Lunchbox Ideas and Inspiration

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Need to pack a lunch? Make every day delicious with these lunchbox ideas that won’t break the budget, but will still help you eat well.

glass divided box with apples, celery, egg, cheese, and crackers

DIY Protein Bistro Box

It may be years since you went to school but you’re never too old to brown bag it. In fact, I’d argue that packing a meal to go is probably one of the smartest things you can do, whether it’s for your kids, you, or your spouse.

Not only do you save money packing a lunch but you also get to control the ingredients and have food at the ready — whenever you want, wherever you are.

Packing a lunch is good for kids heading off to school, adults going to work, parents and homeschool students staying home for the day, and basically anyone who’s going to be away from home during meal times. Whether home or away, a packed lunch saves you time and makes sure you eat healthfully and cheaply.

Consider these lunchbox ideas to make your brown-bagging easier!

four black lunch boxes with different meals packed in them

How to Make a Week of Lunches & Save Money

Lunchbox Ideas and Inspiration

1. Find easy packaging.

Having the right packaging will make your lunch-packing so much easier! Keep an ample stock on hand so that you have what you need when you need it.

Here are some favorites:

2. Serve what you know they like.

We all want our families to eat healthfully and all that. But, truly, lunchtime is not the time to have food battles, er, I mean to improve your family’s food choices. Save that for dinner when the meal can be consumed at a more leisurely pace and food choices can be discussed.

If your kids eat away from home at lunchtime, chances are that “healthy” lunch they don’t like is going to waste anyway. Why waste good food and money?

I’m not saying you throw all caution to the wind and pack a box full of crappy, junk food. Instead, focus on the healthy options you know your family enjoys. You can both win, truly.

stack of double chocolate cookies on a white tray

Double Chocolate Toffee Cookies

3. Include a special treat.

You know this is true for you, too. Admit it. Having a little sweet just adds a perk to the day.

Whether you add a fun juice box, a commercially packaged treat, or bake a batch of favorite homemade cookies, a little “lunch dessert” can show them you care.

4. Divide a larger package into smaller ones.

It’s certainly convenient to buy pre-packaged foods from the “lunchbox aisle” of the grocery store. However, this isn’t your most budget-friendly option.

When shopping, be sure to check the unit price of items. If the individually packaged foods are offered on a great deal, by all means, stock up. If not, buy the larger package and divide it into smaller containers. This can be done with chips, pretzels, crackers, cheese slices and sticks, yogurt, and desserts.

The little extra effort you make can make a big difference to the final bill.

5. Try recreating commercial favorites at home.

Consider what food items, whether grocery store convenience or fancy take-out dishes, your family likes and recreate these at home. You can very easily make these higher priced lunch items yourself at home — for less.

banner for mom's kitchen survival workshop

6. Level up your meal planning and prep.

Need a little extra motivation to get on your meal planning game? Want to make lunch packing less of a drag? Creating a kitchen survival kit to help you WIN in the kitchen this school year.

I’d love for you to join me for the next Mom’s Kitchen Survival Workshop!

Together, we’ll create a plan to help you get dinner on the table every night, fill your freezer with wholesome snacks and breakfasts, finesse your lunch-packing skills, and even make sure you get a daily dose of MOM food.

Register now:

Fill your bag of tricks with Lunchbox Ideas all year long.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Ryann says

    I bought 6 of these Ziploc containers at the beginning of the summer and have been using them non stop! I’m a SAHM to one 3 year old girl who has severe feeding issues. I love these containers because I can essentially put an entire meal together for her and serve it right in this container. AND, the contents stay separated! Pudding, applesauce, cottage cheese, yogurt, dips… she does really well with these types of foods, so I LOVE these containers. Plus, since it’s usually just the two of us during the day for outings, I can stack two of these in our smallest cooler with ice packs in between and away we go! Thanks for sharing. And for those who are looking for these, keep your eyes peeled for coupons!

  2. Leigh says

    I love these containers. My daughter picked up a new lunchbag for school and I was concerned it didn’t have a hard liner inside. I was afraid her sandwiches, etc. would be squished after being thrown in with all her classmates lunchboxes. We spotted these containers and decided to give them a try. They fit in her lunchbag and hold everything she needs without a separate plastic bag or container for each item. Yeah!

  3. I had no idea that Ziploc made these type of containers! I am definitely going to have to look for them next time I am at the store. Awesome that they will hold “wet” foods without leaking and they are probably a lot cheaper than the similar options available online. Thanks for the great tips!

  4. Great post…I’m usually all about saving money, but you are SO right on #4. Sometimes it’s worth a bit more money to save yourself some time!

