Are you ready for Back to School? I’ve put together a big list of all the best Lunchbox Hacks to help you prepare for Back to School! Also, don’t forget that we have a Big List of all the Best Back to School Deals happening this week, if your kids don’t go back to school for a few more weeks make sure you check back in frequently, that page is updated daily!
I’d also love for you to share your favorite Lunchbox Hacks! Just leave a comment or send me an email with your favorite tips & tricks!
I have been asked several times which Lunchboxes I recommend. My kids have these Lunchboxes that open and have a separate top area. I like to put the Drinks and Ice Pack in the top and then snacks in the bottom, this keeps the food separated plus they seem to be really well made lunchboxes and they have plenty of space in them.
1. Freeze Peanut Butter Sandwiches (Uncrustables)
Make and Freeze Peanut Butter Sandwiches ahead of time in a Freezer Bag. Take one out of the freezer each morning and it’s thawed and ready at lunchtime. This will save you so much time each morning by having sandwiches ready to grab and go.
I found this Uncrstables Sandwich Maker a few years ago at my local grocery store. Amazon has several options here.
Note: I have received several comments about Peanut Butter, I know some schools do not allow this, my kids school still allows it in lunches, just not in the classroom so you may want to check with your kids school first. You can make and freeze uncrustables with other options like this WowButter from Amazon.
2. Use Saran Wrap to keep your Apples Slices Fresh
Wrap a Sliced Apple back up with the core using Saran Wrap. By keeping the apple core in tact you reduce the amount of air touching the surface of the apple to reduce browning. When your kids un-wrap the apple it will already be sliced and ready to eat!
3. Use Empty Bottles for Sauces
These Empty Mio Bottles make a FANTASTIC Way to store and send sauces and condiments. If your kids love things like Ranch Dressing, Italian Dressing or Ketchup then this Is a mess free option.
4. Use Drinks as Ice Packs
Freeze Capri Suns and other Juice Drinks to use as Ice Packs in Lunchboxes, this frees up space in your kids lunchboxes and also makes them lighter to carry. The drinks will thaw by lunchtime while still remaining cold and helping to keep food fresh.
5. Make a Snack Station
Create a Snack Station in your Fridge and Pantry, let your older kids make their own lunches by pulling one or 2 of each items and placing them in their lunchbox.
6. Write Secret Messages in Banana
Here’s a fun Lunchbox Treat you can use a toothpick to write a fun message in a Banana, as it starts to brown the message will be revealed.
7. Use Skewers for Meat & Cheese
An easy way to make Meat & Cheese easy for kids to eat is by placing it on a Skewer, You might check with your kids school to see if this is allowed before trying this one, some schools may have rules regarding things like skewers being included in lunches. You can also use Plastic Coffee Sticks for a less sharp option.
8. Make your own Ice Packs
You can make your own Ice Packs by using Sponges filled with water and frozen then placed in a Ziploc Bags.
9. Print out Lunch Notes at the beginning of the Month
Save yourself some time and Print & Cut Lunch Notes at the beginning of the month. There are so many different Free Printables Available, Make a bag of pre-cut notes and jokes and then you can quickly grab one each morning and add to your kids Lunchboxes. If you want to add a personal note you can turn the printable over and write something specific to each kid.
10. Pack Your Own Single Servings
Let kids help divide big bags into smaller servings to save money on lunchbox snacks. Use a Measuring Cup and Ziploc Bags to make the process quick and seamless.
11. Roll Up Anything
My kids love making their own Roll ups, Roll Up Cheese & Turkey, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Cheese, Chicken & Salsa and more! You can do this ahead of time or send the ingredients and let kids build their own.
12. Try Breakfast for Lunch
Use Whole Wheat Pancakes, Fruit & Boiled Eggs to create a fun Breakfast Themed Lunch that’s packed with protein and nutrients.
13. Find Alternate Sources of Protein
Use things like Hard Boiled Eggs, Nuts & Cheese to create a Balanced meal. Hard Boiled Eggs can be boiled and peeled at the beginning of the week then placed in individual bags to make them easy to grab and go.
