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)
Grains/starches (pick at least 1)
  • Canned or frozen corn
  • Pasta
  • 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
  • Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Whole grain granola bar
  • Popcorn

Fruits and Vegetables (pick at least 1 vegetable and 1 fruit)

  • Guacamole cups or 1/2 an avocado
  • Salsa
  • Peas
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Red/green pepper or sweet mini peppers
  • Cucumber
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • 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
  • Applesauce

Misc. Snacks and Sweets (optional)
*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:
  1. Cheesy Pasta: Bean based pasta + parmesan cheese + margarine or olive oil + peas + side of fruit
  2. DIY Pizzas: 100% whole grain English muffin or pita + pizza sauce + shredded mozzarella cheese + side of fruit and vegetable
  3. Chips & Salsa: Hard-boiled egg + tortilla chips + salsa + black beans + side of fruit + yogurt
  4. Cracker Dippers: Tuna, egg, or chicken salad + whole grain crackers + side of fruit and vegetable
  5. New Age PBJ: Seed butter + 100% whole grain bread + banana slices + side vegetable
  6. A la Carte: Baked beans + cheese + whole grain crackers + side of fruit and vegetable
  7. Tummy Warmer: Canned reduced-sodium bean or meat soup + whole grain crackers + cheese stick + side of fruit and vegetable
  8. Tex-Mex Rice Bowl: Protein of choice (beans or meat) + rice + tomatoes + guacamole + side of fruit
  9. Spaghetti: Pasta + marinara sauce + meat or bean of choice + side of fruit
  10. 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.

Katy Keogh, MS, RDN, LD

Katy Keogh, MS, RDN, LD

A mom of 2 little kiddos and over 15 years experience in nutrition, Katy enjoys helping her patients squeeze good nutrition and activity into an already “full” life and find their own balance with nutrition and health while still enjoying food to the fullest. She is an expert in weight management, mindful eating, digestive health, anti-inflammatory nutrition, culinary nutrition, cooking/baking, and any other topic related to food! Outside of work, you’ll find her traveling, walking, jogging, beer tasting, and eating gelato.