School Lunch Packing Gotcha Down? Check Out These Winning Tips…

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School Lunch Hacks

Let’s be honest…

School lunches can be one of the most stressful things about back-to-school. Trying to create lunches that are nutritious, stay fresh for hours, and that kids will actually eat, can be a huge task. We’ve searched the depths of the web to find the best tips for creating winning lunches, while maintaining your sanity.

1. Invest in a Good Lunch Box


Bento box-style lunches have become very popular over the last few years, and PlanetBox makes some of the best. They are definitely on the pricey side, but well worth it in my opinion.

My kids lose their minds when their food touches, so having separate compartments is a necessity. PlanetBoxes are eco-friendly, dishwasher safe,  customizable with cute magnets, have a 5-year warranty, and are made with stainless steel, so they’re BPA-free and non-toxic. They have several accessories available, like coordinating bags and water bottles.

Bentgo Kids Lunch Boxes If you’re looking for a comparable option at a lower cost, Amazon has a few options. These Bentgo Kids lunch boxes are leak-proof, come in great colors, have a 2 year warranty, and are also BPA-free and dishwasher safe.

Lunch picks and forksThese adorable Animal Lunch Picks work great with bento-style lunch boxes! They’re perfect for small hands!

2. Weekend Prep

Easy Pizza Muffins Hip2Save(Pictured above, Lina’s Pizza Muffins! This is a fun and different back to school lunch idea that you can prepare ahead of time and pop into lunchboxes during the week.)

Prepping as much as you can on the weekend will save you so much time and stress during the morning rush. Wash, cut, and portion out all fruits and vegetables as soon as you get home from the store.

Lunch Box

Get the kids involved with planning and prepping. They’re much more likely to eat it if they’re involved in the planning and preparing of their own meals. I even have my kids write out shopping lists to plan things out.

3. Hard-Boil Eggs for the Week

School Lunch Box Hacks

We like to mark the cooked ones after they’ve cooled so we don’t mix them up. Be sure to add a date! Hard-boiled eggs, peeled or unpeeled, are still safe to eat up to one week after they were cooked.

4. Freezer Sandwiches

Freezer Sandwiches

We love this idea from Amanda’s Cookin’. Make PB&J sandwiches in advance, then simply freeze your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in freezer-safe sandwich bags for the week. These are great for last minute lunches; just pop them in your lunch box and they’ll thaw by lunch time, plus they double as an ice pack! Win!

*Important Note: MANY schools no longer allow peanut butter, but you can easily make these with an alternative to nut butters, like Sun Butter.

5. Set up a Lunch Making Station

Lunch making stationHaving a prepped lunch station enables kids to help out with making their own lunches. I love the labeled baskets used here, from ClutterBug.

6. Use Leftovers

Thermos Funtainer You can use leftover dinners or even breakfasts for some outside-the-box lunches. Invest in a good Thermos, like this one from Thermos Foogo or Thermos Funtainers, for things like soup, spaghetti, and chicken nuggets. Turn leftover pancakes and waffles into peanut butter and banana sandwiches. This is a great time to let kids get creative with their food.

7. Prevent Browning of Apples with Pineapple Juice

Lunchbox Tip for Apples

Collin shares a couple of ideas to help keep sliced apples from browning in the video found here! Either use pineapple juice or slice apples with an Apple Slicer and then put back together, cover with plastic wrap, and secure with a rubber band. See video for details.

8. Cook Extra on Purpose

Perfect Baked Chicken Tenders (Pictured – Lina’s Honey Mustard Pretzel Chicken Tenders!)

Cooking in big batches is a great way to save money on lunches. Roasting an extra chicken with your dinner makes it easier to throw together wraps or salads. Buy the larger beef roast, and make sandwiches with the extra. My kids get burnt out on PB&J pretty quick, so this is a great way to stretch your money and add a few creative lunches during the week.

9. Edible Un-Ice Packs

Freeze Yogurt Tubes

There are dozens of foods that can be frozen and used as an edible un-ice pack, saving you time, money, and room in your lunch box. Grapes freeze very well, just pull them off the vine and pop in a Ziploc bag. Yogurt tubes (like Gogurts), juice pouches, and applesauce pouches all work great. Just be sure to flat freeze all these items so that they thaw evenly.

