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School Lunch and Snack Ideas For Kids

peanut butter banana panini

It’s those three little words that every parent loves to hear.

No, not “I love you,” although, of course, every parent, every person needs to hear that from someone, periodically.

I mean “back to school.”

Because after an entire summer everyone is eager for a more structured routine. Even the kids – they might not admit it – want to get back to work and be in the classroom with their books and peers.

peanut butter banana panini

Peanut Butter (or soy butter) and Banana Panini

But unlike “I love you,” which offers feelings of comfort and security, those other three little words, “back to school” often create feelings of anxiety and disquietude. I remember many a night before that first day of school, when my older daughter Meredith had a hard time falling asleep, conjuring fears about work and friends and what her teacher would be like. Fortunately, all was okay by the end of that day.

On the other hand, beyond the initial back to school issues, there are other stresses that linger longer, often through the entire year.

Like, what to send for lunch. This problem can cause early morning (or even late night-before) arguments. But it doesn’t have to.

kids veggie sushi

Lila's Lunch Sushi

I am a firm believer in the Simple-but-Mostly-Healthy-Lunch. I always knew that my kids didn’t want to seem weird, so despite having a food-writer Mom, they did not want to be the group gourmet. Pate on Russian Black Bread was never going to be a lunchbox choice.

But my children hated the more usual bologna and salami (“they smell”) and they didn’t want cream cheese and/or peanut butter and jelly more than once a week.

asparagus and cheese frittata

Asparagus and Cheese Frittata

Figuring out what to pack for lunch was always a hassle.

Then there was the snack, that little extra for after lunch. I wanted to strike a balance here too. I would never be the one who sent a Snickers Bar or Nestle’s Crunch. But my kids also didn’t want to be the one whose mother sent them with shredded carrots and raisins (besides, they told me even then, that the carrot-raisin kids were always the ones who asked their friends for samples of the candy).

Fortunately, two helpful things have happened since I was the lunch-packing mom.

First, there are more choices in the way of breads (for sandwiches) such as pitas and multigrains, as well as other spreads (hummus, guacamole, almond butter) and widely available packaged and produce items today (nori, Asian pear, kale), all of which give you more interesting and delicious options.

Second, there’s a new iOS app called Lala Lunchbox that was designed to help parents and kids with this very problem.

I should confess here that this new app, which creates a way for parents and children to plan and pack healthy lunches for a week at a time (and then creates a shopping list for the items needed), was designed by my daughter Gillian. So if I tell you how brilliant this idea is you could say I was bragging and you might be right.

On the other hand, The New York Times, tastemakers like Tina Roth Eisenberg (, nutritionists and pediatricians have also given it rave reviews.

LaLa Lunchbox is fun to use and does the job.

You can go to Gillian’s website and take a look, then download the app and discover for yourself that the daily “what’s-for-lunch” morning stress is a thing of the past. The library of foods available to your kids to choose from is completely customizable – so you can always take dietary preferences or allergies into account.

Some of the lunches that Gillian’s daughter, my granddaughter Lila has picked include frittatas and one of her favorites, sushi. She made the sushi herself one day (you can see the process by going here: One of Lila’s favorite snacks is Gillian’s Snack Balls, mostly dried fruit, and naturally sweet without added sugar.

Fruit Filled Snack Balls

Gillian's Snack Balls

Lila’s pre-school was a peanut butter-free zone. But if your child’s school permits it, you can send the Grilled Peanut Butter and Banana Panini. Or you could make the sandwich with soy nut butter or sunflower butter. And use any ripe fruit in place of the banana.

Grilled Peanut Butter and Banana Panini

Gillian’s Snack Balls

Asparagus and Cheese Frittata

Lila’s Lunch Sushi