Do you HATE packing lunches? Ugh. It's one of my least favorite things about school. Part of the reason I don't love it is that, like me, my kids don't like sandwiches.
Coming up with ideas to get them a healthy (ish) lunch makes my head hurt. But these school lunch ideas are easy, the kids love them, and they help make packing lunches so much less stressful!
This post was originally published in September 2016 and has now been updated with more ideas for school lunches that don't include sandwiches.
I know I'm not the only one who dislikes packing lunches for the kids. In fact, I heard it the day before school started from a mom friend.
But from what I can tell, I am one of the only ones that has their kids do it. I want to share how we handle that so that you can take it off your plate too.
Have the kids pack their own lunch!
While I am doing the dinner dishes, I have the kids pack their own lunch. That way, I am there to guide them so their lunchbox isn't full of cookies.
But even if I am not in the kitchen, they pack their lunch and then bring it to me for approval. This is a really good way to talk about nutrition and building a balanced meal. I will say that not all of our lunches are perfectly balanced, but that is the goal!
The hardest part for us is getting enough (any) protein into their lunches. Especially since we don't love sandwiches.
Non-Sandwich School Lunch Ideas
Egg Protein Packs
While they do cost a little bit more, I am always looking out for prepackaged packs that have protein. These types of options are being made better and better all the time, with more natural ingredients and fewer preservatives.
My boys don't like the same things so I will usually buy one of the new items that I find and have them both try it as an after-school snack one day.
My older son had an egg allergy and has never warmed up to them, even though he's outgrown it. But my younger son LOVES them!
This hard-boiled egg pack is perfect to throw in the lunch pail. But if you don't want to pay for this, you can buy a bag of hard-boiled eggs from Trader Joe's or hard boil them yourself.
As a working mom, I look for some of the work to be done for me, so I opt for Trader Joe's doing all the work...
Last year we figured out that my youngest son loves sushi. We pick up a few of these California Rolls from Trader Joe's and he takes them for lunch or eats them as a snack.
We put 4 pieces in a plastic container so they don't get smushed and put it in his lunch pail. If you don't have a Trader Joe's by you, our market also has a sushi counter, it's just a little bit more expensive.
Trader Joe's also has some spring rolls, etc., that your kids might like.
Salami Snack Packs
Trader Joe's is really helpful in the school lunch department. I've already mentioned it several times, and guess what? I'm not going to stop. Most of these items can be picked up from other places, though, or they'll have similar items.
These salami sticks, above, are from Trader Joe's and are the perfect little pack to throw in your lunch pail.
My kids don't love cheese (I can see the look of horror on your face as you read this) but once in a while, I'll pick up the other salami pack, with the provolone, to get them to try it again.
I'm not trying to be a jerk, but I know my kids waffle on what they are picky with so I always like to have them try foods again.
Chomps Meat Sticks
*Chomps sent me all these flavors to try! We were already fans of the traditional grass-fed beef sticks so I'm grateful they sent the others our way!
We always have these Chomps meat sticks on hand. We've been buying the traditional flavor at Trader Joe's but they have a bunch of other flavors also.
Chomps are made from only natural and humanely-raised ingredients, and have no added sugar, are gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free and is the only meat snack that is Whole30 approved.
We use these beef and turkey sticks as snacks or as part of their lunch. I keep a bunch in the cupboard and they are super easy for the kids to grab. They don't eat them every day but I love that they have so much protein!
The fact that you can buy these on Amazon makes me so happy! My youngest is really into the jalapeno flavor and I like the cranberry (warning - it packs a spicy punch!)
*Update: These are currently the only meat stick my family eats. We always have a box in the snack cupboard. Amazon has great deals on these when you put them on a subscription which keeps stocking them super easy!
Tuna or Chicken Salad Packs
My youngest likes tuna, so I keep a few of these tuna salad packs on hand for him to grab. They also make a chicken version that he likes once in a while.
Bumble Bee isn't the only brand that makes these, in fact, even Aldi has their own version. These are shelf-stable so they can be kept in the pantry and last for a long time.
My older son loves bacon, so these protein snacks are great for him. The bacon makes it so he can tolerate the lunch meat inside. Like me, my kids would love to only exist on sugar and carbs.
So I have to look for ways to get the protein in. While these might not be the best forms of protein, understand that we don't eat these every single day, I cook dinner just about every night which usually includes some form of lean meat and fresh veggies.
Plus, our after-school snacks usually include fruit and veggies to grab.
Applesauce and Fruit Cups
I have the hardest time always having fresh fruits and veggies on hand so I always have options in the cupboard.
I know the fruit cups pack a lot of sugar so I try to look for the ones that are in fruit juice instead of syrup (except my kids love the fruit cocktail and that is a total sugar bomb...) I tried buying the larger cans of fruit, but these are so much more convenient.
We always forget we've opened the can and end up wasting the rest of the fruit. This way, they can just grab one and take it in their lunch. These apple sauces are also a great snack when they are "dying of starvation" before bedtime.
I prefer my homemade applesauce recipe but kids like convenience.
My kids take a lunch and a snack each day but aren't given much time to actually eat the snack. They usually take a fruit strip which they can eat quickly. Plus it's a little bit of a treat.
This year, I heard about these cookies (from Trader Joe's, duh) from @howe.we.live. I've written about Andrea before, but her Instagram account is where I always head when I want healthier options for something.
She's full of knowledge and shares it with you so you can also clean up your living. They have 8 grams of protein!
While they won't be taking these all the time, they are a great treat and perfect way to sneak in a little more protein. And they liked the flavor. My kids can be super picky but they were into these. They are a little bit pricey but a fun splurge once in a while.
We round these ideas out with Sunbutter sandwiches, Sunbutter and banana tortilla rollups, leftovers from dinner (they love my chicken fried rice, teriyaki turkey and chicken tacos) all of which pack really easily (And my kids like cold food. Weird. But helpful for packing lunches).
And once in a while, I will pick up the ingredients to make homemade pizza that they can take a few slices each day.
Or I'll make a batch of black bean salad that they can eat for the next few days. And I used to always let them have one Lunchable a week but we've cut that back to very rarely.
We saved them for the night we were out the latest with activities, so they had one night of easy lunch making. It's a treat for being responsible and packing their own lunches but they don't have the greatest ingredients so I've scaled way back.
What school lunch ideas do you have for me? I'm always looking for other ideas for their non-sandwich lunches! I totally get it. These types of school lunches aren't that clean.
Just know that we don't pack these things every day and they take a variety of things with them. If you are looking for healthier school lunch ideas, they are out there!