School Lunch Ideas

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School lunch ideas: Five ideas for healthier (but still simple) lunches.

One trip to your local grocery store and you can make enough healthy school lunches to last for a month!

When summer ends…

Is it me or does summer always seems to fly by? And when summer ends, school starts – which is enough to jolt me out of my watermelon-induced hangover into a world of stress. Jam-packed schedules, nights spent reviewing homework assignments and tanning lotion traded-in for glue sticks and popsicle sticks. If you’re like me, it’s difficult to stay on top of healthy school lunches, which frequently turn into a Frankenstein assortment of whatever I find in the pantry. If you pack lunches for your kids, you know how much time and effort that takes (especially for healthier meals).

School lunch ideas

Today I’m excited to share some tips, ideas and recipes to make healthy school lunches as easy as possible. I took the concept of pre-making a month of freezer meals and applied it to school lunches; tried it out in my house, and am thrilled to tell you all what a huge success and time saver this has been for me.

Using online grocery shopping, and a couple of hours of prep time, you can have an entire month of healthy school lunches prepared that are healthy and taste great. If you choose to include perishable items (such as yogurt and fresh berries) in the lunches, I wouldn’t recommend buying a month’s worth of those items at a time. Instead, pick up what you need for that week during your normal shopping trips, and with everything else prepped, those items can be added to the lunches quickly. So with that, let’s dive right in!

One trip to your local grocery store and you can make enough healthy school lunches to last for a month!

School lunch idea #1

Main course: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

Sides: Raisins, mandarin oranges, apple sauce

First up are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. These can also be peanut butter and honey (my boys’ favorite), or if you’re in a school that restricts peanuts, you can use WowButter® instead of peanut butter. Everything for this lunch can be prepped ahead of time. Did you know you can freeze peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Just like store-bought frozen Uncrustables®, you can do it yourself and they taste great once thawed!

Freezing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is really simple and makes for great healthy school lunches. Start by spreading peanut butter on both sides of each piece of bread. This keeps the bread from getting soggy from the jelly.  Then, spread the jelly or honey on top of the peanut butter on one slice of bread – just be careful to avoid the edges. Close the sandwich and seal without any air in a plastic bag. Repeat for 4 sandwiches total, and place all the sandwiches in a freezer.

The ingredients for this lunch:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Creamy peanut butter
  • Strawberry or raspberry jelly
  • Raisin packets
  • Mandarin oranges in snack bowls (or whatever fruit packs your kids like best!)
  • Classic apple sauce pouches
  • You can also add in extra veggies you have leftover in your fridge. We always have baby carrots, baby peppers, mini cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. These can quickly go in a snack-size bag and right into the lunchbox/bag.

Morning of: Grab one of the sandwiches from the freezer and pop it in the lunch bag/box (it will defrost by lunchtime!) along with the other lunch components.

Overhead view of a school lunch: PBJ, raisins and Mandarin oranges.

Overhead view of components of a healthy school lunch: bagels, string cheese, cream cheese, grapes and granola bars.

School lunch idea #2

Main course: Bagels with cream cheese
Sides: Granola bars, cheese sticks, fresh fruit

Next, bagels with cream cheese. My kids love bagels and even more so if they’re mini bagels. To keep this lunch on the healthier side, get some whole wheat-cinnamon raisin bagels. Use whatever cream cheese your family likes best!

Bagels also freeze really well: I just place two miniature bagels in a plastic bag and throw those in the freezer. Whipped cream cheese and cheese sticks stay good for a couple of months, so, instead of freezing them, I put some of each in my fridge so they’re all ready to go.

The ingredients for this lunch:

  • Mini bagels
  • Cream cheese
  • Chewy granola bars
  • Cheese sticks
  • Fresh fruit (purchase the week of): grapes, apple, berries, etc. or you can pack a bag of dried fruit or fruit in sealed snack bowls (both could be purchased ahead of time).
  • You can also add in extra veggies you have leftover in your fridge. We always have baby carrots, baby peppers, mini cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. These can quickly go in a snack-size bag and right into the lunchbox/bag.

Morning of: Take one of the bagels from the freezer and pop it in the lunch bag/box (it will defrost by lunchtime!) along with the other lunch components.

View of a baglel and fruit lunch for school.

Overhead view of pancakes with toppings.

School lunch idea #3

Main course: Pancakes or waffles
Sides: Granola bars, cheese sticks, fresh fruit

Third, pancakes (or waffles) topped with berries. Can you tell my kids love breakfast food?! To keep this lunch on the healthier side, you can make homemade whole wheat waffles/pancakes. I like to top my pancakes and waffles with pure maple syrup!