14. Pack Chicken Nuggets in a Thermos
Keep Chicken Nuggets warm by cooking them in the oven then placing them in a Thermos Food Container with a paper towel at the bottom to absorb the extra moisture.
I have a detailed post on how I store Chicken Nuggets in a Thermos Here.
15. Make Cheese Stick Sushi
Wrap a Cheese stick with Meat and a Tortilla then slice it for a fun twist on a traditional sandwich.
16. Combine Peanut Butter & Snacks in one container
Save yourself a container and place veggies and pretzel sticks in a jar with the Peanut Butter or Hummus already at the bottom.
17. Send Hot Dogs in a Thermos
Cut a Hot Dog in Half and place in Hot Water inside a Thermos, You can send a Hot Dog Bun cut in half in a bag and then kids can make their own Hot Dogs at lunch time.
18. Freeze Ice inside Your Water Bottle
Some Water Bottles are hard to get ice inside, you can fill a Water Bottle ¼ of the way full and then lay on it’s side and freeze. Then you can fill with water and the water stays cold as the ice melts.
19. Make Your Own Fruit Cups
Skip the sugary syrup and cut up your own Fruits ahead of time. Use Cookie Cutters to make fun shapes and find containers with lids to use to store these fruit cups in the fridge for the week.
20. Make your own Single Serve Macaroni Cups
You can divide a box of Macaroni & Cheese in Half and send in a Microwave Safe Container for kids to make their own lunches. My son begs for these but they are so expensive and this cuts the cost per serving in half!
I typically just measure a box and divide it in half. It’s about 1/2 Cup of Macaroni and 2 1/2 Tablespoons of the Cheese Powder and add 1 Tbsp. of Powdered Milk. You’ll want to put the Macaroni in one bag and the Powder in another bag. Then fill a Microwave Safe Container with about 1 1/2 Cups of Water. They can microwave the pasta for about 4 minutes, then stir in the cheese & milk!
21. Use Cookie Cutters to Celebrate
You can use Cookie Cutters to shape your sandwiches, fruit & cheese into fun Holiday Shapes and fun Characters. This is a great way to make lunches fun and encourage kids to eat them.
22. Make your own Lunchables
Bento Boxes and Divided Storage Containers are great for making your own Lunchables! You can even leave the space for crackers empty to keep them fresh and keep these stored in the fridge, then add a bag of Crackers in the morning before you pack it in your child’s lunchbox.
You can get this set of 4 Easy Lunchboxes on Amazon! They are similar to the ones shown above.
23. Celebrate Birthdays with a “Present Lunch”
Wrap Sandwiches, Cheese Sticks, Chips and more in Gift Wrap for a fun Birthday Surprise!
24. Make your Own Fruit Leather
You can make Fruit Leather from Pureed Fruit without all the added chemicals, this is a fantastic way to help keep lunches healthy and my kids eat these up.
Here’s my recipe for Strawberry Fruit Roll Ups
25. Create a Dip Tray
Things like Hummus and Peanut Butter are great additions to all kinds of Veggies and Pretzels, You can create a dip tray for a fun and easy to eat lunch.
26. Make a List of Lunches Ahead of Time
Start the year off by making a list of 12-15 different lunch ideas. Check out these ideas here, and then rotate through the list when you start feeling stuck during the year. You can also check out this list of Luncbox Snack Ideas.
I like to add my kids lunch ideas to my menu plan, Each week when I’m planning my menu I go through the School Lunch Menu and decide which days they will eat at school and what I will pack each morning. It helps me stay focused and I can make sure I grab anything I need at the store so I’m not panicking last minute.
27. Use Rolls or Hot Dog Buns to Create Sliders
You can make Mini Sandwiches that fit perfectly in Lunchboxes and are great for kids by using dinner rolls or hot dog buns cut in half.
