This Is What Your Kids’ Teachers Want You to Know About School Lunch

Follow this guide to send the right food to school!

School is in session—and it’s time to talk about the food you send to school with your child.

They need the energy to read books and tackle those math problems, and food is fuel for the day! Maybe you pack the lunch and snacks the night before, or you’re the early riser who gets it all organized in the morning. Either way, it isn’t easy to come up with interesting lunch ideas day after day.

It’s important to make sure you pack something that’s easy for your kid to eat—and for the teacher to handle. Keep in mind that school lunch ideas for kindergarteners can also differ from those for “big kids,” who might be able to handle their food better.

Foods You Shouldn’t Send with Your Kids

  • Oranges: The citrus fruit packed with vitamin C might be a healthy choice for kids to eat. However, it’s hard to peel, and most kids can’t do it themselves.
  • Soft Fruits: Soft fruits like bananas and berries can be squished in a lunch box or school bag. A plastic baggie with unappealing mushy fruit is not a snack anyone will be excited to eat.
  • Food with Utensils: The grocery store has plenty of food marketed as “lunch box options” with included utensils. These snacks become useless when that tiny utensil goes missing and your child can’t eat the food.
  • Squirt Yogurt: There are lots of options for yogurt in soft packaging for kid-friendly eating. But stand clear when tiny hands struggle to open these soft containers and end up squeezing the contents everywhere.
  • Popcorn and Grapes: Kids love popcorn and grapes. They’re easy to pack for a lunch but they pose a serious choking hazard. Kids who talk and laugh as they eat are a dangerous combination when it comes to these tiny snack items.
  • String Cheese: Yes, kids love these, but they often can’t open the skinny plastic packages. Instead, pack crackers and pre-cut cubes of cheese in a baggie.
  • Peanut Butter and Nuts: It can’t be said enough—nuts in schools are a serious issue for kids with allergies of all ages. Don’t send nuts or nut products as a snack and make sure they aren’t an ingredient in a trail mix or granola.

Foods You Should Send Instead

close up of hands cutting produce for a healthy lunch for school in the morningAngelina Zinovieva/Getty Images

  • Sliced Apples: An apple a day is a welcome addition to the lunch box, but no one wants to find slices that have gone brown before lunchtime. Slice the apple and sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent browning.
  • Muffins: The combinations for muffins can include everything from egg, ham and cheese to tomato sauce and mozzarella for a pizza-flavored snack.
  • Mini Meatballs: Leftover meatballs make a delicious kid choice for school lunches. Don’t use meatballs that are swimming in sauce from last night’s dinner—put a few aside the night before for the lunch box.
  • Hummus: Hummus cups are a great option with their easy-to-open containers. They can be sent to school with sliced celery sticks or baby carrots for dipping. These are also great snacks for field trips as they can keep energy up throughout the day.
  • Fruit Snacks: They pack well in lunch boxes, but many brands are loaded with added sugar. Buy healthy fruit snacks or make your own fruit leather and store them in an airtight container.
  • Pinwheels: Switch up the sandwich and make pre-sliced pinwheels with meat and cheese rolled in flour tortillas. Skip the mayonnaise, though, as most lunch boxes aren’t refrigerated.

Our Favorite Lunch Box Ideas
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Alice Knisley Matthias
Alice Knisley Matthias writes about food, family, education, and garden. Her work appears in The New York Times, Washington Post, Food Network, Delish, The Kitchn and Parade. Her book about healthy kid snacks is published by Scholastic. Other work includes Woman's Day, Redbook, Highlights for Children, Boys' Life, Kids Discover and America's Test Kitchen Cook's Country Cookbook.