12 Genius School Lunch Ideas
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Check out these fun & easy school lunch ideas!
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.
We love these stylish wire storage baskets from Target for $8.99 😍 + save an additional 5% when you use your RedCard!
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. Or you can 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!
Use these long freezer pouches to pre-make homemade smoothies, and then pack them in your child’s lunch for a refreshing and healthy snack! Check out a few easy & healthy ice pop recipes.
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 bees 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
Try these clever back-to-school hacks using Dollar Tree Items!
I always divide up bags of snacks like pretzels or mini rice cakes… I look at the serving size and divide he bag by that… keeps everyone on track…
Perfect! Great tip 👍
Something else I use to keep apples from browning that’s easier than dipping your fruit in juice is Ball brand “Fruit Fresh”. It’s basically ground up ascorbic acid (vit C) and comes in a shaker. My mother used to use it before she froze fruit to keep it from browning. I just sprinkle it on my kids cut fruit before packing it up – they’ve never complained about the flavor, which I was worried about initially since no one really likes citrus except me.
To prevent apples browning simply soak for a few seconds in lightly salted water!! Trust me it works to keep them for browning for days!
I came here to say that too! They can last for up to a week if soaked in the salt water.
this might sound like a silly question, but how long are you suppose to soak the apples? This would be so cool if I can do this, and can you taste the salt much?
Lemon juice works for apples and bananas (keeps them from browning and adds a cool zing!!)
Oh interesting! I’d like to try that – thanks for sharing
A friend of mine soaks them in sprite. I don’t notice it when eating them, but they stay crisp and do not brown all day!
I’m going to try that for sure. My daughter will feel like she’s getting an extra treat by using the Sprite!
I am diabetic so I use Diet Sprite. I have had apples keep for several days in baggies in the refrigerator.
I have always soaked my fruit in Sprite too to keep it from browning!! It works wonders!!
Just to clarify, I posted the Fruit Fresh as an option for people that don’t want to have to soak their fruit in any liquids, which usually involves additional dishes and is a little messy and drippy. ☺️
I am glad to learn of all of these ideas!!! You are all awesome! My oldest is 11 and I still feel lost daily! :/
I actually just cut the apple and rubber band it together so it looks uncut. No air gets through to the cut edges and the apples are good to go at lunch time.
I use Fresh Fruit on my peaches. It works great with no after taste… at least I don’t notice any.
I wanted to also add that I use an apple slicer and rubber band the Apple back together and don’t have to put anything on it and it does not brown
I absolutely LOVE packing my kids’ lunches. I have an Instagram account dedicated to lunch ideas. If anyone is interested and looking for quick and practical ideas for their kids lunch, please feel free to follow me on Instagram. I post lunches and sometimes snack ideas of what i give my picky eaters. @prettypracticalmom
Awesome! Thanks for sharing 👍
I love looking at lunches but don’t have Instagram
You don’t need an IG account to look at public IG profiles such as the above one.
Awesome! Following your Insta now
Do you do Pinterest by chance? I use Pinterest all the time and have several different “boards” but I don’t use Instagram much
We store the thermos drink bottle (bottoms) in the freezer, and then can fill it with milk. My son drinks some with his breakfast and has enough (cold) milk still at lunch time. If you’re ever unsure if something like this will stay cold (or hot for the hot containers) try it yourself for work lunch, or try it on the weekend.
That’s a great tip! Love it 😍
I toss apples in cinnamon (not cinnamon sugar)—no browning and delicious flavor!
Thanks for sharing! I’ll try this 👏
Well that’s probably because the cinnamon is brown, good truck! 😆
This is what I do too. My kids don’t like the lemon juice taste left on apples. It works great and does not taste salty. 👍🏻
I really don’t like those make your own uncrustables…. Such a waste of bread! And you’re using a $5 loaf!
Yeah I make my kids eat crust. I made a loaf with my daughter once to prove the crust was made of the exact same thing.
I do like those gogurt shaped baggies… Great idea!