Little Green Pouch You can also make your own smoothies and throw them in the freezer in reusable pouches like these Little Green Pouches . Try it with this yummy Chocolate Avocado Smoothie Recipe.

10. DIY Ice Packs

DIY Ice Packs Making your own ice packs is super easy. All you need are a few cheap sponges and freezer sandwich bags. Get the instructions here. Use these for lunch boxes or everyday boo-boos, and never worry about there being a puddle.

11. Printable Lunch Idea Sheets

Back-to-School lunch ideasGet this free printable lunch idea sheet here. We love that it’s divided into food groups, so you can tell your kiddos to pick 1-2 from each group for easy meal planning.

12. Throw in a Fun Note!

School Lunch Note Let your kids know that you’re thinking about them while they’re at school by throwing a fun note into their lunch box. Keep a stack of these jokes handy by printing off a few sheets ahead of time.

You can find free printable jokes here, here, and this 180 joke PDF printable from 320 Sycamore. What a fun and easy way to connect with your kids and brighten their school day!

Lunch Box Packing Tips

Need More Lunch Box Packing Inspiration?!

You can check out Collin’s video from 3 years ago – crazy how time flies!

Written by Danielle for Hip2Save. Danielle is a proud mom to 5 amazing kids in Utah, who lives for coffee and baking. She’s dedicated to balancing her own interests and passions, while encouraging her children to follow their own paths in life.

Join The Discussion

Comments 67

  1. Michele

    Such great ideas! My kiddos are still little and not in school yet but I’m always thinking ahead to prepare for the future!

    • Sue

      I always pack the kids lunch the night before. I hate trying to do it in the morning. such a waste of time. My kids are so prepared in the morning, clothes laid out, book bag in the car with lunch inside, coat, shoes, hairbrush, toothbrush with tooth paste often already on it. cereal box out, bowl and spoon ready at the table.

      • vikki


      • Kathy

        Awesome Sue. You said school bag with lunch in car night before. What do you pack usually?

      • Jill

        Thats the most awesome way to be, just sets up the day good for everyone.

  2. Carla

    I have to send my almost 6yr old to school with a home-made lunch every single day. I WISH he would eat those things! He has never eaten meat before in his life nor fruit or any sort of dip, etc. Got him to finally take the tiniest bite of apple in therapy and he threw up…like he does everything. Only eats Nutella sandwiches and crackers and yogurt at school. That’s it. Going on 6th year of this limited diet and 4 years of food therapy. I hope he eats food one day!

    • Jen

      I didn’t know there is food therapy. My almost 3 year old never eats any fruits, meat and vegetables.

      • Carla

        ‘Food therapy’ is what I’ve termed it. He sees a speech therapist who specializes in food texture issues, etc. I then, at home, carry on what the therapist works on. It’s EXHAUSTING but I have to do it to get my child to eat. An example of something we do is Food Chaining. (If I want him to eat an apple one day, I have to start with purΓ©ed apple sauce, then eventually get Apple sauce with small soft pieces of Apple, then add chunks of Apple to the sauce, then maybe offer a small slither of Apple with chocolate on it and then eventually no chocolate and just a bare Apple piece, etc). Another ‘trick’ with food we do at home is : kiss the Apple, then lick the Apple, then touch Apple to teeth, then take bite. Doing that with every single food!!! Exhausting!!

        • Mom Of 2

          Hi Carla,
          My daughter also did food therapy as suggested by her pediatrician. Sadly after months of it we saw very little improvement. It is so frustrating to find foods my daughter will eat. Good luck to you! They will eat eventually right? πŸ™‚

        • nydia

          Good luck with this! I worked with a boy whose parents went to a hospital in Boston for 2 months of intensive food therapy. It’s very hard on everyone, but will be a huge benefit to your child in the long run.

    • Jess

      Have you tried smoothies? My son has feeding issues although they have greatly improved. He will gag while eating fruit but eats/drinks a smoothie no problem. Good job on getting him to at least try the apple! I hope things improve for your guy!

      • Carla

        Yes he loves smoothies. And I sneak in veggies. . But can’t pack that in lunch to school.

