School Resources

What to Pack for School Lunches + Tips and Tricks



Last Updated: Mar 14, 2022

The bell rings, and your kiddo zips off to the school cafeteria. They sit down, tear open their lunchbox to find…[insert food items here]. If you were able to think of a million things to fill your kid’s lunchbox, cheers to you! But if your mind was as blank as the fill-in-the-blank above, this article is for you. To make your busy life a little easier, we’ve carefully put together a list of staple items you can regularly pack for your child’s school lunches!

Something light: appetizers for school lunch

1. Fresh fruits

Fresh Sliced Tropical Fruits Berries in Container. Delicious Healthy Snack Ready to Eat Salad in Transparent Cup Closeup Elevated View. Vegetarian Raw Food. Citrus, Kiwi, Raspberries for Lunch

Fruit is an easy and healthy item to pack in your child’s school lunches. Classic fruit staples in school lunches include:

2. Grapes

Keep grapes on the bunch for easy plucking, nestled in a container, or send them frozen and pack your grapes near the ice pack in your kiddo’s school lunch bag.

3. Berries

Whether they like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries, fresh berries are a great addition to pack a nutritious punch in school lunches.

5. Apples

Whole or sliced apples are a healthy way to add some sweet crunch to your child’s school lunch. Slice your apple and place a rubber band to keep the parts together to prevent browning for an extra tip.

6. Mandarins or clementines

Healthy school lunch box containing brown sandwich, cherry tomatoes, fruit

Mandarins and clementines are essentially small oranges and are perfect for packed school lunches. They are easy to peel and don’t need to be refrigerated to stay fresh. These fun-sized citrus fruits typically come in a netted bundle, allowing you to conveniently packed them in school lunches multiple times a week.

7. Fresh vegetables

Vegetables are a popular staple in kids’ school lunches. While they may not be a child’s favorite, there are definite ways to make veggies more fun:

8. Bite-size veggies

Bite-sized veggies like baby carrots and mini celery sticks are healthy finger foods to pack for lunch. If your kids are too fond of vegetables, include a savory dip like ranch or dress the celery in peanut butter and raisins for a classic “Ants on a Log” snack.

9. Fun veggies

Want to explore beyond the world of baby carrots and celery? Try something fun and new like edamame. Keep the edamame in its pods so your kiddo can have fun popping them out and sprinkle with salt or spices for an extra kick. Place in a colorful container for extra fun snacking.

10. Roasted veggies

To change up your raw veggies, try roasting them for a different texture. Cut broccoli into small bite-sized pieces and then toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Throw them in the oven or air fryer, and you’ll get crispy, roasted broccoli.

11. Medley kabobs

Healthy school lunch box with sandwich kabobs, yogurt, juice, fruits and berries

If your kids are getting tired of your typical fruits and veggies in a bag, try jazzing up the presentation by creating tasty medley kabobs. Using wooden skewers or plastic skewer sticks, assemble a medley of fruits and veggies. Serve the kabobs with a side of yogurt dip or peanut butter for fruit and a side of ranch for the veggies.

12. Crackers or chips

Crackers or chips are crunchy and convenient snacks to pack in school lunches. Whether you buy ready-to-go snack packs or create portions from family-size bags, there are many different options to include in your child’s lunch. For healthier options, look for organic or baked crackers or chips.

Something hearty: main dishes for school lunch

13. Sandwiches

Sandwiches are a traditional staple found in most school lunches. Whether you make a childhood favorite like peanut butter and jelly or add a summertime classic like chicken salad, sandwiches are a fantastic main dish to pack in your child’s school lunch. Want something with fewer carbs? Try a turkey, bacon, and cheese wrap in a gluten-free spinach tortilla for a lighter sandwich alternative.

14. Quesadillas

Quesadillas are simple to make and only require a few ingredients. Create a classic cheese quesadilla with tortilla and cheese, or spice up the classic cheese recipe by adding shredded chicken, chopped bell peppers, and avocado. Cut the quesadilla into small triangles and wrap in foil to keep the quesadilla warm.

15. Rice Dishes

Bento, lunch box that is often eaten for lunch in Japan

Rice and meat are another great hearty main dish. Layering a protein on top of rice is a simple and tasty plate for school lunch. Try teriyaki chicken with brown rice or cubed steak on top of Spanish rice. Another great rice dish that will also use up leftover ingredients in the fridge is fried rice. Mix a combination of meat, vegetables, and rice, and then stir fry together.

16. Pasta

Pasta is a great main dish to pack in a school lunch. You can conveniently make this the night before and pack it for the next few days. Use a colorful variety of pasta to create a fun pasta salad. You can also incorporate some vegetables into the mix to make the dish healthier. Pasta salad can be served cold and will taste great come lunchtime.

Something sweet: desserts for school lunch

17. Cookies

Treat your hardworking little one with a cookie in their school lunch. Let them indulge in a soft chocolate chip cookie or pack a 100-calorie dessert snack pack for a sweet finale.

18. Yogurt parfait

Packing a fresh yogurt parfait in your kid’s school lunch is sure to be a hit. Mix all the ingredients for them or pack yogurt, granola, or dried snack mix, and berries drizzled with honey in separate containers so they can assemble the parfait themselves.

19. Granola bar

set of granola bars (muesli or cereal bar) isolated on white

For something nutritious and sweet, pack a decadent granola bar. Look for dessert-flavored granola bars with chocolate or caramel. Extra points if you can find a dessert granola bar with healthy benefits.

20. Cotton candy grapes

Don’t want to put anything too sweet? Pack a heaping bunch of cotton candy grapes for your kiddo. This special blend of grapes is said to have a subtle burst of cotton candy flavor due to its unique sweet profile. Let your kids know beforehand, or put a note in their lunchbox that says these are cotton candy grapes so your kids can pay extra close attention to the surprising flavor!

Pack School Lunches with convenience

Packing school lunches doesn’t have to be difficult. By alternating these staple items for your child’s school lunches, you can prepare easy and tasty meals. We know you’ve got a busy schedule, so if you’re looking to have your groceries delivered, shop online for back-to-school grocery items via Instacart and pick them up curbside or have them conveniently delivered to your home!



Instacart is the leading grocery technology company in North America, partnering with more than 1,400 national, regional, and local retail banners to deliver from more than 80,000 stores across more than 14,000 cities in North America. To read more Instacart posts, you can browse the company blog or search by keyword using the search bar at the top of the page.

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