Carrie’s Experimental Kitchen

Back to School Lunch Ideas


For many of you, kids across the country are starting to return to school, ending yet another summer of fun filled activities; however, mine still have a few weeks to go. Though some progress has been made, it is still difficult to feed our children at school because of the unhealthy choices being offered by local cities and states.

For example, our local school district decided they were going to offer healthy lunches; however, when you look at the menu offerings, you see things like Pizza Dippers, Mozzarella Sticks, Corn Dogs and my favorite, Breakfast for lunch which includes French Toast Sticks (frozen), Egg Patty with Cheese (what exactly is an egg patty?) served with Home Fries and Fruit (I guess they can call it healthy because it comes with fruit).

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Chicken Wild Rice Soup (Panera Copycat)

Soup-Gabrielle’s favorite lunch is soup and she probably eats it 3-4 times during the course of a school week. Buy yourself a good thermos, one meant for food storage, and it will keep your food hot for hours (She had lunch 5 hours after I heated hers up and it was still hot!). I just heat up the soup until it is boiling hot on the stove, then transfer to the thermos.  Here is her favorite,  Copycat Panera Chicken and Wild Rice Soup but she also loves Chicken Noodle.

Cold Cut Sandwiches-My kids don’t really like the typical sandwich, mainly because they don’t like mayonnaise or mustard. But put cold cuts like turkey or ham in a tortilla wrap with some lettuce and tomatoes and a little Italian dressing and they’ll eat it. You can also slice into pinwheels to make it fun.

Grilled Chicken & Pesto Panini

Chicken Sandwiches-THIS is their absolute favorite! Whenever I make breaded chicken cutlets, I always make extra. They love this on crusty Italian bread with some fresh mozzarella and Balsamic Vinegar Dressing. You can also put some arugula, lettuce, tomatoes on there too. Grilled chicken works just as well and make them into a panini then wrap it the sandwich in foil to stay warm until lunch time like this Grilled Chicken and Pesto Panini.

Peanut Butter Sandwiches-If your child will ONLY eat PB&J for lunch (I know mine did for about 2 years!), switch it up and make it fun. Make it on a tortilla then roll it up into pinwheels, use an English Muffin or Pita bread and cut them into 6 triangles. If you’re children are still young, make the sandwich on bread and use cookie cutters to cut the sandwich into shapes. My youngest will also eat peanut butter and jelly in a cup with a spoon too, without the bread.  Some other alternatives to jelly are Nutella, Bananas and Fluff…get creative!

Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad

Salads-When our oldest was in High School, she preferred salads or yogurt for lunch.  She liked to top her tossed salads with beans or leftover chicken or beef to add some protein to sustain her longer as she’s in school for about 12 hours between actual school and sports practices afterward. Salads like Grilled Chicken Pasta Salad with Kalamata Olives, Capers and Sun Dried Tomatoes were one of her favorites.

Madeira Beef Stew

Chili or Stew-On those cold winter days like we get here in NJ, a hot thermos full of chili or stew does the trick to warm you from the inside out like Madeira Beef Stew (pictured) or Black Bean, Chicken & Spinach Chili  If you can make something in a Slow Cookeror Dutch Oven, chances are you can reheat it and put it in a thermos for lunch the next day. So make extra at dinnertime to save yourself some time during the week!

Tips for Packing Lunches

Make it fun

If you have a teenager like I do, they don’t like to make it known that they bring their lunch to school (it’s not cool!). So she would use a brown paper bag or a large Ziploc bag and hide her lunch in her purse.

Another option is to use an insulated bag, like those from ThirtyOne. They really have some great items and we LOVE their insulated lunch bags. They come in beautiful, trendy designs AND you can have anything you want engraved on them in fun color selections and fonts. They’re also very durable and last much longer than the typical lunch box(I used to go through two of them a year).

Ice, Ice Baby!

When packing lunches for my kids, I take into consideration how long they will be left out before they will be eaten. Most times, I will place a small ice block, (which can be found in your local grocery store or nearby Target or Walmart), in with their lunch to help keep it cold longer.

Write them a note

My kids are 20 and 15 and I don’t do it every day, but every now and then I write a little note to let them know that I love them and am thinking about them. They get embarrassed, but I don’t care, I do it anyway (and secretly I know they still like them!). If you run out of things to say, you can even buy prewritten/decorated post it notes in local specialty stores or online.

Balance it out!

You already have a head start by packing your kids lunch vs. buying lunch at school, but I always like to include at least one healthy snack in their lunch as well like fruits or vegetables.


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  1. Donna Foehner
    August 16, 2012 at 9:19 pm - Reply

    GREAT ideas Carrie! …and thanks for the link! 😉

    • Carrie's Experimental Kitchen
      August 16, 2012 at 11:38 pm - Reply

      Thank you and you’re welcome! Of course I had to put the pork stew in there since Gab and LJ love it so much! lol

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