Brown Bag Lunch

11 Lunch-Packing Strategies from Real Parents

August 28, 2015

Parents, your vacation from packing lunches has ended. Now that school is back in session, it's time to sharpen your pencils and get ready for another year of attemping to get your kids to eat vegetables.

Here are 11 strategies—from real parents—for keeping your cool.

  • "I have a system—two vegetables, one fruit, one piece of dried fruit, and something savory—and I lack the inclination or creativity before my first cup of coffee to vary from this."  —Deb Perelman 

  • "If we're trying out something new, I'll tell Toby it's a special recipe, even if it's a stretch (like, 'Grandma's Special Broccoli' or 'Cheesy Quesadillas Just Like We Had at that Taco Place in San Francisco!!!') to get him more excited about eating it. For us, thankfully, it has worked like a charm." —Joanna Goddard

  • Turn kids' lunch intro a meal for yourself: "One of the best things is that the brown rice and beans I pack for their lunch makes a fantastic breakfast for me. I fry an egg and place it right on top drizzled with a little Sriracha. And everybody wins." —Karen Thornton

  • "We try to make something for them that we ourselves would like to eat, hoping that this will make them adventurous eaters along the way." —Nadine Redzepi
  • "We settle on one thing and she eats it for months until she gets bored. Then we find something else." —Melissa Clark

  • "Allowing our daughter to be involved—or to even make her own lunch—results in more food eaten/less wasted." —Sarah Carey

  • "I've kind of given up on making him try new things all the time, and instead just try to cover the bases and give him things I know he likes. A key part of my lunchbox strategy is to load him up on protein." —Carla Lalli Music

  • "Asking her for ideas always helps because then I feel she is more open to trying new flavors. I would be lying if I said that she always comes home with an empty lunchbox, but mostly, we get thumbs up." —Prerna Singh

  • "There is no homemade Pirate's Booty, Goldfish crackers, or pretzels in this house. Those experts live at BJ’s, in bulk, and make my life easier." —Kelsey Banfield

  • "When feeding my son, I make sure to include a grain or whole-grain pasta, a protein like legumes or avocado, and some fruit. (My husband and I make big batches of grains and beans at the beginning of the week, roasting sweet potatoes in fall and winter.)" —Christine Muhlke

  • "My overriding lunch-packing philosophy can be summed up in one word: leftovers. Whatever is in the fridge from a previous meal is now an option for a portable lunch." —Katie Workman

Photos by Deb Perelman, Yossy Arefi, Carla Lalli Music, and Prerna Singh

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Monica Bhagwan
    Monica Bhagwan
  • Frederique Matteau L.
    Frederique Matteau L.
  • Kelly Feeney
    Kelly Feeney
  • Jenni
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Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.


Monica B. September 14, 2017
Big hits at my house: thermos of black beans and tortilla chips; Trader Joes Spanikopita; dumplings; bell peppers with some whipped cream cheese for dipping; baked tofu with noodles or rice; brown rice and nori rolls; edamame: defrosted then sauteed with spices, garlic powder, soy sauce and lime/lemon juice;
Frederique M. September 13, 2017
I always have baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and cukes in the house as well as hummus. I also have either ham or proscuitto, as well as gold fish crackers, ryvita and mini pitas. I always have yogourt and cheese, as well as edamamé in the freezer and tons and tons of different fresh fruit and In a bind, banana chips. With that ALWAYS on hand, there is no way I can't make a lunch at 8pm drained and tired. I put a grain, a protein, a fruit and some veg. Endless variations of lunches such as peaches with proscuitto, hummus and cukes and tomatoes and ryvita with a lil butter go off with my 7yrs old to the peanut free no chips/cookies/chocolate allowed grade school. With the bentology containers, there is no excuse, each food group has its colorful container and makes the whole thing adorable to eat. My daughter loves the "antipasti" type of lunch MUCH more than sandwiches, and they take 5mins to make!
Kelly F. September 13, 2017
Problem: Leftover greens smell bad, leftover broccoli smells bad, hardboiled eggs also. Even when they are kept very cold. When you are at home, this is not so much of a problem. But at school these smells elicit unwanted notice from her classmates. I hate the smell, too. Are we in the minority?
Frederique M. September 13, 2017
I've never had any issues sending her with boiled eggs and cold broccoli. Though my daughter is a huge fan of cherry tomatoes and cucumber rings dipped in hummus. She has them EVERY DAY. Do you have them in tupperware in an insulated lunch box with an ice pack?
Jenni September 13, 2017
I pack my daughter's lunch. If I was a smarter mother, I'd do it the night before (but I'm just too darned tired). We are both gluten free. I don't pack her PB&J (due to school allergies). I chop veggies and fruits (I guess I could teach her how to cut peaches and plums off the pits). I guess she'd pack a good lunch. Fruit snacks, fruit, and pineapple juice. *eye roll*
AntoniaJames August 28, 2015
I totally embrace this alternate approach from Katie Workman -- and I quote: “Perhaps you should pack your own lunch.” I would really like to understand why so many parents pack lunches for their children who are older than 7 or 8 (assuming no legitimate developmental issues, of course). ;o)