School Lunch Ideas {That Don’t Involve a PB&J Sandwich}

As of this week, I will be entering into my fifth year of packing school lunches…which in my mind, totally earns me veteran lunch packing status.  But I have to admit, it has not been an easy road getting here.  I’ve been through every size, shape, and style of container … I’ve tried all of the “no-spill” cups that leave my kids’ backpacks a soggy mess … I’ve tried countless recipes and expensive ingredients that my kids have turned their nose up at … and now, FINALLY, I am entering into this fifth year with the best-of-the-best supplies, tons of mix-and-match foods that my kiddos love, and a few pro tips to save you from the many mistakes I’ve made.  Are you ready for this?  Because today, I’m spilling all of my top secret skills and sharing lots of school lunch ideas to make this year’s school lunches the absolute best.  Here we go!

School Lunch Ideas That Don't involve a P B & J Sandwich. A collage of 10 different lunch combinations. {Pssst…  You might want to pin ^this pic^ for when you hit that mid-year rut.  You’re welcome.}

>>> SUPPLIES <<<

So before we dive right into HOW I pack those epic school lunches, we’ve got to talk about what you’re going to put them in.  Over the summer, this was such a hot topic among all of my mama friends {#firstworldprobs – I know}, and I was so excited to share my tried and true favorites…

Three muffin cups and Two plastic containers each with three divisions.


Y’all… I’ve tried more lunch containers than I’d like to admit, and these Easy Lunch Boxes are hands-down, by far the absolute best.  I love that they are compartmentalized for easy storage and that your kiddo will only need to remove one lid to have access to all of their food.  Plus, they fit in most lunch kits perfectly which is an added bonus.  And those little silicon muffin cups?  They are an absolute must!  Not only do they add a fun pop of color, but they have so many purposeful uses too.  Keep reading to see what I mean.

Two reusable water bottles.

Water Bottles

I’ve tried almost every “no-spill” cup on the market, and spoiler alert — they almost all leak at least a little bit.  But not these Contigo water bottles.  You can literally toss them in the bottom of a backpack, throw the backpack ten feet in the air, and not one drip will come out.  {Speaking from experience here.}  Oh, and they come in so many fun colors and patterns for the kids too!  {Side Note :: I have friends who rave about the CamelBak water bottles, but I haven’t tried those myself yet.}

A package of sticker labels and a package of silicone labels which wrap around a water bottle.


There are TONS of options out there when purchasing labels, but one thing is for sure — you need them.  With approximately 956 containers and 325 water bottles floating around any given classroom, it’s easy for them to get mixed up.  So do your kiddo {AND your kiddo’s teacher} a favor and slap some labels on all. the. things.  When my children were little, I ordered them each a pack of Stuck On You personalized, dishwasher-safe labels and just put them on every container we own.  And guess what…  It’s been years and years, and those same labels are still hanging on!  Of course, we can’t forget the water bottle labels too.  While you could easily put a sticker label on the bottom of a water bottle, I opted for getting each of my kiddos a pack of InchBug orbit labels so they were highly visible and gave a nice grip to their water bottles.  {Bonus :: Each of these labels come with LOTS of personalizing options – from texts to fonts, and from colors to icons.  So fun!}


Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive right into the school lunch ideas!  After many a moons spent packing lunches, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it, but… I decided to call in some reinforcements for this not-so-little project — our friends and partners over at Whole Foods!  And y’all.  Not only did they open my mind to SO many new ideas and ingredients when I started putting these lunches all together, but many locations also offer Curbside Pickup.  [Insert ALL the praise hands here.]  As you get started, just keep in mind that these lunch ideas below are simply that — IDEAS.  I think the biggest key here is finding a variety of foods in every food group {protein, carb, dairy, fruit, & veggie} that your child loves, then simply mixing and matching them to create new and unique lunches all school year long.  Get creative, think beyond the PB&J sandwich, and have some fun.  Bon appetit!

A plastic container with three divisions containing a sandwich wrap cut into sections, banana chips and a Z bar.

Pinwheels + Banana Chips + Z Bar

For these pinwheels, I used a spinach wrap, cream cheese, and ham.  However, you could certainly try other flavors of wraps, substitute hummus for the cream cheese, explore different types of lunch meat, throw in veggie strips, etc…  The sky is the limit.  Oh, and the pinwheel shape just makes them downright fun to eat!

A plastic container with three divisions containing a rice cake with sunbutter, a piece of babybel cheese, a fruit salad and carrots.

Rice Cake w/ SunButter + Babybel Cheese + Carrots + Fruit Mix

To avoid that sunbutter sticking to the lid, put another rice cake right on top to seal it up.  Also, do yourself a favor and pick up one of the pre-cut fruit cups from the produce section at Whole Foods.  It is such a timesaver, and the variety of fruit is colorful and yummy!