28. Pack Ahead
Use Bento Boxes to pack lunches before the week begins, this makes it easy to grab and go each morning in 5 minutes or less!
29. Lunch Box Smoothies
Make Smoothies with Fruits & Vegetables and freeze them, they will have a great slushy feel by the time they thaw slightly at Lunchtime. This is a great way to sneak in Nutrients into your kids lunches. You can store these in Reusable Silicone Popsicle Molds so they can be eaten quickly and easily or store in a Thermos to keep cold until lunch.
30. Use Muffin Liners as Separators
Add some color to your kids lunches using Silicone Muffin Liners, these are inexpensive and easy to wash + they help keep foods separate and create additional dividers in your kids Bento Boxes.
You can get Great Deals on these on Amazon!
31. Make Your Own Trail Mix
Combine your kids favorite snacks and healthy treats into a Trail Mix. Mix Nuts, Dried Fruits, Yogurt Bites and more for a fun and easy to pack lunch.
32. Use Bagel Thins to Build Pizzas
You can Bake and Freeze Mini Pizzas, then Wrap in Foil and place in your kids lunches. These are a great item to help you get out of your rut, and there’s so many options that you can include for toppings.
33. Make Dried Yogurt Bites
Create Your Own Dried Yogurt Bites using a Pastry Bag, Yogurt and a Dehydrator, these bites are a tasty treat and a great way to use Yogurt you find on sale.
34. Use Wooden Spoons for Pudding
Use Wooden Spoons for a smaller easily portable option that can be thrown away so that you don’t have to worry about your kids bringing utensils back home. These also take up less space than plastic spoons and are less likely to get broken.
35. Wrap Sandwiches with a Lunch Mat
Skip the Plastic Bag and use Wax Paper Instead to create a Nice Lunch Space for your Kids to use at School, this will help keep food off the table and give them a larger germ free area to spread out their lunch.
36. Use a Cookie Cutter to make Mini Tacos
You can use Large Flour Tortillas cut with a Small Round Cookie Cutter to create Mini Tortillas, then use the Silicone Cupcake Liners to create a Build Your Own Taco Bar.
We also have a lot of great Back to School Lunch Ideas and After School Snack Ideas for you to check out!
Don’t Miss our Back to School Sales Page with all the best deals each week, This will be updated weekly with the Top Sales at Each Store + You can check out our Back to School Deals Page to see all the recent deals we’ve posted!
You can also Click Here to get our School Supply Price List! Along with daily email updates on all the best Back to School Deals!
I have found a small business called Clean Pack. Their lunch cases are superior to things I’ve seen in the stores. It’s Clean Pack, W4939 Wolf Road, Black Creek, WI. 54106
You’ll love them
These are great ideas! Thank you so much for sharing!
These are so great! Thanks so much for sharing, excited to start using some of these this year.
My daughter is on the autistic spectrum and incredibly picky. She always takes a thermos for her lunch; we actually have couple that she rotates through (they made great birthday presents!). She likes pasta and meatballs –but not together!! Because her diet is so limited, I try to make the things she does eat a little bit healthier. I buy Wacky Mac, other veggie pastas or high fiber pastas and make a large pot in the beginning of the week. She is 11 and knows how to use the microwave so she can put some in a bowl heat it up and dump it in one of her thermoses. I have a meatball recipe that she loves; and I make 6 lbs of meatballs at a time and freeze them. Whenever I make them for dinner, I make enough that there will some for her lunch for 2 or 3 days that week. I also buy packages of frozen turkey meatballs that we can just pull 2 or 3 out of the bag , heat them in the morning and put them in the thermos. My daughter also puts ketchup on everything; we either use a salad dressing container or extra packages of ketchup that we get when we ask for ketchup at a restaurant. Then she can put it on at lunchtime so it doesn’t make her food cold before then.
On number 7 you have to use skewers for meat and cheese… the stick pretzels work well!
Kids don’t use microwaves at school.