  5. Kerry D. says

    I think we’ll hunt for those containers too!

    So far this school year, my 16 year old daughter has asked for soup (despite end of summer!) so we’re cooking a big pot on Sunday, heating a bowl in the morning in the microwave, and packing it in a wide mouth small container… Dollar Tree had these and they appear to be identical to the $13 version at Target with the Thermos label…

  6. I agree, sometimes I have to give in and try not to beat myself up that I don’t have time to make *everything* from scratch.

  7. As I’ve mentioned a few times by now, I was homeschooled K-12 grade back in the dark ages of homeschooling. 🙂 Every day I sat in our front kitchen bay window and watched the kids on our street walk to school with their backpacks and lunch boxes and oh how I wanted both! My mom gave me a backpack from L.L.Bean when I was 8 (I still have it and was using it as recently as our family vacation last month!), and I had a PacMan metal lunch box with thermos (that should date me) when I was in Kindergarten. It meant the world to me when she would pack my lunch – even if I was simply walking from the kitchen to our dining room to eat it. I love all of these ideas and am certainly filing them away for later if we ever have kids. Good stuff! And Happy New School Year!! 🙂

  8. I posted a link to an old post of mine that I wrote about school lunch and broke out the costs of lunch for my child versus buying at school.

  9. Great tips! I just added my chicken pasta salad to the linky. 2 of my kids would take that to lunch quite often. It’s one of their favorites! I homeschool them now but we still pack it for picnics and make it often, thanks!

  10. If you think about a cost-cutter, think about how you can avoid prepacked things (ie small bags of crackers) or bagging your sandwiches. My kindergartener packs her own lunch this morning and has cloth sandwich wraps that she loves. And she doesn’t have to worry about trying to cram it into a plastic bag!

  11. Anne says

    I *think* my post disappeared into cyberspace – sorry if I’m double-commenting!

    I posted a link to the first in my 6pt series called “What’s in YOUR Lunchbox?” Going to be finishing it up with a couple more posts but in the meantime I have Saving Time and Effort, Saving Money, Saving Nutrition, Is it Empty? and Let’s Get Creative Pt 1. Pt 2 hopefully being posted today.

    Thanks for the great ideas!

  12. gina says

    You are such a cool mom! These are a great idea and my children would think these are fun! Thanks for sharing….

  13. Beth says

    This is so timely for me as I’ve been rethinking my lunch strategy. It’s only me and two boys but lunch is the meal that stressed me out the most. The 4 y/o wants to “help” and the 15 month old can’t eat all table foods yet due to lack of teeth. I’m trying to lose weight and mac n cheese or PB sandwiches are not a good idea. So I’m always fixing three separate lunches which is a pain and drags out the lunch hour. School starts next week and this has to change!

    Thanks for the ideas!

  14. Dana says

    These containers are great. I pack my husbands lunch in them and if we are out and about I will pack snacks for my 1 yr old. But I never thought to pack our lunch for at home. Thanks for the idea!

    Btw if you have a Meijer near by the are on sale for 2/$4 and they have a $1.50/2 coupon on Meal Box and you can combine with the manf coupon $1.50/2. So you can get 2 packs for $1! I will be stocking up for sure!

  15. Love the idea of this! That would even be awesome to do during the summer and the kids could just take them outside and eat if they wanted to.

    Thanks for such great tips!
    God bless,

  16. I would love more details about how you fit the containers in the dishwasher! How often do you have to run yours? I often hand-wash stuff like that because it seems like it takes up so much room in there! What’s your secret?! 🙂

    • Jessica Fisher says

      @Tammy L, we run the dishwasher 2-3 times a day! So, I make sure these get top priority in the noon run so that they’re ready to be packed in the evening (when the dinner load is running). I avoid handwashing like the plague, but these would be easy to wash, so I guess I should give it a try. 😉

      As for fitting in the dishwasher, it’s a tight squeeze with six containers, but I just make it work.

  17. Kelly says

    My kids also enjoy a special treat in their lunches. I always include one. Occasionally it is something like your granola bars or store-bought cookies. My kids think that is awesome because I rarely buy stuff like that. I like to bake homemade treats and freeze them for the lunchboxes. Sounds like a theme for a future freezer cooking days, imho! 😉

  18. Tiffany says

    i LOVE LOVE LOVE this idea!! This will be my first year schooling 2 out of my 3 girls, so this extra help in the middle of an already full day will be awesome!!