This is easily my kid’s favorite lunch, and I love it too because it’s so easy to make! Prep this lunch by making a large batch of waffles or pancakes. Let them cool completely, place them in sealed bags, and pop them in the freezer. If you want these prepped in a hurry, grocery stores usually have wonderful buttermilk pancake and waffle mixes that I think are delicious.

Maple syrup has a great shelf life, so I just put it in small containers and keep that sectioned-off in the fridge – along with the cream cheese and cheese sticks. I then put some healthy granola and nuts into small plastic bags to use as toppings. Set those aside with the other sides that don’t need to be refrigerated.

The ingredients for this lunch:

  • Granola
  • Maple syrup
  • Buttermilk complete pancake and waffle mix (plus oil if you’re making waffles)
  • Fresh fruit (purchase week of):  fresh berries
  • You can also add in extra veggies you have leftover in your fridge. We always have baby carrots, baby peppers, mini cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. These can quickly go in a snack-size bag and right into the lunchbox/bag.

Morning of: Take the pancakes/waffles from the freezer and pop it in the lunch bag/box (it will defrost by lunchtime!) along with the other lunch components.

View of the pancakes, suryp, granola, nuts and fruit, all packed and ready to go to school for lunch.

View of the components in another good school lunch: sliced deli meat, cheese, fruit, bread, veggies and a fruit snack.

School lunch idea #4

Main course: Ham/turkey and cheese sandwiches
Sides: Fruit pack, baby carrots, dried cranberries or fruit leather strips

Fourth, ham/turkey and cheese sandwichesDid you know you can freeze deli meat and cheese sandwiches and they taste great when thawed?

To make these sandwiches, spread softened butter on both pieces of bread (this helps keep the bread from getting soggy). Next, add a few slices of your kid’s favorite deli meat, then top with some cheese. Close the sandwich and seal without any air in a freezer bag. Repeat for 4 total sandwiches and then place all the sandwiches in the freezer.

The ingredients for this lunch:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Mild Cheddar cheese snacks
  • Deli meat (turkey, ham, chicken, roast beef)
  • Diced pears (or whatever fruit packs your kids like best!)
  • Baby carrots
  • Dried cranberries/fruit leather strips
  • You can also add in extra veggies you have leftover in your fridge. We always have baby carrots, baby peppers, mini cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. These can quickly go in a snack-size bag and right into the lunchbox/bag.

Morning of: Take one of the sandwiches from the freezer and pop it in the lunch bag/box (it will defrost by lunchtime!) along with the other lunch components.

View of a meat and cheese sandwich, fruit, veggies and snack, packed and ready to take to school. View of several components in a fruit-and-yogurt school lunch.

School lunch idea #5

Main course: Yogurt parfait
Sides: Yogurt, fresh fruit, granola, blueberry muffins

And finally, yogurt parfaitThis lunch is a little harder to prep entirely ahead of time, since yogurt doesn’t freeze well, but you can prep all the toppings and sides, including the granola and muffins.

Freezing muffins is really simple:

  • Bake the muffins and let them cool completely. Wrap individual muffins tightly in plastic wrap and then place them in freezer bags. (I label my freezer bags so I use them in time; muffins will keep well frozen for up to 3 months.)
  • Thaw the muffins by either leaving them out at room temperature for a few hours, or put them in the microwave. To thaw in the microwave, place one UNWRAPPED muffin on a napkin or microwave-safe paper towel or plate. Microwave on high for 15-30 seconds for each muffin.

The ingredients for this lunch:

  • Greek yogurt (kids’ favorite flavors)
  • Fresh fruit (purchase week of):  fresh berries.
  • Granola (or this recipe)
  • These blueberry muffins (so good and they also use Greek yogurt in them!)
  • You can also add in extra veggies you have leftover in your fridge. We always have baby carrots, baby peppers, mini cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. These can quickly go in a snack-size bag and right into the lunchbox/bag.

Morning of: Take one of the muffins from the freezer and pop it in the lunch bag/box (it will defrost by lunchtime!) along with the other lunch components.

View of the Yogurt Parfait school lunch idea.

A few more ideas

One trip to your grocery store and you can make enough healthy school lunches to last for a month! via chelseasmessyapron.com #school #lunch #meal #prep #healthy #easy #quick #ideas #prepahead #sandwich #freeze #freezersandwich #parfait #bagel #ham #cheddar #healthy #snacks
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12 Comments

  1. I’m so sad all of the Krogers in my area are closing down this month. Kroger brand peanut butter is the actual best!

  2. Hi, Such great ideas. I am always trying to make something new for my baby lunch item. This time I found your list useful. I am going to add this to my baby lunch item. Hope, so my baby also loves it. Thanks for the sharing such an informative article.

  3. These are great lunch suggestions! I really love the pancake one, and I know my girls will love it too!

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