As the school bells start ringing once again, the task of packing a nutritious and appealing lunch for your little ones can feel both exciting and challenging. Here are some tried-and-true tips and tricks to help you master the art of packing school lunches that stay fresh!

Shelf Cooking is all about spending less money on groceries, utilizing the food you have on hand before it goes bad, repurposing leftovers so you don't throw them out, and eating really yummy food in the process! So when it comes to school lunches, there's many tips and tricks to making sure the food you pack your little cuties ends up in their bellies and not back on your kitchen counter (or in the cafeteria garbage).

We're going to cover how to incorporate variety into their lunch menu, how to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, how to package things to keep them tasting fresh not stale, and other ways to make sure your kiddos enjoy their school lunches!

Choosing the Right Containers:

Investing in high-quality, leak-proof, and airtight containers is essential. Opt for BPA-free options that come in various sizes to accommodate different food items. Sections or compartments can prevent foods from mixing and getting soggy.

  • Food Thermos – These are perfect for when my kids want to take warm leftovers, chicken nuggets, quesadillas, oatmeal, or anything else warm for lunch. Preheat the thermos by putting boiling water in for 10 minutes. Pour the water out, dry it, add the heated food, and it'll be warm until lunch!
  • Plastic Cutlery – Don't forget to send a fork or spoon if they'll need one! We get good quality disposable ones. Then we wash and reuse them to get the most bang for our buck.
  • Condiment Cups – These are perfect for dipping sauces or peanut butter. If you didn't already guess, we wash and reuse these a few times!
  • Lunch Box – A good quality one doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg!
  • Ice Pack – You can use a few different things to keep their food cold until lunch. Obviously, a regular ice pack is easy to use and they're pretty cheap. You can also wet a cheap sponge, throw it in a baggie, and freeze it. It's not a huge deal if they throw it away on accident. You can also freeze a water bottle! It'll thaw by lunch and keeps everything cold.


Lots of lunch items that are best served cold can be placed in the lunch box frozen! By lunchtime, they'll thaw and be perfectly fresh, but still cool. Here are some lunch staples we love, that are great to take out of the freezer in the morning and enjoy by lunchtime!

Freezer Sandwiches – You've heard of the frozen Uncrustables sandwiches, right? Well did you know that you can make your own freezer PB&J sandwiches that are healthier and way cheaper?! We'll premake a few for the week or month and throw them in the freezer. Pull them out the morning of and they'll thaw by lunch. We'll also do this with meat and cheese sandwiches to keep a little variety going. Be sure to wrap them well in parchment paper or plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn.

Muffins: Both sweet and savory muffins can be frozen and added to the lunch box. Blueberry, banana, and pumpkin muffins are popular choices.

Fruit Cups: Freeze individual portions of mixed fruits, like berries, grapes, and pineapple, in small containers. They will thaw by lunchtime and provide a refreshing treat.

Yogurt Tubes or Pouches: Freeze yogurt tubes or pouches, and they'll thaw by lunchtime, providing a cool and nutritious snack.

Cheese Sticks or Cubes: Hard cheeses, like cheddar or mozzarella, can be cut into sticks or cubes and frozen for a protein-rich addition to the lunch box.

Muffins made out of leftover baby food, from Shelf Cooking


Diversity is the spice of life, even when it comes to lunch! Aim to include a balance of protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and a small treat. This not only provides essential nutrients but also keeps your child's interest piqued.

Here's some fun lunch box items to mix and match throughout the weeks!

  • Hard-boiled eggs: you can also you the disposable condiment cups we mentioned earlier with salt for dipping. We have some great hard-boiled egg tips here!
  • Waffles or pancakes: you can also include a little condiment cup of peanut butter for spreading on to them.
  • Sushi Rolls: Create simple sushi rolls using tortillas, cream cheese, thinly sliced veggies, and deli meats. Roll them up, slice, and pack.
  • Apple “Cookies”: Slice apples into rounds and spread nut butter on top. Add toppings like granola, raisins, or mini chocolate chips.
  • Mini Veggie Pizzas: Use whole wheat pita bread as the base and let your child decorate mini veggie pizzas with tomato sauce, cheese, and colorful veggies.
  • Fruit and Cheese Kabobs: Thread chunks of fruit and cheese onto small skewers for a balanced and fun snack.
Hard-boiled eggs on a wooden cutting board, from Shelf Cooking

How do you do lunch and snacks for your kiddos? Do you use any of these same ideas? Hopefully this was helpful in one way or another! Share your lunch systems with us in the comments below!

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