        • Kristi S.

          I’ve seen some people pack smoothies on pinterest. They use the plastic mason jar type things and freeze them like the yogurt mentioned above. Theoretically they’ll be thawed by the time he makes it to lunch. That might be something to try, but I’d use the bigger “smoothie” straws in case it was not thawed enough.

        • rebecca

          i would try packing a smoothie in a thermos with a flip-top straw, maybe. or put it in a water bottle with a good lid? or those re-useable squeezy-pouches with a sip-top that moms use for pureed toddler & baby foods.
          if there’s a good ice-pack in the lunch, or if you freeze it the night before i bet it would be good for lunch for your child.

        • Molly

          I know they’re $$, but my 12 year old takes smoothies in her Hydroflask no problem. Just be sure to get the little brush so you can clean the straws.

    • Abby

      And I thought my picky 5 year old was frustrating. I’m sorry for what you have to go through! πŸ˜”

    • Heather C.

      There’s hope! My step-brother was like this… Would litterally only eat mac and cheese, scrambled eggs, and applesauce. MAYBE an occasional hotdog. He would try a bite of things here and there only to gag and throw up. He was like this until he was around 12 or 13… Now he’s going on 18 and eats many more foods. Still kind of picky, but so much better!

    • rebecca

      to all in this thread– my son has issues with needing a higher calorie intake. IF your child at least drinks milk, this may work for you. we switched my son to Half & Half. he gets many more calories in this way (compared to only drinking regular milk or water.) the higher fat content has been so important for him.
      if your child doesn’t eat enough and is underweight because of it, you can then use half & half in milkshakes, chocolate milk, and hot chocolate (instead of making it with water).
      ALSO, there are some good coupons out there sometimes from Similac for their Go & Grow mix-ins. these are vitamin-powder pouches that can be mixed into applesauce, yogurt, mac & cheese, or whatever your child WILL eat to help try to get more balance. they say they are for toddlers on the package, i think, but i have used them when my sons had a poor appetite. (they are flavorless).

  3. Just Me

    I read somewhere to put boiling water in your thermos to warm up the container then dry it thoroughly before you put warmed up food in it.

    • Rachel

      Yes, this really does work. Just pour the boiling water in the thermos, put the lid on and let it set for about 10 minutes. Dry and add your hot food – also warm it up hotter than you’d like just so that it has more heat to stay warm. You can also put your empty thermos with no lid on in the freezer the night before and use it for cold items like pasta salad.

    • Rosalie

      That is on the directions label you get with the Thermos Funtainer. Put boiling water in for 10 minutes with the lid on. Then empty and add food to keep things warm.

      Also, a tip I read for putting chicken nuggets in a Funtainer. After you dry it out from the hot water, put a folded napkin or paper towel in the bottom. Then, put the Nuggets on top. This helps them not get soggy before lunch!

    • Melanie

      I was just coming here to read if anyone had any advice on this! Thanks guys!!

  4. Lolie

    Omg! Where have I been?! I love the idea of slicing the apple and putting it back together and wrapping it! Thank you so much for the tip!

  5. couponer

    I don’t know about others but I am not a fan of frozen bread like suggested. Affects the taste imo. Some really fun suggestions though.

  6. Frecklelily

    To prevent apples from browning I dissolve 1/8 teaspoon of salt into one cup of water, add the apple slices, let them soak for a few minutes, then drain them. Then rinse in fresh water after you draining so the fruit won’t taste salty.

    • rebecca

      or i dip them in water that has a bit of lemon juice in it. my kids have never noticed a sour flavor, and the apple coloring looks more appetizing at lunch.

  7. Luv 🌺

    God bless you Hip2 save team. My LO starts PreK tomorrow and I have to make lunches so this is perfect timing. Thank you. πŸŒΊβŒ›οΈ

  8. Erika

    I soooo needed this! My kiddos have only been back to school for 4 days and I’m already exhausted over packing their lunches. I hate packing lunch because I feel like the lunches aren’t as nutritious as what we would normally eat for lunch but I’m always at a loss for keeping things fresh. Thanks for the tips hip2save!!

