School Lunch, New Ideas Please!

On more than one occasion recently, I’ve found myself speaking to a parent about food, mentioning this blog, and immediately getting a request for a post on school lunch.We all can agree that a well-fed child has more patience, more capacity to learn and weather the storms of a school day, and arrives home in a much better mood.  Given the fact that kids often have only 20 minutes to grab a seat, eat, drink socialize and clean up, actually finishing lunch poses a major challenge. It took Ava (and us) until the middle of 2nd grade to figure out our general recipe for success.

Now in my ideal world, children would eat a fresh, healthy, sustainably-sourced and delicious school lunch with their peers on a daily basis. But since that vision, at least in San Francisco, is a long way off, many parents stick to packing a bag lunch. At least some of the time. Which means parents and kids are in constant need of inspiration and ideas, especially as we near the end of the school year and burnout is setting in (at least in our household).

Here is a list of our best lunch strategies, in no particular order. Please add yours to the mix!

1. Hot lunch goes over much better than cold. I can get away with a sandwich (either PB+J or salmon salad, sometimes goat cheese + olive spread) at most once per week. I rely on a kid-sized Thermos to keep the food relatively warm.

2. For hot lunch, its all about leftovers. Having food on hand for lunch is as much a motivator to cook a good dinner as anything.

3. Quick hot lunch components we have time to make in the morning include warmed up beans and a quesadilla (which does get cold but she doesn’t seem to care); tortellini/other pasta and Parmesan cheese; quinoa + garbanzo beans; and similar combos.

4. We used to pack a multi-course spread in small portions. That didn’t go over so well, with lots of food coming home and no longer appetizing after hanging around for hours in a lunch sack. New strategy: pare things down to the very basics: water bottle, hot lunch and fruit or vegetable. This seems to be working.

5. If we get complaints about lunch (to the tune of “I don’t want XYZ anymore!”) it has to be accompanied by a replacement option. Otherwise, the options get limited way too quickly.

6. Cucumber yogurt salad, aka raita or tzatziki, plus bread and butter. Mix a delicious plain yogurt with chopped pieces of cucumber, dill, salt, pepper and maybe one clove of garlic diced into tiny pieces. Throw in a slice of whole grain bread and butter plus fruit.

7. Soup! Yes, this falls into the leftovers category. But worth calling out. Split pea soup, lentil soup, chicken soup, are consistent hits.

8. Sushi. I’ll pick up an avocado roll the day before, make some brown rice as a side, and send it to school. Yes, it’s not exactly homemade. But close enough!

I can’t wait to hear what you would add to this list!

6 thoughts on “School Lunch, New Ideas Please!

  1. Pingback: Easy, Delicious From Scratch Beans (Yes). Bisphenyl A (No). « A Happier Meal

  2. We do a lot of black bean quesadillas, Indian toasty sandwiches with paneer and veges, boiled eggs and cream cheese toast. I have even sent dahl and rice to school. Fried rice is another good one.
    Love your ideas! You should have a running list on your blog with ideas…I’d love that!

    • Daal, rice and yogurt is a lunch staple for us too! Love all of the great ideas… I’ll compile these into a category for easy access.

  3. My kid has a planet box – one of these lunch boxes ( and there’s something about the Japanese-style order imposed by this system that really works for us. One section for a sandwich, leftover pasta, sushi or cheese and crackers, one for fruit, one for veg, and one for snack. Eve likes the variety, and I like knowing she’s getting the bases covered.

    One never-fail item we call egg ribbons, is an single egg cooked unstirred in a small omlette pan so it looks like a pancake. I slice it in 1/2″ strips, and twirl or swirl it around the other things in her lunch. She loves to eat them with her fingers, the eggs are from local chickens and she’s nibbling on good protein.

  4. One important element is actually having the child MAKE the lunch. The parent can put out the food the child chooses, but, by age 8 or 9, depending on the maturity, a child can put together his or her own lunch. This takes some of the burden off of the parent, and allows the child to be the creator of his/her own meal, which is a precursor of future meal production. My two cents. 🙂

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