Simple back to school lunches kids can make themselves

Michele Borboa, MS

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We know it: You’re busy from the moment you open your eyes in the morning until you lay your head on your pillow at night. Fitting in all the daily to-dos, including getting your kiddos off to school with healthy lunches, can seem impossible. However, if you recruit your kids to help you in the kitchen, you will not only have less to stress about in the morning, you’ll be teaching them valuable cooking lessons that will boost their culinary confidence and the concept of homemade meals.

Little girl making sandwich

1Be prepared

Fill your refrigerator and pantry with ingredients that make assembling meals easy. Spend a little extra time on Sunday to make the following items that your kids can simply grab and put into action.

Kid-friendly school lunch essentials:

  • Lightly steamed veggies, such as zucchini slices, broccoli florets, and green beans
  • Cut fresh veggies and fruit, such as sticks of cucumber, carrots, and celery, grapes, pitted cherries, easy-to-peel oranges, and bananas
  • Leafy greens, including romaine lettuce, spinach, and fresh basil
  • Whole grain breads, sandwich thins, tortillas, and baked crackers or chips
  • Cooked pasta in a variety of shapes, like bow-ties and corkscrews
  • Deli meats and cheeses
  • Dried fruit, nuts, and nut or seed butters
  • Containers of yogurt, such as Chobani Champions, the first Greek yogurt made for kids
  • Homemade hummus or containers of store-bought hummus, like Tribe Hummus
  • Various condiments, including light mayonnaise, mustard, salsa, salad dressings, and sour cream
  • Cans of beans and jars of pitted olives (kids love putting olives on their fingers to eat)
  • An assortment of snacks, such as Bear Naked Soft Baked Double Chocolate Granola Cookies or lower-fat trail mixes

2Give the kids some freedom

Let the kids know what their ingredient choices are and allow them to put together their own lunches. This may make you cringe – especially when your son wants to put mustard on his almond butter and banana sandwich – but giving them some creative freedom while making their lunches will keep them interested in helping you out in the morning, or the night before, in getting their midday meals together for school.

3Inspire your kids

You can excitedly tell your kids that you heard about a fun lunch idea, such as cutting sandwiches into shapes with cookie cutters or wrapping ingredients up in a tortilla and cutting it crosswise into spirals, to give them ideas. Consider getting them kid-level cookbooks with delicious illustrations that entice them to try new recipes.

4Be age-appropriate

You can’t turn your 5-year-old loose in the kitchen to make a rotisserie chicken sandwich, nor can you expect your 12-year-old to get excited about making lunches if all you let her do is spread hummus on a wrap. Consider your children’s ages and abilities and meet them where they are. The more comfortable they become in the kitchen, the more they can be trusted with lunch responsibilities.

Up next: School lunch recipes the kids can make >>

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Michele Borboa, MS
Michele Borboa, MS is a contributing editor for specializing in health, fitness, and all things food. She is a veteran health and fitness professional, personal chef, and mom in Bozeman, Montana. She is also the author of the time-saving cookbook Make-Ahead Meals Made Healthy (Fair Winds Press, July 2011). You can contact Michele at or give her a tweet at