12 School Lunch Ideas That Are Absolutely Genius
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Check out these fun & easy school lunch ideas! These clever hacks will make your mornings easier!
School mornings don’t have to be a struggle!
We totally get it, there’s so much to do in the morning that sometimes it’s hard to find the time to even take a breath! If you often find yourself scrambling to throw a lunch together at the last minute, you’ll be glad to hear that we have just the tips and tricks for you! These clever school lunch ideas are a frugal, fun, and effective way to keep your busy mornings a little calmer.
And after you pick out your new favorite lunch box for your kiddo, you’ll be mastering these on-the-go school lunches like a champ in no time. 🙌
1. DIY Lunchables are a fun & frugal school lunch idea!
Instead of buying expensive prepackaged mini-meals, it’s actually pretty easy (and way healthier!) to cut up a few pieces of cheese and lunch meat, or pre-assemble mini sandwiches, and design your own simple bento-style lunch.
You can buy containers with compartments, or just wing it by separating everyday Tupperware with stackable containers and cupcake wrappers. I love that you can customize for each child and use up odds and ends of crackers, cheeses, and fruit & veggies from the fridge.
Looking for a new lunch box? My Hip teammate Sara got this bento box for her daughter and it’s lasted years!
“My daughter has been using this bento-style kid’s lunchbox for the past FOUR years and it’s tough as nails – making it more than worth its value! Best of all, the entire thing is completely air-tight so you can even pack applesauce or yogurt without a worry in the world!” – Sara
2. Prevent apples & other fruits from browning before lunchtime.
Soak apple slices in pineapple juice or lemon juice first, then place them in lunch bags to prevent them from turning brown so quickly in the lunch box. This works for banana slices, too!
Hip Tip: If you don’t always have lemons, you can also keep some Ball Fruit Fresh on hand to keep all different kinds of produce from getting brown before lunchtime! I LOVE this product and actually wrote a whole review here.
You can also secure a rubber band around an apple after it’s been sliced to seal off the air getting to the inside as another way to prevent browning.
3. Create organized grab & go baskets for stress-free snacking.
We love finding clever ways to keep our kitchens organized, and having a dedicated snack basket does just that! Place a storage basket filled with snacks in both the fridge and the pantry so everyone knows where to go to find quick snacks for school lunches without searching.
This is also an awesome method for keeping the healthier snacks up front! When I’m super hungry, I tend to grab the first thing I find, whether it’s leftovers from last night’s healthy salad or a less-than-nutritious bag of chips. 😆 If you make an easily-accessed snack basket with fruits, nuts, trail mix, and other healthy treats, the fam is more likely to go for those wholesome options.
4. Making DIY Uncrustables is one of our favorite clever school lunch ideas!
Skip the expensive store-bought version and make a bunch of homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches ahead of time to freeze for future lunches!
These handy crust cutters slice the crust and seal the edges when you press down on the sandwich. You can also buy a less expensive plastic version or you can even use a large cookie cutter and then press the edges using a fork as an alternative.
Is your school nut-free? Use a nut-free peanut butter alternative like Wowbutter or SunButter. Also worth noting, the cut and seal tool can be used to cut the crust off other sandwiches, too – not just PB&J!
5. Making peanut butter + banana sandwiches in hot dog buns is an easy school lunch idea that also eliminates waste!
Got leftover buns from the last outdoor barbecue get-together? Throw some peanut butter + bananas in ’em for a fun and waste-saving snack!
To use this idea for school lunches, spread the peanut butter in the bun and then send the banana with the peel still on. When your kiddo’s ready to eat, they can peel the banana and place it inside the bun so it’s still nice and fresh!
6. DIY frozen smoothies/juices are a frugal and healthy school lunch idea!
7. Pre-portioned snacks make school lunch-packing time a breeze!
Save money by buying or making snacks in bulk and dividing them out into smaller snack-sized baggies, instead of buying the pricier, individually wrapped snacks.
You get to be in control of the ingredients, save money, and make lunch packing easier, so it’s a win-win-win. 🙌
8. Make DIY ice packs out of sponges to save space and keep lunchboxes cool.
We think this school lunch idea is genius! Instead of taking up valuable lunchbox space with bulky ice packs, freeze a water-soaked sponge inside a plastic baggie and use that in its place. They’re slimmer than most ice packs but work just as well!
Get this 4-pack of sponges at Target for only $2.79!
You can also use frozen juice boxes, grapes, and yogurt tubes that double as extra cold packs, yet will be defrosted for lunchtime!
9. Serve a hot lunch with ease by using an insulated container.
School lunches don’t all have to be cold sandwiches! You can pack everything from warm chicken nuggets to mac & cheese, to soups or even last night’s dinner using these helpful insulated food containers. This way, your kiddo can still enjoy a hot meal without having to worry about finding a way to reheat it at school.
If your kiddo is a little older and likes taking hot or cold drinks with them to classes (or you like having your own coffee within reach while driving them to school 😆), we also have a roundup of the best insulated mugs for those mornings when everyone is on the go!
10. Invest in some reusable wraps.
Our Hip team is crazy for these reusable beeswax wraps! If you find yourself using a lot of single-use plastic wraps or containers to store your lunch snacks, these wraps are a frugal, reusable, and eco-friendly alternative! Plus, they’re antimicrobial and great at keeping your fruits & veggies fresh. 🙌 Read our full review here.
11. Use cookie cutters to make eating fruits & veggies fun!
This tip is best for younger kids and picky eaters who seem hooked on one or two lunchbox staples. Kids seem to think that everything tastes better when it’s made into a fun shape. And I’m an adult, but I’ve gotta agree with them there. 🤣 There’s nothing wrong with appreciating a little festive surprise when you open your lunch box!
Use cookie cutters to make your fruits and veggies into stars, dinosaurs, or any neat shape you want! It’s a fun way to fit some fruits and veggies into their lunch boxes, and they’ll actually look forward to eating them. 🙌
Hip Tip: If your cookie cutters are a little too big for produce, you can get this set of super cute cutters made specifically for fruits and veggies!
12. Prep school lunches ahead on the weekends.
The best tip for making lunchtime go as smoothly as possible is simply being prepared! If you’re able to carve out some time on the weekend to prep meals ahead, then creating fun & nutritious meals during the week will be so much easier and stress-free.
Check out these easy, make-ahead lunchbox favorites:
- Mini Corn Dog Muffins
- 3 Ingredient Chocolate Fudge
- Keto-Friendly Granola Trail Mix
- No-Bake Oatmeal Energy Bites
- Ritz Fluffernutter Sandwiches
Need a new lunch box? Buy the best!