Keeping it Real 10

School Lunches for Real Life

The annual roundup of lunches featuring a parade of cartoon characters and woodland creatures can be a little overwhelming. I am overcome with both their cuteness and the feeling that I am failing as a parent because, as Sweet Brown says, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” If this is something you too have felt, let me stop you right there. I’ll tell you a secret: Nobody is making those lunches. Seriously, NOBODY. Google “bento box lunch images” and ask your kids. I guarantee they haven’t seen a single Beaker-the-Muppet veggie wrap at school. So, let’s talk school lunches, keeping it real, how to add variety and avoid appetite fatigue while spending a sane amount of time and energy doing it.

Choose theme days

Choose themes, such as sandwich day, wrap day, salad day, hot food day, lite lunch day, breakfast for lunch day or roll-ups day. Repeat themes that are easy during the week, changing flavors to keep it interesting. For us, this means sandwiches a couple of times a week. Figure out which lunches are fastest to make and do those the day after your busiest evening during the week.

Gather supplies

For a definitive review/guide to choosing lunchboxes, check out If you want bento, make sure it’s leakproof. No kid ever keeps their lunchbox perfectly horizontal going to school. I like Ziploc brand containers for their tight seal and appealing price point. Other staples include small containers for dips or dressings, zip-close bags, ice packs, a thermos, silicone baking cups—24 cups in two shapes are $8.99 on Amazon—and muffin liners. Pro tip: Drinks, yogurt tubes and fruit/veggie pouches can be frozen and used as ice packs to save space.

Organize lunch food items together

Use bins from the dollar store to corral lunch things together in your refrigerator and pantry so they are easy to grab and kids can easily choose what they want.

Fill up

Protein is most filling so look for cheese, yogurt and bread with the highest amount of protein.


Instead of throwing away extras at school, have kids bring home uneaten food so next time you know what to leave out. Designate a lunchbox spot. A Command hook on the back of the pantry door is one option that saves space. Have kids hang up lunchboxes as soon as they get home.

To save money, buy in bulk and portion food yourself. Stock up on convenient lunch items at the beginning of the school year when they are deeply discounted.

For a special touch, print some free lunchbox notes at the beginning of the year and tuck them in your spice cupboard to use throughout the year. For 24 free printable notes check out or access the link on the Boise Lifestyle Facebook page.

Doable Cuteness

If a cute lunch is important to you but finding the time is difficult, choose a couple special occasions throughout the year and save your best effort for those days. Some ideas for quick cuteness include using a cookie cutter to make a window in the top piece of sandwich bread, sticker eyes and a Sharpie mouth on baggies or the tops of fruit cups or, for the ambitious, shaped food cutters to cut cheese, fruits and veggies. Vegetable/fruit cutters are available on Amazon—search around; prices vary. I found a 20-piece set for $8.99.

When it comes down to it, the most important thing is that your kids are eating. Take a deep breath. Lunches don’t have to be over the top for kids to enjoy them. You can do this!