Back to School Brown Bag Ideas


Written Arin Rohr Schellenburg and Kristi Howard-Schultz

This summer, my oldest started summer camp.  We were excited –swimming every day, no naps, popsicles as snacks! What’s not to love?  Then I found out that we had to pack a lunch every day.

On the one hand, I was excited about this.  We don’t have that option during the school year.  I love having some influence over what he eats. But on the other hand, I was intimidated.  I have never done this before. There are so many rules. Packing a lunch in 2018 isn’t what it was in the 1980s.  

What can I pack that complies with all the rules–no tree nuts, no processed foods, etc.?

What can my child actually finish eating in the the twenty minites allotted for lunch?

What will my child actually eat?

Slapping the same smears onto bread day after day, week after week can leave me and my kids a little bored. What can I do to mix it up?

We’ve compiled a list of  5 ideas for realistic lunches that are easy and affordable:

1. The Budget Friendly Lunch

The go-to for a packing a lunch on a budget is usually Peanut Butter and Jelly. However, sometimes that doesn’t cut it. Try packing leftovers from dinner the night before in a lunch-sized thermos. My kids love spaghettios (around .89 a can). If you would rather pack a cold lunch, keep it simple with a lunchmeat sandwich or cheese and bread.  Buy a big bag of chips, pretzels, goldfish, etc and then divide them out. Buying convenient sized bags of items can be pricey.

Pack with: portioned out apple sauce, pretzels and a cheese stick.


2. The Make It Yourself Lunch

In an ideal world, our children would rise at the first sound of their alarm, dress themselves and quietly pack their own lunches (while brewing mom a cup of coffee). But, this is not my reality. I plan on teaching my 3rd grader and Kindergartener how to pack their own lunch this school year. The plan is to spend some time on Sunday evenings having the kids make sandwiches (homemade uncrustable PB&J or ham and cheese), divide out carrots, pretzels and goldfish into our reusable containers and cut up fruit. Then they will grab their prepared food every morning and throw it into their lunchbox.

Pack with: a cheese stick and possibly a sweet of some kind


3. The Real Life Interpretation of a Pinterest Lunch

I love searching Pinterest for inspiration but most of the time, I find myself rolling my eyes.  I don’t know many adults, let alone kids, who would eat plain cold noodles with hard boiled eggs on top!  I love that it looks like baby birds, but really. Instead, try a cold noodle salad with a dressing like a thin spaghetti with a pesto sauce and sweet cherry tomatoes. My kids love the Barilla Protein Plus noodles.

Pack with: Pretzel sticks with sun-butter and apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon.


4. The Faux Fast Food Lunch

We don’t eat out that often, but when we do I don’t stop hearing about it for weeks!  Splurge a little on this one. Pick out your favorite soft buns from the bakery, salty meat and creamy cheese.  Hard salami with provolone is a favorite at our house.

Pack with: A frozen Gogurt and grapes.


5. The Hot Lunch

Don’t have a thermos? Now is the time to invest in one! Pack mac and cheese in that thermos for a hot lunch option.  We typically make the standard Kraft version and cook it with frozen, riced cauliflower.  

Pack with: Cucumbers with ranch dressing and peaches.


A Few Tips to Remember:

  • If your kiddo is picky about food or tends to not eat anything that you pack, take them to the grocery store with you and have them pick out things for their lunch. I didn’t understand that my kindergartener didn’t like thin sliced deli ham until I took her to the store and she pointed out that she liked the thick cut ham for her sandwiches, now she eats every bite.
  • I prefer to pack lunches in reusable containers, not only does it cut back on waste, but it helps me to see what they really ate, because they can’t throw away the whole container. I even found some tiny containers for ranch or hummus, in hopes of them eating all of their carrots.

We talk with our mom friends about how much we loathe packing lunches each morning. However, when we pack our kids a healthy lunch, we know they have the energy they need to face the day. We also know that we just saved ourselves a couple dollars. We hope that this year we can include our children more in the packing process, teach them some lessons on nutrition, and encourage more independence.

What are your go-to school lunch ideas?