A plastic container with three divisions containing freeze dried apples, grape tomatoes, crackers and cheese and sausage. The cheese and sausage are in individual muffin cups.

Crackers w/ Meat & Cheese + Freeze-Dried Apples + Grape Tomatoes

My kiddos have dubbed these “homemade lunchables” – but instead of processed meats and cheeses, I use natural cheese and meats like organic turkey sticks and REAL chicken breast slices.  And those freeze-dried apples give such a great crunch and won’t turn brown like fresh cut apples do!

A plastic container with three divisions containing a trail mix, a cheese stick, celery sticks, carrot sticks, pita bread and hummus. The pita bread and hummus are in muffin cups.

Hummus Dippers + Cheese Stick + Trail Mix

Notice how I separated the pita chips from the veggies using that helpful little silicon cup?  That’s not just for looks – it actually helps make sure they don’t get soggy too!

A plastic container with three divisions containing veggie Chips, a babybel cheese, a package of peanut butter, crackers and banana chips. The banana chips and crackers are in muffin cups.

 Peanut Butter Dippers + Veggie Chips + Babybel Cheese

These Justin’s Squeeze Packs are ah-mazing.  My kids love getting to squeeze their own peanut butter onto crackers, banana chips, and whatever else I manage to have laying around.  Plus, they come in lots of different options, such as almond butter, chocolate hazelnut, etc…

A plastic container with three divisions containing A Z bar, a Mamma Chia pouch, a turkey stick and baby carrots.

Z Bar + Mamma Chia Pouch + Carrots + Turkey Stick

When you’re looking for pouches, be sure to read those labels to check for any hidden ingredients…or added bonuses!  For instance, this one is fully organic, and it has strawberry + banana + chia seeds {aka one of the most nutritious foods on the planet}.

A plastic container with three divisions containing trail mix, a cheese stick, a smoothie drink and a muffin cup filled with Quack N Bites.

Ella’s Smoothie Drink + Quack ‘n Bites + Cheese Stick + Trail Mix

If you’re shopping at Whole Foods, be sure to check out their house brand – 365.  Not only is this brand super affordable, but the quality is great and the taste can’t be beat. The triple threat when it comes to mom-style grocery shopping!  {Pictured Here :: 365 Cheese Stick, 365 Trail Mix, AND 365 Quack ‘n Bites!!}

A plastic container with three divisions containing celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins, a babybel and Annie's bunnies..

Ants On A Log + Babybel Cheese + Annie’s Bunnies

Make this one EXTRA fun {and less messy!} by letting your kiddos make their own ants on a log in the lunch room.  Just pre-cut and wash the celery, toss in a Justin’s Peanut Butter Squeeze Pack, and fill a silicon cup with raisins.  {Want to make them extra fancy?  Check out these fun ants on a log ideas too!

A plastic container with three divisions containing cracker sandwiches with sunbutter, carrot and celery sticks, a cereal bar and two muffin cups with cheese and grapes.

SunButter & Crackers + Veggies + Cheese + Grapes + Cereal Bar

What do you do if your child LOVES peanut butter, but they are in a nut-free class/school?  Try SunButter!  It’s made with sunflower seeds and packed with protein – plus, it’s readily available at Whole Foods.

A plastic container with three divisions containing a fruit salad, a cheese stick, a rice cake with hummus drawn on it in the form of a smiley face and a muffin cup of celery sticks.

Rice Cake w/ Hummus + Celery + Cheese Stick + Fruit Mix

To make fun faces like this, I just put a spoonful of hummus into the corner of a sandwich bag, snip off the tip, and pipe it like you would frosting onto a cake.  Of course, I have to top it off with another rice cake before putting the lid on the container.  But if my kiddos are helping me pack lunches {see Pro Tips below}, then we both know it’s in there!

>>> EXTRAS <<<

Along with sending a lunch every day, your child will likely need to pack a little extra snack for eating in the classroom.   Most teachers ask that the snack can be consumed easily, without the need for a fork or a spoon.  {So no fruit cups, etc.}  Also, the less mess = the better, since they will likely be eating while simultaneously doing class work or participating in a teacher-led activity.  Here are a few ideas…

A photograph of 16 snacks including A z bar, a mixed berry bar, three types of annie's snacks, three types of fruit strips, Quack N Bites, a trail bar, animal cookies, a chia squeeze, organic creature crackers and two fruit packages.


Once again, all of these delicious items can be purchased at your neighborhood Whole Foods, so I encourage you to take your kiddo and walk the aisles to see what they gravitate towards.  {I love that all of their stuff is mostly healthy with minimal ingredients, so I usually just let my kiddos have free reign of their choices.}  For us, I like individually packaged items for ease in the morning, and my children typically choose snacks like crackers/cookies, bars, fruit strips, and pouches.  And of course, I always have Itzy Ritzy reusable snack bags with fresh fruit and veggies that they can grab too.