  9. Court

    How do you get food to stay warm
    In the thermos? I tried adding hot water then dumping/drying it but the food didn’t even stay lukewarm after an hour

    • Rachel

      Add boiling water and let it set with the lid on for about 10 minutes to heat up before you put your hot food in – might also want to try heating your food a little hotter than you’d eat it so that it can stay hotter longer.

      • Court

        I’ll try w boiling water before giving up lol. Thanks!

    • MommySpendsLess

      Our tap water gets very hot so I ran mine under the tap for a couple minutes letting it overflow then left the super-hot water sit in the container for a bit. I heated the food up (left over wheat spaghetti with meat sauce) extra hot. I dumped the water from the thermos right before spooning in the spaghetti – I don’t think I even bothered to dry it all the way. I immediately put the lid on. I loosely wrapped a washcloth around the thermos before I put it in my daughter’s lunchbox since i was also packing a small ice block to keep her fruit and cheese stick cool. I packed her lunch around 6:45 and she said it was still warm/hot enough around 11:00 (but she’s 7 so she would probably be okay with it being less hot than I would).
      I’m pretty sure the hot water is actually meant to heat up the air between the two layers of metal so I think letting it sit with the hot water for a few minutes is important so the heat can tranfer through)

      • Court

        I’ll try that. Thanks!

    • Just Me

      The metal thermos works better than the plastic.

      • Court

        I have a metal one. I’ll try the boiling water/super hot food trick. Thanks!

    • Molly

      Is it the actual Thermos brand? We had a PB kids one that I had to throw in the trash. Their soup would be ice cold 3 hours later. The brand really does make a difference.

  10. m

    am i the only one grossed out by the cooked eggs next to the raw eggs, cross contamination! salmonella anyone

    • CJ

      The EASIEST way to mark hard boiled eggs is to boil them in water with a few pieces of onion skins, then the eggs shells come out light brown. No need to mark them now. And of course I keep them in a different carton then he fresh ones.

      • katttro

        Spin the egg – The hard boiled eggs spin very well and for a long time on the table top while the raw ones stop very quickly due to the yolk wobbling inside. Thats one way to tell if you are not sure if your egg is cooked.
        M, I am with you on the cross contamination part, washed eggs or not.

    • Heather C.

      Actually by law the outside of store bought eggs have to be washed before packaging… Normally with a bleach water rinse. The outside of the egg is pretty safe.

  11. K

    My 10 year old is in charge of lunch making for himself and his younger brother and sister.

  12. Lisa

    Dang you weren’t kidding those boxes…hella expensive

    • AmyH

      I agree! They are so much money! Wish I could get one, it’s EXACTLY what we’ve been looking for, but way beyond my budget! Colin, how about a giveaway! 😜

  13. 🌻 Allison M.

    LOVE my son’s Bentgo box! Best investment ever!

  14. Jessica

    I love the idea of the lunch making station. Too bad my refrigerator is too small to do this.

    • Brittany

      I was thinking the same thing! Looks great, but seems like you need a whole separate fridge!

  15. cindy

    To the moms of picky kids – hang in there! Model good eating habits even when you feel like crying or yelling. Try your best to make mealtime conversation pleasant. Try hard not to push. My now 20 year old was a very picky eater as a child. However, she is figuring out. Over the years we uncovered food allergies and food sensitivities. Eventually she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. She is learning to make food choices that work for her body and are nourishing. She has come so far! And our entire family is eating better for it. Over the years we worked with dieticians, some more knowledgeable than others. My favorite author on the subject is Ellyn Satter. Good luck! Stay strong!

    • Dd

      Food allergies are the pits. My little guy has an allergy called FPIES. It’s limiting and exhausting and has been downright terrifying at times. He has slowly grown out of some of the allergies, but the original limiting has lead to extreme picky eating of safe foods. I swear the hardest part though was finding qualified, knowledgeable, empathetic doctors and medical professionals to help guide us. I’m dreading the day when I send him to school where I won’t be able to supervise all food and protect, oversee and encourage caloric intake. I have immense respect for all the moms managing food allergies and challenging eaters! We need more research on this new epidemic in this country.

  16. Sheila

    Love our Bentgo kids lunch boxes!

