Every year, back-to-school season has us buzzing with excitement. New sneakers, new outfits, fresh notebooks, fun school supplies — even as a (very busy) parent, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in it all.
That is, until you remember that back-to-school also means packing school lunches. It’s not that packing a lunchbox is tedious in and of itself, it’s that we have to do it 180 times for each kid.
So we’re all about making things easy for you, with tips like how to put together a lunchbox-ready pantry, gluten free school lunch ideas for kids with allergies, and creative ways to pack veggies. But one of the best ways to make lunch-packing something you actually look forward to, is a willingness to break the sandwich monotony and have some fun.
Yep, fun is a major part of keeping things interesting. Not just for my kids, but for me too!
So I’ve come up with five playful lunch box ideas that I think kids will love. They each offer a twist on a traditional school lunch to keep things exciting.
So, here’s to getting your daily back-to-school lunch duty off to a fun start!
1. DIY Pizza Bites
What kid doesn’t love pizza? And any foods involving a little DIY? Put the two together and you’ve got a winning homemade lunch box idea: Throw together your own wholesome take on pizza with your kid’s favorite crackers or bread rounds, Mini Babybel Mozzarella Style cheese, a drizzle of tomato sauce, and mini pepperoni slices.
And of course add some fruit and veggies to help round out the meal healthfully, then rest assured knowing you’ll have one happy luncher.
2. Snack Attack Lunch
Have you ever ditched dinner to make a meal of snacks? You know, like some baguette, meats, cheeses, hummus, and olives, all spread out on the table? We do that a lot and it’s a joy. So I love the idea of passing along that same spirit in my kids’ school lunches with a kid-friendly lunchbox version.
Using a cheese plate as inspiration, I like to use pita chips as the carb, hummus for some protein, any Mini Babybel flavor — though my kids especially love Original and Gouda — as a good source of calcium and protein, plus grapes, carrots and celery sticks, dried apricots, and a handful of nuts or seeds.
To be honest, I’d totally love a fun lunch like this too.
3. Cracker Toppings Bar
Jane recently came up with 24 super smart, fast, and healthy cracker topping ideas and I’m borrowing her thoughts here.
I like that this idea gives kids the power to “make-your-own,” which isn’t just fun, but also goes a long way to getting them excited about eating well, provided you include a good balance of carbs, protein, calcium, and healthy fruit and veggies.
Simply pack as many of your kids’ favorite crackers as you think they need, a selection of fresh or dried fruit, and their favorite veggies. Then it’s topping time!
I always include a Mini Babybel because it ensures they’ve got a good source of protein and calcium. My boys also love smoked salmon, and sliced hard boiled eggs, in any combination, and cucumbers and olive tapenade help change up the flavors.
By the way, I love making this lunch for me, as well, using a Mini Babybel Light.
4. Cheese and Apples
The combination is a classic, and no wonder; kids love cheese and they love apples, so how perfect that they go so nicely together.
I rub the apple slices with a little fresh lemon juice (or orange juice if you want something more sweet than tart) before packing in a bento to keep from browning and pair them with Mini Babybel Original cheese. Then I fill up the bento with easy finger-food veggies like carrot sticks or red pepper slices, and a tasty carb, like cinnamon pita chips. Yum.
5. Lunch in the Round
I write frequently about playing with presentation to make meals more appealing for kids, and the conversation often focuses on color. But you can surprise your little one by playing with shape too — it’s a great trick.
For this school lunch, I made everything round. So fun!
Use a circular cookie cutter to cut deli turkey meat into rounds and serve with round crackers or toast rounds. Throw in an easy-to-pack Mini Babybel, sliced carrot and cuke wheels, nice round slices of kiwi, and to really lock in the theme, make an easy, homemade snack mix out of circle-shaped treats.
Last, round it out (ha) with ingredients like your favorite O-shaped cereal, chocolate drops or pastilles, freeze-dried blueberries, and banana chips. O…MG.
That lunch box looks great! Does it leak? What is the brand?
We’ve been using the *same* PlanetBox lunchbox for 4 years. No leaks, dishwasher safe… we love it!
Where can I buy this bento box?
It’s from PlanetBox, one of our long-time favorites.
These lunches are awesome. Yummy.
Glad you like them as much as we — and our kids — do!
$79 freaking dollars for a lunchbox? There has to be a better way!
It’s pretty crazy, Sarah, I know… BUT in my case, my son has used the SAME $79 lunchbox for literally 6 years, during the school year and for camp too. It’s that sturdy. Never had to be replaced. So, over time, I think of it as having spent about $13/year. I’m sure you can get other lunchboxes for $13-20, but many of them don’t last and then, the waste. I’d rather upfront the money and use up fewer items. Anyway, that’s just the way I think about it, in case that’s helpful.
What do you do when you want to warm up meal in the box? I loved using this box but stopped because most of the food I’m adding there is hot.
Noa, you mean in the metal lunchbox? Yea, this is not the best lunch box for hot lunches or lunches that need to be rewarmed. A thermos or insulated bento is better for that. They do make smaller versions of this at PlanetBox that you could use for cold stuff (veggies, fruit, a snack) in conjunction with a thermos (for a warm main). Hope that’s helpful!