I usually eat the extras for breakfast Or I pack the whole sandwich with the cut out. My kid likes the shape and will also eat the crust
it is only a waste of bread if someone CHOOSES to waste the bread. cutting food into a different shape doesn’t force it to go to waste.
there is no step that says, “throw away the whole rest of the piece.” why be so presumptuous?
I feel the same way. But…I use the crust for homemade breadcrumbs and/or croutons.
My mom used to tell me when I was little that the “crust” was the best part for you. Lies, lies! It’s all the same… the crust, the middle. And then come to find out I later developed a gluten intolerance.
Just regular full peanut butter and jelly sandwiches freeze just fine. No need to waste all that bread or take all that time. No reason to make sandwiches every morning when so many can be made ahead and frozen and right in the lunchbox.
How long can I keep in freezer ? Have your children complained about bread being stale thanks in advance trying to learn from you expert ladies 😍
We make them once a week and just take them out the night before school. If you think about it, the Crustables are in the freezer section and the kids like those.
I always do the grab and go baskets but I separate each kind of snack in its own container. I use dollar tree containers like the ones that were posted in the dollar tree hacks post the other day!
That’s so great! Nice tip- thanks Shannon!
I always have high hopes but never get around to it 😂. I do cookie cut a sandwich and cut up strawberries
I love the Cut n Close tool from Pampered Chef to make homemade crustables!!! I noticed In your link to amazon they are listed for $17. I am a consultant and they are only $11 on my site.
can you share the site so i can purchase it foe $11.
It’s now showing $21.47 on the Amazon website! Whoa!! I think I purchased it from Pampered Chef a couple of years ago for $8. I absolutely LOVE it!
Also interested in link to Pampered Chef to get it for $11 or less, please!
I ordered my new pampered chef for $11, shipped on EBay.
Thank you for your help! Less than $12 on eBay shipped. New. I bought the plastic ones off Amazon and don’t like them. I feed left overs to my chickens!
Love my Pampered Chef Cut & Seal! My kiddo hates bread crust and this makes a cute sandwich (AKA homemade Uncrustable)
Nice! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Freezing sandwiches on Sunday night for the week is another good idea…then all you do is toss them in their lunch bag and it thaws by lunch time. For hot foods, you can pour boiling water into a thermos, seal it up for a few minutes, then toss the water out and pour in the hot food item…it will keep it warmer much longer. We also buy regular or bulk bags of snacks and portion them up ourselves- the individually-wrapped ones are much more expensive in comparison.
And my kids would much rather eat fruit that has slightly browned vs. fruit that tastes like lemon juice, soda, or Vitamin C tablets (of all things). I also taught them to eat their crusts- we don’t waste food and I have no desire to eat their leftover crusts myself!
I like that Pampered Chef cutter, maybe some day. My son only wants his PB&J in a circle. The lid on the 40 oz Jif jar cuts the perfect size circle and seals. We pack it in the plastic sandwich keeper so it doesn’t get smashed in the baggie. 😉
Thanks for the suggestions Hip2Save and other readers .
But why are some of us being so judgmental ? The suggestions and tips in the original post may not work for some but may be a life saver for others . Hip2Save is a great site for deals and sharing ideas . People are just trying to be helpful. Please try and respect the fact that different things work for different people . We do not know anyone here well enough to pass a judgement. If you do not agree with something , don’t use that suggestion. If you have an opinion , share it respectfully without attacking anyone’s choices .
Keep up the good work Hip2Save and thank you to all the readers who share their suggestions. I have learnt so much from these posts and reading the comments on them 🙂
Thanks so much for your kind words and support of Hip2save! 👏❤️ I agree the comments and suggestions from other readers can be so helpful. 👍
Agree completely! Negative Nelly’s not needed.
