hacks! I never knew that you could do that with a banana or even that apples that don’t brown exist – my son won’t eat them as soon as they change colors!

  16. We love our bento boxes!! My oldest starts kindergarten in a couple of weeks and my youngest will start his second year of preschool and we’ve had the same boxes for a few years now. We like to prep their lunches the night before so we don’t have to do it in the rush of getting both boys ready.

  17. These are all some really good tips. I could use all the tips I can get when it comes to school. Love the tip for apples!

  18. I am terrible at planning meals and packing lunches. Thanks for all the great ideas! I really need some ways that I can get organized and create nice meals (and save money!).

  19. Thanks for sharing this useful tips. I love eating food that I bring from home because the food in my school canteen is not very delicious.

  20. Wow and wow and wow! These are great ideas to do in making your kids lunches and I like the colors of those water bottles it so pretty.

  21. I’m going to be using literally all of these tips when my son Chase goes back to school in a few weeks!! And I LOVE the sandwich shapes idea!

  22. These are some great ideas! I know I’m going to have to start packing my little ones lunch soon. I love the apple slice trick, I’ll have to try it

  23. So many great tips. It is so important to keep the fruit fresh until my son eats it so the apple and banana ideas are so helpful. You do make the best lunches and saving time in the morning is so important.

  24. I definitely need to step up my game when it comes to school lunches. I feel like we are in a rut and it just gets harder to think of stuff during the year. Thanks for sharing these!

  25. Loving your lunch box hacks to share with parents for the back to school season. I will have to use some of these ideas to pack up the kids’ lunches during the days they venture off to take classes at another location during our homeschool adventures.

  26. These are great tips! My husband actually will make my son’s PB & J sandwiches all on one night and freeze them to stay fresh! They defrost before lunchtime.

  27. cant wait to try a few of these hacks for sure for this school year- my daughter starts kindergarten so ill be using a few- esp the freezing of juice boxes!

  28. Back to school is definitely a very busy and stressful day with all parents and I am happy to read this article because it gives me a lot of ideas in preparing my daughter food. Thanks for sharing!

  29. These are all lovely and delightful tips to take advantage. They are all pretty innovative and some are new to me. This will make everyone be prepped for start of school season.

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