Easy Elementary Lunch Box Ideas

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This year, my oldest child entered Kindergarten, and I entered the world of cold lunches. He’s the classic picky eater with just one favorite lunch- but that didn’t change my nerves and anxiety over lunchtime. It sounds silly, right? However, if you happen to also be an exhausted parent with a picky eater who’s nervous about lunchtime outside of the home for the first time- I’ve found a few tips and tricks that helped our transition, and they may help you too!

Practice Lunchtime

One thing we did before school started was practicing lunchtime at home. That means that lunch was fully packed as it would be in school, I handed lunch to my son, and I set a timer for their allotted time at lunch.

I was nervous about my son chatting with friends and forgetting to eat until his time was up, and I was nervous about his ability to open all of his containers and packaging. (Worrying seems to be my past-time.) But when I explained the process to my son and told Alexa to set a timer for 20 minutes, he had time to practice and better understand what lunchtime would look like at school, too. And he was excited to give it a try! 

It calmed my nerves to see that he could complete his entire meal in 11 minutes. I also thought about packaging and decided to remove the majority of any packaging when packing his lunch so that he wasn’t hung up on things that he couldn’t open. We use a Bentgo lunchbox (affiliate link) which seals each separate compartment and keeps things like applesauce, yogurt, or wet fruits from spilling into other compartments.

Keep it Simple

One other thing that I vowed to myself was to keep it simple. While I see families with way healthier eating habits than mine, I know my son, and I know he would be surprised (and not touch) a kale salad or a hard boiled egg. 

I made the mental note to introduce new foods at HOME and not at school. At school, I want to be sure that he’s eating to fuel his body for all of that learning and play, and hearing that he was skipping lunch would break my heart. 

In this case, my PBJ lover would mainly get his very same lunch from home- a PBJ- but with one change (that he has yet to notice) which is subbing our regular Peanut Butter for an allergy-friendly Sun Butter. 

While our school has an “allergy-table” at lunch, I could easily put myself in allergy parents’ shoes. I knew that if there was a life threatening allergy of one of my son’s friends and classmates (there is) I didn’t want to risk peanut butter coming into contact at recess and I also didn’t want to exclude anyone at the allergy table. I spoke with my son’s teacher and let her know that we would always be sending nut-free lunches, and there is a little sticker on his lunchbox to remind anyone, too. 

With my own lunchtime anxieties, I cannot imagine the fear and anxiety of a parent dealing with childhood allergies and a lunch room/school that allows those allergens in them. There are easy and simple swaps available for everyone to make school a safe place for everyone!

Make it Fun

Besides sticking with my son’s favorite foods, I can still mix it up and make it fun! A really simple trick that works even for a tired parent who is throwing together a PBJ lunch is to use a fun shaped cookie cutter. I found this tote of cookie cutters (affiliate) at the same price as a single “sandwich cutter” and they work just as well! These smaller cutters (affiliate) work perfectly for fruits, veggies, and cheeses.

I also like to hide a little treat or dessert under his sandwich so that it only is visible if he eats his sandwich!

So if you’re like me and see these ultra-impressive lunchbox photos and agree that your kids wouldn’t eat a lick of them- fear not! A cut out peanut butter (substitute) and jelly sandwich is what my kid is bringing most days and while his palate may not be as developed as other classmates, he’s eating his lunch and getting the job done!

Nestled into a small town just outside of Madison, Kyla is raising her three boys alongside her amazing Hubs while they live with her parents for half of each year. Kyla has been writing for Madison Mom since December 2015, became the Social Media Coordinator in 2018, and began Content Creating for City Mom Collective in 2019. She was born and raised in the Madison area, and kept her roots planted here, with the exception of a short stint at UW Milwaukee while getting her BBA in Marketing and cheerleading on the collegiate team. Kyla chronicles her life and family on Instagram (@kylamariecharles) and advocates for her youngest son who was born with a fluke eye condition that left him with a prosthetic left eye.


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