We can’t live without our Pampered Chef “Circle Sandwiches”!! I actually am a Pampered Chef consultant! if your interested in ordering a Cut-N-Seal they are cheap if you order them directly from PC, rather than Amazon. here’s my link 🙂 https://www.pamperedchef.com/pws/emcgraw
with the cost of shipping on PC it equals out the same as Amazon, however ordering from a fellow h2saver is better!!
how much does shipping run, and does this work better on certain breads
I agree on the pampered chef circle! Used the guts out of mine when I used to pack our kids lunches. Still have it 12 years later. 😉👍🏻 love all the ideas on this post! Thanks Hip2Save ☺️
We also use those little plastic containers (like for salsa and condiments at restaurants) for small fruit bites, pickle slices for sandwiches, and goldfish/crackers. Buy in bulk at sams- they last a long time and are really convenient. My mom gave them to me and i thought what am i going to do with these?! 🤪 actually, are pretty handy! 😁😁
Thanks for reminding me I have the Pampered Chef sandwich crimper! I’ve had mine for many years and seldom used it so it was stored away. Now that I have grandkids who love PB&J sandwiches, this is coming out of storage! As for sending lunches with containers, I could never trust them coming back home when my kids were little. They somehow either got forgotten or tossed in the trash can.
Pampered Chef makes a product called the cut-n-seal to make uncrstables. It’s only $11. The one on Amazon was $25.
The recipe link is not working for the smoothies.
I would love to read them if you get a chance to fix it.
SO sorry for the confusion, Tori! Thanks a bunch for bringing that to our attention. The link has been updated if you wanted to check again!
Can we have our old add to favorites button . I love to save these kind of important post to see n read again n again .
I agree! Otherwise it can be a pain to have to search through for certain ideas or recipes
Yes please!!! I really miss that
Hi there! Are you using the app? You can add this to your “cookbook” when clicking on that feature at the top left of the post above. Hope that helps!
I’m using the app but I don’t see that feature on the top left.
Thanks for the feedback! We have a new updated app coming out very soon and you will be able to use the HipList and Cookbook to save all of your favorites on it!
Thank you! Looking forward to the new update 😍
You’re very welcome!
For the thermos u have to heat water befor u add ur heated food to keep it warm. I use the kerieg w out a pod so it’s warm water and won’t take forever. I find this works really well.
Oh I love that tip!! Great idea 💡
My tip is to involve your kids with the lunch packing. When I’ve volunteered at schools, I’ve seen beautiful lunches tossed in the trash. If your kid helps decide what goes in, he or she is more likely to eat it. Also, by the time my kids were in upper elementary, they were packing their own lunches with no help. They add stuff to the grocery list that they want, or we are running out of, and I don’t pack their lunches for them at all.
For the insulated food jars, is there one you recommend over another? Also, are they hand wash only or can they go in the dishwasher? I appreciate these new ideas for school lunches. I think my son would like having warm food once in awhile.
They are dishwasher safe (most of them). I usually try to buy if it is dishwasher safe, I honestly don’t have the time to hand wash and dry things. I have enough with the water bottles that my kids have that are hand washed every day 🤦♀️. We had several and honestly they are all great. Go to The store (target, Walmart or even Marshals) and check them out. They usually have a label saying how long they can stay hot or cold. We have the thermos and contigo ones. There is a thermos one that we have had for almost 10 years now! My son got it when he started kindergarten and he is going to 10th grade now. They are meant to last 👍
I don’t typically buy prepackaged snacks, nor do I bag them separately for at home (these are “special” items purely for convenience and out of the house due to the waste and extra expense), BUT I did find a way to help my kids be more independent about getting their own snacks at home. I bought a couple of inexpensive measuring cup sets and snacks go into easy to open/close containers with a measuring cup. My kids can easily get their own snack during the day while home and know exactly how much to get.
Thanks for your tip! That’s a smart idea Sarah!
Back to the brown apples again… cut them and soak in apple juice and no you’ll get no strange flavor added. Then toss the apple juice into the fridge for the next time.
Too cool, I’m going to try this.
And raise your hand if your kid is eating in the cafeteria this year! 😂🙌🏻
Yes! My kids do sometimes as well! 👏
I’m glad to see these tips since I plan to be more diligent about packing the kids lunches this year. I make a whole loaf of breads worth of uncrustables, put each in a sandwich bag(cheap fold over top bags), put them all back in the bread bag, then put in the freezer. Super easy to throw in the lunch box this way. I have made those protein snack bites and used for breakfast instead of a snack. The protein keeps my kids full until lunch.
Great tips – thanks Jennifer!