Pretzel sticks in place of toothpicks or skewers
Your cheese role-up sounds very similar to my kid sushi. We put down a layer of cream cheeseon the tortilla then add lunch meat, a cheese stick & a layer of crushed Doritos. Rollitup slice it and put it in the lunch box.
My children’s school allows peanut butter for school lunches and even with snacks as long as no child in the class that year has a peanut allergy and if a child does that just don’t allow peanut butter or nuts in that class. Which makes sense its not going to hurt that child if they don’t eat it just like all the other foods children r allergic to we can’t ban everything every child is allergic to but w the hacks I love them and will definitely use alot of them for I have a very picky eater who packs pretty much everyday.
What thermos are you using? I’ve tried several kinds. I put boiling water in them and let it sit to heat up. Pour the water out and then put the food in. But my son has said the food isn’t hot enough.
I use the actual Thermos brand – and the small short one. If you are also putting an ice pack in that same lunchbag, wrap a small handtowel around the thermos. I think that really helps so the ice pack doesn’t directly touch the outside.
I am an elementary teacher and so I see lots of ways that parents pack lunches. One of my favorites is a dad who packed his son’s hot dog. He cooked it, put it in the bun, and then wrapped in foil. He then popped the whole thing in a wide mouth thermos. It was warm still at lunch time. I know because I had to open the thermos :) It might be easier than packing two separate parts (hot dog in thermos and then bun in the bag)
For my own lunch, I highly recommend getting a small personal crockpot called the lunch crock (about 20 bucks at Target or on Amazon) makes having a hot lunch a breeze!
Thanks for sharing the mac and cheese idea! You are my new personal favorite!
I love these suggestions! I wish I could save this on my pinterest board so I can come back and reference it! Did I miss the pin button somewhere? :)
Nevermind! I got it saved! Thank you!
Be careful with freezing water bottles. Not all are designed for this; I’ve lost a few favorite ones doing this because they’ll crack. Check to see if they are freezer safe first
Your list is great, and I would think most folks could figure out what to replace for PB and still use your hacks. I love all your suggestions!! Thanks for sharing.
(Our schools just have a nut-free table as well, so PB and nuts are allowed in the rest of the lunchroom).
When my kids felt that they had “outgrown” having notes from Mom in their lunches, I developed a code that I printed on the inside of their lunch bags so they could see it but nobody else could. ML_VM means Mom Loves (child’s initial) Very Much. They never complained about this and I think they secretly liked it.
Agree about the peanut comments. Absolutely banned here… Even substitutes are banned. Some good ideas but let’s try to reduce the plastic trash and not use plastic utensils or ziplocks.
Thank you so much for this list! As was stated above, our last three schools were all allowed peanut butter and nuts just in the lunchroom. The harder thing has been to find healthy snacks that don’t contain nuts since they can’t have them in their classroom.
I have never seen a microwave that the kids are allowed to use. I will have to ask around on that one. My kids love Mac and cheese!
Our schools are not nut free. Our kids can take anything they want to eat. My kids live on peanut butter. We live in North Mississippi. Great tips! Thanks for the ideas!
Agreed! I think we’d starve if the schools banned peanut butter.
Yes, our school still allows peanut products in the lunch room only. We have allergy tables & the children that sit there can have a friend join them for lunch everyday. No nut items for snacks though.
I have a hard time with my ice packs sweating and creating condensation thru the sandwich box, making the sandwich soggy…(even with the ice pack not directly touching the sandwich box). Do you have any suggestions for this? This list is fabulous, thank you!
Create a reusable cloth pouch for your ice pack it would absorb the moisture and keep the rest of the lunch dry.
Clean socks work great too!
ALL are Great ideas! Thank you for sharing! My surrounding schools along with my daughter’s, allow peanut butter and nuts. If there is an allergy you have to notify the school. Thankful we don’t have to ban peanuts/peanut butter in our lunches.
