The ABCs of Back to School Lunches

bottle water, lunch box, fruit, vegetables, sandwich

26 Quick, Affordable and Healthy Lunchbox Ideas

August is National Back to School Month as well as National Sandwich Month and these two certainly go hand in hand. As parents are preparing for their kids to go back to school, making sure they are well fed while is at the top of the list. By doing some simple planning, you can easily make sure your kids’ lunchboxes are well-rounded and healthy while still being affordable. Here is an alphabet of ideas to get you started.

Ants on a Log– Fill celery sticks with peanut butter and then top with raisins. Cheese cubes or yogurt and fresh fruit will round this out to be a very balanced lunch.

Bagel- Whether you make this into a turkey sandwich, pizza or just serve it with cream cheese, a bagel is a great addition to any lunchbox. Add some fruit and raw veggies and lunch is served.

Chicken Salad- Leftover chicken from last night? Shred it up and mix with mayonnaise, celery, craisins, salt, and pepper. Or, search online for a multitude of ingredient varieties depending on what’s in your fridge. The sky is the limit with what can go in a chicken salad. Serve it on a sandwich with something sweet, like graham crackers, on the side.

Deconstructed Salad- Load up a compartmented container (like a Bento Box) with carrots, tomatoes, cheese, nuts and more. Include dressing or hummus and let your kids dip to their heart’s delight.

Egg Salad- Hard-boiled eggs will last up to one week in the fridge (peeled or unpeeled) and they make a great addition to a lunchbox whether plain or made into a salad. Boil any extra eggs before they expire or on a weekend and you are just a few minutes away from an egg salad sandwich for lunch another day. Chop them up and mix with mayo, salt, and pepper. Makes a great lunch with some lettuce and pita bread and some fruit.

Frozen Greek Yogurt- Oftentimes, kids do not have access to a refrigerator to store their lunch until it’s time to eat. Freeze individual Greek yogurts (pouches or containers will work) and include one in their lunchbox. The yogurt will thaw out by lunchtime and it also serves as an ice pack for the rest of the items until then. Win-win!

Grilled Cheese- Throw some buttered bread and cheese into a skillet for a quick kid-favorite. If you want to get creative, you can add lunchmeat, avocado, tomato, spinach, or fancy cheeses. Cook ahead and refrigerate overnight. Send with a pickle or a thermos of tomato soup for dipping.

Hummus- You can serve it with vegetables, pita, crackers or bread. Just put it in a separate compartment so items don’t get soggy before lunch.

Ice Water- Always be sure your child has access to plenty of water throughout the day. It’s healthy and free!

Jelly & Peanut Butter- Also known as PB&J (hey, we needed a J), you can’t go wrong with this classic staple. Opt for whole wheat bread to get some added nutrition or wrap it up with a banana in a whole wheat tortilla for something a little different.

Kale Smoothie- Blend together chopped kale, almond milk, vanilla Greek yogurt, tropical fruit (pineapple, banana, mango, etc) and ice. Store in a smoothie bottle and shake when it’s lunchtime.

Lunchables Remake- Instead of buying the packaged kind, make your own version of a Lunchable with slices of meat, cheese, and crackers. Serve with a side of carrots and fruit.

Macaroni and Cheese- Make extra for dinner the night before and divvy it up into individual containers. The next morning, toss one in their lunchbox with a yogurt and a piece of fruit. This is best if there is access to a microwave.

Nutella- Who doesn’t love a chocolate hazelnut spread? It goes great on whole-wheat bread with some sliced banana!

Oranges- Mandarins (commonly referred to as Cuties) are the perfect size for a child’s lunch and kids love them. They’re also seedless and very easy to peel making them the perfect school lunch side item. You can also get packaged mandarin orange slices, just make sure they’re packaged in 100% fruit juice.

Pizza- Use store-bought pizza dough, English muffins or mini pita bread, then add pizza sauce, cheese, and toppings. Bake until the cheese is melted and cut into triangles or squares. These can be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated.

Quesadilla- Another easy make-ahead item. Add leftover chicken or steak and cheese to a tortilla and heat until cheese is melted. Cut into triangles and send with salsa or guacamole for dipping and tortilla chips or sliced bell peppers as a side item.

Rollups- Grab a tortilla (preferably whole-wheat) and roll up some deli meat and cheese and lunch is served. Get creative with other wrap ingredients like dressings, leafy greens, and other veggies. You can also include dressing in a separate container for dipping.

Sandwich Kabob- If you and your kids are sick of two pieces of bread with filling in between, try this fun twist on a classic. Get bamboo skewers and alternate chunks of grilled meat (chicken, steak, shrimp), cheese, bread, and veggies.

Tuna Salad- Easy to make ahead, mix tuna with mayonnaise, relish and/or boiled eggs. Put it on some bread to eat as a sandwich or serve it with celery, carrots, and crackers on the side.

Utilize Leftovers- A couple of the great things about leftovers is that they are free and they are already made. Plan your weeknight dinners around meals that you can easily repurpose (or just reheat) and serve up as lunch the next day. Cooked chicken, tacos, pizza, pasta dishes, stir fry, and burgers are all easy, inexpensive options the whole family will love.

Vegetarian- Why not try it? There are plenty of other ways to get protein besides meat and you can save money by skipping it a couple of days a week. Black beans, sliced cheese, nuts, cherry tomatoes, carrots, and fruit will fill up their tummies with non-meat proteins.

Waffles- Give them a sort of brunch with waffles (cut into pieces if need be), fruit, peanut butter and syrup in a compartmented container. Serve with sausage or bacon for a side of protein.

Xylitol- Ok, this one may sound like a stretch but when gum containing Xylitol is chewed after a meal it can help prevent cavities. Trident is a traditional favorite but many other chewing gums also include Xylitol, just check the label.

Yogurt Parfait- Let them create their own yogurt parfaits! In a compartmented container, put yogurt, chopped fruit, and granola. Or, layer ingredients in a mason jar so it’s ready to go. Just keep the granola separate or it will get soggy.

Zucchini Bread- Looking for a sneaky way to get your kids to eat vegetables? Zucchini bread is your answer. It’s sweet like carrot cake and easy to slice and send as a healthy side item or dessert. Need a good recipe?  Here’s one of our favorites.

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