The Pampered Chef Cut & Seal, medium 3-1/2 inch (#1195) is now $12.13 on Amazon.
Love the banana sandwich idea!! Genius!! Thinking outside the box! Thanks to all the staff on Hip2save!! Y’all are amazing!!
Ah thanks so much Bernetta!
Thanks to the hip2saver on here that suggested purchasing the pampered chef sandwich cutter via eBay. Got one for only $9 brand new. Be sure to use promo code: flash five for an extra $5 off any eBay order…thinks it’s only good for today.
Thanks, Joanna! I have that Pampered Chef sandwich cutter and LOVE it!
Going to have to check out the sandwich cutter, I eat the crust myself lol. I found some reusable bags on Amazon for sandwiches and snacks so I don’t have to use the plastic baggies anymore and they are awesome! Top rack dishwasher safe and inexpensive so if they get lost, or thrown away🤦♀️, no biggie, compared to how much you’re saving! I did learn quickly that the zipper ones are the way to go as the fold over ones let things get stale. It’s cool when stuff that saves us money can help the environment too! Thank you H2S for all your awesome savings and ideas!
Oh nice I’ll have to check those out- thanks so much for stopping by Amy!
Sams club still has the 2-pack bentgo boxes for $25 and 2-pack of the chill version (icepack inside) for $40.
I loved the Bentgo…but its a little small for kids over kinder or 1st in my opinion. If you have bigger kids I think the Yumbox has a larger option. Flat icepacks for lunchboxes are pretty inexpensive and we have had ours for years. I think they are flatter than a sponge but I am keeping that trick in mind anyway. Could be a great travel tip if you are doing packed lunches and don’t want to worry about losing ice packs.
I had to laugh at the Bentgo photo with blueberries in those two spots. I do the same thing most of the time–that little circular spot is so tiny and the one next to is oddly shaped so I either put just a few of something as a “treat” (like mini marshmallows or gummy bears) in that circular slot and use the oddly-shaped larger spot for crackers (wheat thins go nicely in there). I imagine it’s meant for a “dip” to go in there for veggies? We don’t use any dips except peanut butter (which isn’t allowed at school) so I try to get creative with it.
I put fruit snacks or little mini Oreo cookies (3) in that tiny circle.
So when our schools were closed last year and then the year before… anyway, the cafeteria had great to go lunches! Funny thing is, they had actual brand names (Uncrustables for example) and really tasty choices that the kids said they don’t get when class is in session. Plus, all kids qualified to eat free. That was a really cool program and didn’t force the kids to have to eat everything at the lunch hour (which is why packing is nice, to bring home what you weren’t hungry for!). These are awesome ideas here, but I would also like to see the cafeterias step up and continue offering ready to go lunches 😉 Especially on mornings where work is 6am. 🤪
I also buy the Reynolds wax paper bags. My Mother packed our school and camp lunches in them for years! They work great, less expensive, and more environmental sound.
One organizing trick that has worked great for my family since we have very limited space is to get one of the shoe organizers that hangs on the door with the clear plastic pockets and put it inside the pantry door, works great for lot of different snacks and they can easily see what’s there and grab it 🤗🤗
Thanks so much for sharing that idea! Those organizers are sure handy for a lot of uses! 🙌❤️
They really are great! I use one for the bathroom as well! All the stuff that gets lost in drawers are much easier to get to😁
They sure are! We also just posted a picture on Facebook of an idea where someone used them for all of their cold tumblers/cups storage! I think the ideas for those are endless – but it’s always nice to hear and see how others utilize them! 🥰
Oh great idea! Yes they are very handy! Especially in places where the space is limited!!
Is Ball Fresh Fruit salty or sweet?
Hey AngieM! A previous reader mentioned that “It’s basically ground up ascorbic acid (vit C) and comes in a shaker. My mother used to use it before she froze fruit to keep it from browning. I just sprinkle it on my kids cut fruit before packing it up – they’ve never complained about the flavor, which I was worried about initially since no one really likes citrus except me.” I’ve personally used this product too, and found that I really couldn’t identify any taste while using it, just the flavor of the fruit I was preserving. Hope this is helpful! 💗