Back To School: Ideas For A+ Packed Lunches And After-School Snacks
by Katy Keogh, MS, RDN, LD
Last Updated: August 16, 2021
Many parents lament about packing lunches – it’s not only the extra time involved but also the “What in the world will my kid eat?” scenario. If you’re lucky enough to have older kids you’ve trained to pack their own lunches, then you get a little relief, and these ideas may help their lunch packing. Those with little ones or picky eaters (we know that struggle!) might find these tips especially helpful. Here are “Dietitian-approved” and “full time-working-parent-approved” products and meal ideas to spice up and speed up your lunch packing routine. We’ve picked only “nut-free” options because we know most schools require this (if your child has a nut allergy or any other food allergy, then we suggest you still read the label to ensure it is safe).
Use the chart below as your template for brainstorming and creating balanced lunches. Choose an item from each category to build your lunch masterpiece:
Proteins (pick 1-2)
- WOWBUTTER Creamy Peanut Free Soy Butter Spread
- SunButter Natural Sunflower Spread*
- Hard-boiled egg or Egg salad
- Natural Lean lunch meat
- Canned or pouch tuna, salmon, or chicken
- Bean or meat-based soups
- Bean-based pasta
- Chickpea snacks
- Hummus cup
- Black Beans (or other legumes such as kidney or garbanzo beans)
- Baked beans
- Cottage cheese
Grains/starches (pick at least 1)
- Canned or frozen corn
- 100% Whole grain bread, pita or English muffin, bagel or bun
- Whole grain tortilla
- Whole grain crackers
- Tortilla chips or Sunchips
- Potato or sweet potato
- Whole grain granola bar
Fruits and Vegetables (pick at least 1 vegetable and 1 fruit)
- Guacamole cups or 1/2 an avocado
- Grape tomatoes
- Red/green pepper or sweet mini peppers
- Broccoli/ cauliflower
- Harvest Snaps Pea Snack Crisps
- Any other canned, fresh or frozen vegetable!
- Canned fruit – any type
- Dried fruit – any type
- Fresh fruit – any type
- Frozen fruit – any type
- 100% fruit juice
Misc. Snacks and Sweets (optional)
- Clif ZBar Kid Protein Chocolate Chip Whole Grain Crispy Snack Bars
- Clif Kid ZBar Protein Chocolate Mint Whole Grain Crispy Snack Bars
- Simple Truth™ Sunflower Butter Filled Pretzels*
- Made Good Organic Chocolate Chip Granola Bars (this brand is always nut- and gluten-free)
- Nut-free Trail mix (seeds, dried fruit, and chocolate chips)* or Enjoy Life Mountain Mambo Seed & Fruit Mix
- Nut-free Cookie
- Hippeas Chickpea Puffs
- Kodiak Cakes Bear Bites Chocolate Graham Crackers
- Enjoy Life Gluten-Free Sunseed Butter Chocolate Protein Bites*
*Most schools and daycares allow sesame and sunflower products but check your facility’s guidelines to be sure.
10 Kid-tested, Nut-free, Packed Lunch Ideas:
- Cheesy Pasta: Bean based pasta + parmesan cheese + margarine or olive oil + peas + side of fruit
- DIY Pizzas: 100% whole grain English muffin or pita + pizza sauce + shredded mozzarella cheese + side of fruit and vegetable
- Chips & Salsa: Hard-boiled egg + tortilla chips + salsa + black beans + side of fruit + yogurt
- Cracker Dippers: Tuna, egg, or chicken salad + whole grain crackers + side of fruit and vegetable
- New Age PBJ: Seed butter + 100% whole grain bread + banana slices + side vegetable
- A la Carte: Baked beans + cheese + whole grain crackers + side of fruit and vegetable
- Tummy Warmer: Canned reduced-sodium bean or meat soup + whole grain crackers + cheese stick + side of fruit and vegetable
- Tex-Mex Rice Bowl: Protein of choice (beans or meat) + rice + tomatoes + guacamole + side of fruit
- Spaghetti: Pasta + marinara sauce + meat or bean of choice + side of fruit
- Tortilla Roll-up: Whole grain tortilla + spread with Kroger Whipped Greek Cream Cheese Spread + lunch meat + spinach + side of fruit
Hacks and Tips for Lunch Success:
- Use the above list printed out or write up your own version on a whiteboard on your fridge to refer to for inspiration as you’re packing lunches.
- Purchase a food thermos so that you can pack hot leftovers or soup to warm your child’s tummy at lunch.
- Allow your child to choose 1 or 2 items to include in their lunch (avoid giving too many choices) so that they have some say in it and are more likely to eat what they’ve chosen.
- Pack a calcium and protein-rich beverage or other food with the meal: milk, yogurt, cheese, or dairy alternative.
Kick your school year off with renewed lunch inspiration. Pick a few lunch ideas and products that will make your life easier and your kids’ lunch yummier. Dietitians are well-versed in helping people hack their way to easier and tastier food ideas. If you need a little help in that area or for more personalized food as medicine advice, book a Telenutrition appointment with any of our talented Kroger Health Dietitians.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.