  17. txmom

    I bought my daughter a THERMOS brand METAL wide mouth bottle. It works great! I pack it at 8 in the morning and the food is still too hot to eat at 12.
    I always make sure the food is boiling when it goes in.
    My husband has one he takes soup for his lunch. I put boiling soup in at 5:30 and it is still too hot to eat at 11.

  18. Chrissie

    Do any of the bento-style lunch boxes fit inside a traditional sized insulated lunch bag? They seem so big and I’d hate to invest in one, only to find it doesn’t fit.

    • newbeecouponer

      In the same boat, have laptop lunches and bentgo kids ,but no bags suit them. Have been looking ever since I bought the boxes.

      • Sheila

        Our Bentgo boxes & Yumbox fit great in the LL Bean Discovery lunch box & Pottery Barn Mckenzie lunch boxes.

    • Lisa Johnson

      Rubbermaid has a “Lunch Blox” set that works similar to the bento boxes, and they only cost $7 in August and Early September (Reg. 13) I LOVE them and so do the kids. You can actually see them in the video if you look closely. They even have a salad set that keeps the dressing and toppings separate so the kids can add them at lunch time. And because they can be separated out, like regular storage containers, they can fit in any lunchbox!

  19. Charmel

    If you go to
    There are tons and tons of great school lunch ideas. It totally changed the way I packed my kids lunches.

  20. Julia L.

    That fridge organization is swoon worthy. I NEED that set-up. I don’t have kids and I want it now.πŸ‘πŸ½πŸ‘πŸ½

  21. Mama's Bacon

    For the apples, just squeeze a little lemon on them and mix them around. That stops the browning as well.

  22. Sheila

    Apples can be soaked in apple juice to prevent browning. There is enough acid in the apple juice to prevent browning and it doesn’t add an additional flavor to the apple. I worked in produce for years and it is a tip I picked up from reading a produce merchandising magazine.

  23. Cheryl

    Thank you for the helpful tips.

  24. Lissa Crane

    Awesome ideas! Thanks for sharing!

  25. Misty

    Nice ideas. Thanks to Collin, Lina and all others who shared.
    To all those moms with kids who need food therapy. You are not alone. My 5 year old is/was very skeptic to food, and would not even try anything other than crackers when he was 3. I noticed that he was in some kind of pain after eatingcertain food, and then he stopped aything that looked like that. That is how he eliminated all the food. The pediatrician put him on a gluten free diet which was even worse.
    I started a project on a whim, and started maintaining a food diary for him, and I ate the same kind of food he would eat in the day, of course in large quantities. I noted his feelings each day in the same happy, sad, crying, holding tummy, not very active etc., and also my feelings after eating.
    After 30 days, I analysed, and found that he was uncomfortable after eating beans, lentils, corn and nuts. And unfortunately the gluen free diet consists of mostly lentils and corn. So, i eliminated those from family’s diet, and he gradually started trying more food, and now, 6-8 months down the lane, he is still picky, but eats a lot of fruits, vegetables and other food that the family eats. And also administering probiotics daily helped a lot.
    Hope it helps someone out there. I have gone in loops with doctors even did endoscopy of his distive system. My finding after all this, if a kid feels little uncomfortable after eating certain food, then stop eating.. and if those foods are eliminated, they again become interested in eating.

  26. Amanda D.

    Love these ideas, thanks!!!

  27. Tracy

    Love our planet boxes! We need new carrying cases but the trays have lasted years.

    We are trying pottery barn bento boxes this year because my kids wanted a normal size lunch box. Hope they work!

  28. Sarah Mullen

    I LOVE “Ball” brand Fruit Produce Preserver for our cut apples, bananas, ect for packed lunches. Really keeps them from browning for about 24hrs so I can actually prep them the night before school. It lasts a while and is only $5-$6 and keeps in the pantry

  29. Sarah Mullen

    Also, “Easy Lunch boxes. Com” are a great bento container that little kids can open on their own. They sell on Amazon for about $12-$13 for a 4 pack. Heck, I even pack my husbands work lunches in them. They are a win for our family

  30. Ashley

    You can buy silicone ice-pop type containers with lids that you can use to put your own smoothies into and then freeze!

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