Back-to-school packed lunch ideas for all!


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It’s back to school for us today and I think by now most of the country will have returned. I’m not one of those parents counting down the days to the end of the holidays, I actually love having them at home and we’ve had an awesome summer so I’m sad that they’re not here today however they were happy to go in and left with a smile on their face so it’s all good!

It does of course mean we’re back to making packed lunches, a task that is a bit love/hate for me. I’m always quite pleased with my lunch efforts and they enjoy them but sometimes I have a real bad case of the cant-be-arsed about me.

The biggest challenge when making packed lunches is making sure there is enough variety in there and I love to mix it up. These days I keep a stock of supplies in the cupboard and fridge for when inspirational thoughts evade me. It also helps to keep a list.

Just in case you also struggle with ideas for packed lunches I thought I’d share details of what ours normally consist of. Okay, there’s nothing completely off-the-wall here but when you’re lacking in inspiration, this might help.  I have a fussy eater, thought he is becoming better with his food choices every day and his saving grace is that he loves fruit and veg. I’ll put a disclaimer right in here – I’m not a food snob – and I happily turn to tinned fruit when I have no fresh to hand as it’s easy to keep in the cupboard for those times when the bananas have gone brown and the apples are starting to walk out the door.

As I mentioned above, I think the key is variety and therefore I tend to put lots of little bits in of different things to keep them interested, and that seems to work well for us.

  • Sandwiches – I use a variety of different breads for sandwiches – sliced bread, tortilla wraps, mini pitta breads, bread rolls, croissants, cream crackers, bagels and stick to basic fillings such as ham, cheese, jam, chicken, grated carrot & cream cheese etc.  Despite how much my daughter begs I never  put egg in a school sarnie, or onion. Nobody needs that going on next to them when they are chowing down.
  • Sandwich Alternatives – Only occasionally, and only ever for one as fussy boy would never entertain it but we might do a pasta salad, rice salad, cous cous or something like a small prawn cocktail salad. a big wedge of quiche is also a regular feature.
  • Vegetables – There is always some type of vegetable portion in the lunchbox, in addition to any salad that may be lurking in a sandwich. This is normally carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, red pepper sticks or a pot of tinned sweetcorn (which is probably their favourite).
  • Fruit – Easy-to-eat fruit is the key here or it just doesn’t get eaten. We stick to berries and chunks of fruit like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, watermelon chunks, grapes, pineapple chunks and then tinned fruit like mandarin segments or tinned peaches. I also pop in dried fruit like raisins and apricots and the only “whole” fruit I put in is a satsuma or a banana. Never an apple or pear – I get big complaints about this!  Much to my children’s annoyance, they’re no longer allowed kiwi in school – their ultimate favourite fruit.
  • Other Snacks – I often turn to other snacks to liven it up a bit. Generally there’s always some kind of cheese in there, normally cubes or Red Leicester or Cheddar (for smaller children cut this into shapes with small cookie cutters) and then there might be something like a sausage roll, mini pizzas, cold cooked chicken nuggets, cocktail sausages, breadsticks, pretzels, scotch eggs, popcorn, coleslaw and whatever else might be nesting in the fridge.
  • Dips – Depending on what snacks are in the lunch box, my children might find a dip. This could be ketchup to go with cocktail sausages or chicken nuggets, sour cream, mayonnaise, hummus or cream cheese to go with veggies.
  • Yoghurt/Jelly – I generally always put in a yoghurt, only a small one like a yoghurt tube. If they’re lucky they might find a jelly in the lunchbox and Sainsburys also do jelly tubes which went down well.  Sometimes my daughter will like a custard pot in there but my son would rather starve than eat that!
  • Cake – I don’t care what school or experts say, there is always a small cake or biscuit in a lunch box. So long as it’s a balanced diet, who cares? Normally I’ll go for something like a muffin, flapjack, gingerbread biscuit, mini roll or maybe just a cereal bar.
  • Drinks – The children have water bottles at school so a drink isn’t strictly necessary but I always put in a carton of pure juice – either apple, orange and pineapple – as it’s another portion of fruit.
On Fridays which is ‘treat day’ at school, I will put a bag of crisps in and they might get slightly nicer cake!

I’ve read all the recent articles about healthy lunches and do you know what? I. DON’T. CARE. Judge me if you like but life is too short not to eat cake. My children have a healthy, active life with a well-balanced diet. Just because they eat a cake with their packed lunch does not mean they are going to be giant obese monsters with bad teeth.

And finally my biggest tip, especially if you’ve got yoghurt munchers, is put in a small sandwich bag for rubbish and a napkin to mop up any spills. School tend to like to send the rubbish home so you can see what has been eaten but yoghurt often seeps out and by encouraging them to wrap up the rubbish those insulated lunch bags stay cleaner and less whiffy!

I hope you find that a little helpful in some way. I don’t go overboard, it’s all pretty simple and basic but I just try to mix it up.

I’d love to hear any of your hints, tips and ideas for packed lunches so please do share in the comments, I am always looking for new ideas myself!
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