Last week Amado started second grade and for the first time, I finally felt prepared to take on school lunches. I know that family meal prepping can seem overwhelming, but with a mix and matching of kid-friendly options that include protein, fruits and veggies, and snacks, packing lunches can become a stress-free part of your weekly routine.
How to pack the perfect lunchbox
If you spend way too much time thinking up meal plans and lunch ideas for kids like I did when Amado began kindergarten, this one's for you! Since I'm not someone who tailors meals to each individual in our household (and most parents can probably relate), these are ideas that work for the entire family and can even be packed for your next day trip, picnic, or camping excursion. And trust me, they go well beyond peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and mac and cheese.
Proteins to pack for lunch
The key to a midday meal? Protein! Eggs are not only chock full of it, but are also extremely versatile and can be transformed in a variety of ways, especially if you're in need of protein-packed school lunch ideas. All of these options are made with my favorite Nellie's Free Range Eggs, require no utensils to eat, and are perfect to take when you're on-the-go!
Nellie's Free Range Sous Vide Egg Bites
Nellie's Free Range Sous Vide Egg Bites come in four flavors, so you're sure to find one that every family member will enjoy! Tip: pop them in the air fryer or microwave and they'll be ready to eat in seconds.
Try this method for perfect hard-boiled eggs that are easy to peel.
Classic egg salad sandwich
Cut egg salad sandwiches in half or in fourths for tiny hands to grasp easily.
Scrambled egg and chorizo burrito
Breakfast burritos are always a hit with kids and the possibilities for fillings are practically endless!
Fruits and veggies to pack for lunch
When packing lunches, it's important to keep in mind that there isn't always an option to store them in the fridge, meaning you'll have to choose your fresh fruits and vegetables wisely. I learned this the hard way. Since I use a bento box for Amado, his entire lunch used to get ruined: the raspberries would get mushy, pineapple chunks would drip onto sandwiches, or strawberries would start to smell funky. So I've narrowed this list down to items that hold up well and don't transfer flavors or juices to other foods.
Just be mindful of the pits, especially if you're packing cherries for young children.
Green, red, you name it! Grapes travel well and will hold up just fine when left unrefrigerated for a few hours.
Depending on your child's age, you may want to peel the tangerine before adding to your lunchbox. Opt for peeling rather than slicing to help them stay nice and juicy.
Pack apple slices alongside a small cup of nut butter for an extra hearty snack.
I love that apricots are smaller than peaches and nectarines, which means my kids can finish them in one sitting.
Grape or cherry tomatoes
For older kids, leave cherry tomatoes whole so the juices don't sog up other parts of the lunch.
I like sliced Persian cucumbers because they're small and maintain their crunch.
Pack carrot sticks with a side of hummus or dip. Everyone loves a dippable snack!
I love my celery sticks with cream cheese and a sprinkle of lime, salt, and pepper.
Snacks and sides to pack for lunch
I enjoy a variety of tastes and textures in my lunches, and my kids are the same way. If I'm eating a sandwich, I like something crunchy or salty on the side. Here are a few of our favorite munchies that we always have stocked in the fridge and pantry.
My family loves dried papaya, bananas, strawberries, pineapple, raisins, cranberries, and dates. Fruit leather or strips are also a great option!
If your school has allergen-related rules about peanuts, opt for almonds, cashews, walnuts, or pistachios instead.
My family likes the packaged popcorn that's made with coconut oil and sea salt. You can also make your own air-popped popcorn right at home.
Cheddar cheese crackers
My kids love the little rockets from Trader Joe's, but there are so many options to choose from! Whatever you choose, crackers are usually a safe bet even for kids with very particular palates.
We prefer the flat pretzels at my house because they're easy to dip into peanut butter or hummus.
Butter or wheat crackers
When in doubt, a container of cheese and crackers for snacking is always a good idea.
When you want to include a little something sweet in your lunchbox, graham crackers are a great choice.
I wish you all the best of luck as we enter a new school year. Hopefully these ideas help ease at least a tiny bit of the anxiety associated with packing a lunch box for yourself, significant other, or child.
Love to get creative with your kids' school lunches? Tag your photos with #nelliesfreerange so we can see! And don't forget to check out Lola's Cocina for more family-friendly recipes and inspiration.
Photography + Styling: Cacey McReavy