Six drinks including A drinkable yogurt, lemonade, a smoothie drink, milk, coconut water and Brain Toniq.


Each and every day, I send my kiddos to school with a fresh water bottle, but some days, I will pack a little something extra too.  For instance, if I didn’t manage to squeeze in any dairy into their lunch container, then I’ll throw in a Stonyfield smoothie.  Or if they are missing a veggie in their lunch, then in goes an Ella’s strawberry + beet drink.  You guessed it, all of these options can be found at Whole Foods, and most of these also make great after school and/or breakfast options as well!  {And how fun is that Brain Toniq?  That would make a great teacher pick-me-up too!}

>>> PRO TIPS <<<

  1. Open EVERYTHING you possibly can before putting them in the lunch containers {cheese sticks, granola bars, etc…}.  Not only does this equate for less trash that your kiddo will have littering their lunch space, but it will also give them so much more time to eat – rather than fumbling with packaging or raising their hands waiting for a teacher to help.  Oh, and the teachers will LOVE you for this too!
  2. You’ve already put labels on all of your containers, but don’t forget to label those beloved snacks so they don’t get mixed up in the snack basket at school.  I like to keep a stack of labels with my children’s names already pre-written on them next to the snack shelf in the pantry.  That way, when they are choosing their snack to toss in their backpack, they just stick on a label — and it’s ready to go!
  3. Speaking of labels, don’t forget to label the lids AND the container bases.  With 20+ kids sitting at just a few small tables, your kiddo’s things WILL get mixed up with someone else’s.  This just makes it easier for it to find it’s way back home.
  4. It’s probably smart to give any new foods/lunch ideas a test run at home before sending them to school in your child’s lunch box.  While we’d like to think our kids will just devour each and every thing that we make, let’s get real – there’s a high likelihood that they won’t.  It’s much easier to troubleshoot at your own home rather than finding an un-touched lunch when your kiddo gets home starving.
  5. Get your kiddo involved in the lunch making process!  I’m not sure about you, but my kiddos are WAY more likely to try a food if they’ve helped me make it.  So let them help you pack their lunch the night before, or have them be in charge of picking out one item to go in one of the compartments.  Give them some ownership over their lunch, and ultimately, teach them to pack their OWN!  {Can I get an amen?!?}

Phew! I know that’s A LOT of info, but you’re totally going to nail these school lunch ideas, mama.  So when you do, be sure to come back and chime in with YOUR suggestions and pro tips in the comments below too!

Previous articleHow Potty Training is Training Me
Next articleI Left My Heart in Kindergarten
Kelly is the founder of Houston Moms Blog and has lived in this beautiful city nearly all of her life. She has a degree in education from Texas State University and was honored to teach special education for eight years to some of the cutest little kiddos you could ever meet. While teaching, Kelly met Cody – a tall drink of water and country boy to the core – and together, they fell in love, got married, and decided to start a family. In March 2011, they welcomed Hayes into the world, a silly but smart little boy with a story you have to read to believe. And in April 2013, their family was complete with the addition of Hadley, a super gregarious and oh-so-cute baby girl. Now, Kelly devotes her days to caring for her own little ones…and would not trade this new job of hers for the world! In her not-so-spare time, Kelly loves meeting up with her girlfriends for margaritas, failing miserably at Pinterest projects, and exploring this big old city with her two favorite little side-kicks in tow.


  1. Addy came home today (first day) and said she just ate chips and grapes cause she didn’t want the hot lunch..going to the store now with these in mind.

    • LOL! And Hayes came home and said, “Mom, there were some kids who forgot their lunch boxes, so they bought food at school. Can I forget my lunch box tomorrow?” Grass is always greener, kids!!!

      • Okay i have not found an answer to this: do you know of any lunch box/container that will hold an Easy Lunch Box (sandwich size + plus 2 side compartments as you pictured above) that I can lay flat AND also fit a drink container? I have bought some that will fit either but not both!!

        Oh my you just gave me sooo many ideas. I don’t have a Whole Foods near me but I think its time i find the closest one and make a monthly trip. HEB and Krogers have very limited organic snacks, etc.


        • The lunch kit we are using this year is just one off the shelves from Target. (Can’t even remember the brand name!) But it is fantastic! It easily fits the Easy Lunch Box, an ice pack, occasionally a yogurt or juicebox if I add that in. Plus, it has a compartment on the side for water bottles too. You could easily lay it flat, but I usually put it upright in his backpack, and that seems to work great. Hope that helps you too!

  2. Where do I find THE Turkey sticks???
    My boy used to love the Hillshire Farm smokies and grew out of them up until this summer he found some of those little sausages in a veggie tray. Thanks!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here