When it comes to school lunch survival, sharing is caring. That’s why we asked savvy parents across the country for their tips on packing a school lunch their kids will actually eat. Read on for 25 hacks you may want to memorize before back-to-school season arrives.

1. Jacqui B says: Tortillas aren’t just for taco night – they have a much longer shelf life than bread, so we always keep a tortilla on the shelf for wraps.

2. Peter B says: We pack non-perishables the night before (think nuts, chips, dried fruit) so in the morning you only have to focus on the sandwich/main meal/dairy portion.

3. Amber says: I use cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into fun shapes (like hearts, stars, etc.). I basically have three types of sandwiches I do in rotation. Mostly the same sandwich with different shapes.

photo: Melissa via flickr

4.Sheena H. says: Lunch independence is key! Have your child show you that he or she can open the containers, peel the fruit, twist the tops, etc. before you pack the items for lunch. Teachers and lunch duties are absolutely swamped with requests to “open this please” and we simply don’t have the time!

5. Amanda L.: I shorten the week by giving myself a day “off”. Instead of packing 5 lunches a week I plan for 4 giving myself a day where lunch is bought instead of made. And that’s their, “choice” of the week when we go shopping. I still have limits and take it as chance to teach them how to find organic healthy food in the store that doesn’t need to be put together.

6. From Rezin: Use a frozen water bottle as an ice pack.

7. From Monica C & Christine E: Freeze yogurt tubes—Applesauce works frozen, too!

8. Pack frozen blueberries as an edible ice pack (from Mae R.)

9. Ashley S.: If your kids need an extra dose of veggies, try frozen smoothies. You can sneak veggies like beets and spinach into them. Store the smoothies in six-ounce plastic Ball jars, which you can find in the canning section.

photo: Lindsey Johnson

10. Eddy R. says: Grab three of the ¼ sized baggies and fill each with your choice of pretzels, sliced fruit, granola bars, veggie chips or a whole apple/banana/orange. Cut your sandwich into four small pieces. Everything is easily grab-and-go.

11.Christina A. says: During the winter months, try making pasta, ravioli, soups or meatballs. Send it to school in a thermos.

12. From Joyce B: Make up two-thirds weeks of frozen PB&J sandwiches. Use different jams, butters, and even breads for variety. Makes for an easy go to in the morning and it thaws out by lunchtime.

13. Laura M says: Pack their lunches on Sunday. Put a post-it note with your child’s name and any fresh additions you may need to make. One hour on Sunday saves time and frustration during the week.

photo: clean eats & treats

14. Angela V says: Homemade lunchables are cheaper and with less sodium.

15. From Ayren JC: We freeze pre-portioned leftovers. More than likely it’s something Trey helped cook and will love to eat later—for up to 30 days.

16. From Nicole L: I make a tupperware bowl of egg salad and tuna salad on Sunday night for sandwiches for the week and each night  I let my daughter choose between those two or a PBJ for lunch the next day. Packed with a crunchy snack either crackers or pretzels, a fruit and a yogurt.

17. From Stephanie M: And because I’m one of “those moms” I like to write out a sweet note or words of encouragement or a Bible verse and put it in their empty lunch box the night before that way they have sweet surprise that’s thought out (and not rushed) waiting for them at lunch time. My kids really love them and my oldest daughter recently told me she keeps all of her notes in a special treasure box in her room.

18.Marianne W. says: Reusable food baggies! I hate the daily waste of plastic baggies so we have an assortment of reusable bags that stay in the lunch bags and return home. They get thrown into the laundry when they need to be washed (every 2-3 uses, usually).

19. Mae R. says: I use lavash bread or tortillas to make long wraps of turkey/hummus or ham/cream cheese (throw in spinach if your kiddos don’t mind the greens). They last for a few days and are super easy to just slice off a few rolls.


photo: Healthy Seasonal Recipes

20. Amber says: Keep those apples fresh by either splashing a bit of lemon on top of the sliced apples. Or, try this genius hack: cut your apple and then reassemble it with a rubberband.

So many parents said their #1 lunch hack is to empower their kids to pack their own lunch. Here are some takes on this popular tip:

21. Kathy C. says: Get your kids in on the grocery shopping by having them make a list the week before of the snacks they would like. The lists go on the fridge and that’s what they pack for themselves.

22. Ada H says: Store food in an accessible spot like a lower drawer so your kids can access it and pack lunch themselves.

photo: Delicious Dishes by Tilth Alliance

23. Jen W says: I have clear drawers in the pantry, one for fruits, one for bars/snacks, and one for desserts. They can just take one from each and I fill them up when they are empty. They make their own choices that way. (Post it note with reminders about fridge options).

24. Kathy C. says: By trying a CSA, your kids can pick the fruit they would like to bring and you’re supporting local businesses.

25. Ada H. and Karen C. say: Put a list on the fridge with different categories (protein, fruit, veggie, grain, etc.). Then have your child choose from each category.

What is your go-to lunch hack? Leave us a comment below and we’ll add your idea to the story!

— Erin Lem

featured photo: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture via flickr