    Going into my 3rd year of homeschooling I look back over the last 2 years & see just how God has showed me new things to make this way of living easier. This is one of them!! I WANT to be that Mom that only focuses on her children & does’nt get caught up in the details…this is one step closer!! Thanks FishMama! you rock my sox!

  19. Tracy says

    On the bread, do you happen to have any bread factories in the area where you live? We have one that is thankfully only a few miles from our house. They have a retail store where I am able to buy loaves of bread for $.50 to $.95/loaf, which is pretty much as cheaply as I can make it. Plus they give the kids free hard rolls when we go in there, so the kids love it!

    And now I am going to have to go find those containers. We go through tons of baggies with my older kids taking lunch to school.

  20. I’m with you on making big pots of soup and chili and freezing in portion sized containers. I’ve been researching containers, but they are all so expensive. I want them all excactly the same so they stack nicely in the freezer. Will probably end up using my swagbucks 🙂

    Thanks for the tips!

    • vikki says

      @Dana @ The Coupon Challenge,
      I bought a bunch of the rubbermade disposibles with the twist on lids. They work wonderfully in the freezer. I’ve been using them for several years now. I have both the small 1 cup and the larger 2 cup size. Perfect for things like soup, beans, chili and such.

    • vikki says

      @Dana @ The Coupon Challenge,
      Darn forget to add I got them at the dollar store for just a couple of dollars

  21. Lori F. says

    I couldn’t agree with you more about #2. My son is starting 1st grade next week and will be eating lunch in school for the first time. He is picky and doesn’t like sandwiches. I could make a big deal about this but I’m not. Right now, my priority is his adjustment to a full school day. This is not the time or place to take a stand about eating habits. That will happen in a month or two when I slowly introduce some new items. I made a batch of homemade pepperoni pizza rolls today that can be frozen and popped into his lunch box. His older brother and his dad will enjoy them too!

  22. Hi and thanks for hosting the recipe swap. School lunches for me were settled long ago when my kids actually bought lunch once and wanted to be sick! They love making and taking healthy lunches so I am very pleased with that. My link up today is not a recipe, but a way to learn all about real food and its a giveaway, so thats frugal too! Learning the basics of real food can help anyone make much healthier lunch meals. Thanks. Alex@amoderatelife

  23. i make lunches m-f for myself (grad school) & my husband (30 min lunch break at work) so i’ll def be using these tips! thanks 🙂

  24. vikki says

    We use the ziploc containers for lunches. We just normally make a bit more for dinner and then fill the containers before dinner. That way we have lunch packed and in the fridge early and no one has to remember them later. But we are feeding adults no kiddos.

    My favorite lunches are finger foods. I’ve always been drawn to them. Here are a couple of my favorites that most kids like too.

    1) Peanut butter dip ( peanut butter, honey and enough milk to thin a little), with a sliced granny smith and pretzels. I just dip away without worrying about a mess because the peanut butter is thick and doesn’t drip. Plenty of protein and I buy whole wheat pretzel twist.

    2) Pizza Dip put a quarter cup or so of your favorite pizza or spaghetti sauce in a small bowl. Serve with sweet pepper slices, cauliflower is pretty good too, but whatever veggies you or your kiddos like, string cheese sticks, and pepperoni chips. Simply place pepperoni (Turkey works just fine) slices between layers of paper toweling and microwave about a minute or until most of the grease is gone. The pepperoni will be crisp like chips. Small meatballs are also good and you can make up a batch yourself and know they are healthy. Then just dip away.

    3)Nacho dip- a small bowl of cheese sauce ( I make my own and add a bit of salsa too it) homemade tortilla chips ( baked in the oven)
    chicken strips or taco meat sticks ( I just add a bit of taco seasoning to my meatball recipe and roll into little logs instead of balls, easier to dip that way) and I like nearly any kind of veggie dipped in the cheese sauce so even without the meat/chicken it’s a filling lunch.

    Hope these give you a jumping off place to plan some of your families favorite dippers.

    • Jessica Fisher says

      @vikki, these are great ideas! Thanks for sharing!

  25. Brittany says

    Speaking of Bento Lunch Systems…I just came across this and thought I’d share:

    How adorable is that??

  26. Are you still serving sandwiches everyday? I know our Dollar Tree carries loaves of Nature’s Own bread for $1 each. That might help to offset the cost for your family.

    Also, what about wraps instead of sandwiched (if your kids will eat them). We’ve saved a ton of money by switching to homemade wraps instead of bread.

    • Jessica Fisher says

      Thanks for the tips! I appreciate that! So far, we’ve been eating leftovers or had the fridge too full to store packed lunches.

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