The Back to School Lunch Box

lunch box

Lunch Box Dilemma

Sure, it would be easier to buy all pre-packaged foods for the kids’ lunches.  You could shave off a few minutes in the morning.  You can justify the amount of saturated fat and refined sugar in those foods by the time saved.  Right?  But have you also considered the cost and lack of nutrients in most of those items?

Sorry to start right off with a guilt trip.  Please, unpack your bags we’re not going to take that guilt trip any further today.

What we’re going to do is find some ways to consider time, cost and good (not perfect, just good) nutrition.  Let me help you with that.

Realistically, you’re probably not going to make everything from scratch and always have fresh items for their lunches.  So, let’s just start with that assumption.  But I think you can find a compromise between either all pre-packaged foods or all from scratch foods.  As much as I’d like to have my act together and do everything ‘right’, I’m no June Cleaver.  Maybe you feel like that sometimes, too.

The Mix and Match Lunch Box Solution

I approach back to school lunch boxes with some pre-planning before that first day hits.  I start with a simple list of various lunch possibilities.  You’ll see my sample list below.  Lunch-type foods are organized into categories.  I post the list on the refrigerator.  In the morning, when I would be prone to staring cluelessly at two empty lunch boxes, I check out the list instead.  Then I mix and match choices from these categories to create a fairly healthy lunch for school.  I often toss in a favorite convenience item.  For example, my teenagers like certain pre-packaged items (see the end of the list below) as a school snack, with lunch or to eat on the way home.

It’s not necessary to choose from every category.  That’s usually too much food for one lunch.  At least it is for my kids.

You might start by using my list and tweaking it to include items your kids would be most likely to eat.  Let’s try it out.

Here’s one example of a mix and match lunch: 

Bread: honey oat.  Filling: peanut butter and jelly.  Vegetable: baby carrots.  Extra: string cheese.  Pre-Packaged: chocolate chip cookies. 

Of course, you’re going to need a trip to the grocery store.  (This plan only works when you have your chosen items on hand.)

The Mix and Match Lunch Box List


Wheat, Cracked wheat, Honey oat, Rye, French, Buttermilk, Black Russian, Sourdough, Greek pita, Pocket, Raisin, English muffins, Bagels, Onion rolls, Hoagie rolls, Tortillas

Sandwich Fillings

Peanut butter and jelly, Turkey, Tuna/chicken salad, Lean ham, Lean beef, Cranberry sauce, Light mayonnaise, Barbecue sauce, Lettuce, Tomato, Spinach leaves

 Vegetables (sticks or slices)

Red peppers, Jicama, Cucumbers, Radishes, Celery, Baby carrots, Cherry tomatoes


Apples, Bananas, Cherries, Plums, Apricots, Mandarin oranges, Grapes, Melon, Nectarines, Tangerines, Raisins, Dried mangos, Craisins, Fruit cups, Applesauce cups


Carrot raisin, Tossed green, Three bean, Marinated vegetable, Pasta

Other Extras

String cheese, Babybel cheese, Yogurt, Low-fat cottage cheese, Fruit juice

Convenience or Pre-Packaged Ideas

Sun Chips, Fruit snacks, Honey roasted peanuts, Candied pecans, Cookies, Pudding cups, Peanut butter crackers, Cheese crackers, Goldfish crackers, Baked chips

What About School Lunch?

Why not just have them eat school lunch?  I do give them that option.  But they choose the lunches Mom makes.  And, considering the ‘new school lunch policies’, that’s just fine with me.

About Luanna Diller

Luanna Diller's professional expertise includes nutrition, health behavior change, and wellness. She has over three decades of experience in counseling, teaching and motivating thousands of clients to achieve healthier lifestyles. She is a wife, mom to a teenager and a young adult, Registered Dietitian and Christian women’s ministries leader. She is a creative cook, loves to dance and recently discovered a knack for hand making glass beads.
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