Thank you so much for this list! We’ve homeschooled up ’til now, so I’m stumped at what to do if one of my kids doesn’t want what’s offered for lunch. They got into a great charter school in our area that has a registered dietician in charge of lunch. She’s so amazing that if a child likes a lunch she will give the recipe to them so they can make it at home. It’s a scratch made cafeteria, how rare is that these days! That being said, I know there will be days when my kids won’t want what’s offered. This takes a lot of stress off of me!
These are fantastic ideas! I can’t wait to try them.
My kid’s school is nut free for snack time, but not for lunch. They have a food allergy table for children who habe allergies to sit at for lunch. But the cafeteria only serves sunbutter!
Love the list. I do lot of this already. Just a couple of quick things to add. (My kids school does allow peanut butter as they have peanut free zones-so I have a trick) 1) slice your apple with apple corer, take core out, put peanut butter in center of Apple then wrap in Saran Wrap, peanut butter keeps it from turning brown, and they can peel a piece off then dip in peanut butter. My kids, even teenagers, love this!
2) use pretzel sticks for skewers! No need to ask permission and it’s edible!
Thanks again for the list!
That’s a great idea with the apple. I’m going to use it, thanks!
She suggests peanut butter 5 times these hacks are not only for school but can
be used at home also, for those that don’t go to a peanut free school as well.
Great ideas, but are there any schools out there that still allow peanut butter with all the allergies? It’s been banned from my kids’ school for years.
My Kids School does still allow peanut butter but only in the lunchroom and they have Peanut-Free Tables, so I am guessing that every school is different in how they handle that issue.
I don’t know of any schools that ban peanut butter in the US. I can’t imagine that would work. PBJ sandwiches are so common in our country that they say the average American eats 1,500 before graduating high school.
Many preschools and daycares ban it and sometimes elementary schools depending on the severity of the students with peanut allergies. Younger kids can sometimes inadvertently get it on clothing or furniture that other kids could come in contact with, eat something that their peers brought to school, or sometimes smelling it is enough to cause a life-threatening reaction. Most schools figure that by the time the student is in middle school or high school they know enough about their allergy to advocate for themselves.
While I appreciate any helpful hints at making a busy mom’s life simpler, I am amazed at the number of times this particular list mentions peanut and tree nut products. Due to the number of children with severe anaphylactic reactions to these products, all of the schools that I am aware of in my geographic area have banned these products. This ban even extends to children’s sports clubs, dance schools, etc. Given the life threatening potential of these products, I am amazed that any school with young children would continue to allow these products. Perhaps a more useful list would be 36 creative lunchbox hacks that you would be allowed to send to school with your child.
It’s easy to sub another product in place of peanut butter. Some allow Sunbutter, a pretty tasty alternative.
Perhaps you should just use the ones that are useful to you and allow others to do the same.
Actually, milk allergies are the most common cause of anaphylactic reactions, not nuts. Besides, peanut protein can’t really go air born in peanut butter because it is such a high percentage of oil. Banning peanut butter doesn’t really do anything.
Here, peanut butter isn’t banned in schools, although there is a peanut-free table offered for kids who need it. There are no kids with allergies in my son’s class at all, though, so there are no restrictions on snacks for parties or anything. My daughter has gone to little community parties where peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are served. I can’t believe they’d ban such a staple item at all clubs and events in your community like that!
They do ban it and the typical allergic reaction to peanuts is immediately life threatening. The reason for banning it (or having allergy tables) is because just skin contact of peanut butter from where another child got it on the table is enough to cause an allergic reaction in some children (like my son.)
SunButter, SoyNut Butter, Apple Butter, Maple Butter…the options are pretty varied! I’m all for protecting the kids with allergies, but our kids’ school allows peanuts in the cafeteria only (not in classrooms). BUT if they DID ban PB, I would use SunButter or SoyNut Butter. It’s pretty simple.
Not here. Kids with nut allergies sit at the ends of the tables. Use the ones that are appropriate for you and just scroll on past the others!
There are schools out there that are NOT nut free? Sign me up!
Brilliant! Thanks for sharing!