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Back to School: 10 tips to avoid the lunchbox rut

Back to School: 10 tips to avoid the lunchbox rut

lunchbox Caroline The Lunchbox Lady founded Lunchbox World back in 2009, and she’s our guru for all things lunchbox. Here, she reveals how to get past the ham-sandwich blues and do something fun for your children’s lunches with lunchbox ideas and strategies.

Back to school is a time of mixed emotions: the excitement of starting school for the first time or seeing old classmates again, maybe being mixed up into different classes, coupled with new beginnings and new teachers alongside the yawn of same old same old. 

It’s all too easy to fall into the lunchbox rut alongside everything else. Here are some easy tips to follow:

How to avoid the lunchbox rut

1. Don’t pack too much 

Too much in the lunch box and you will overwhelm them.

2. Keep it simple, keep it easy to eat

If they are young, make fairy bites or finger food. It helps children eat it quicker and more easily. Psychologically it seems to work. If it’s apple, cut up into pieces (Keep it from browning by putting a few drops of lemon juice in the snack box/bag), if it’s a sandwich cut it into halves or fourths.

3. Kids have limited time, before they are encouraged to go out and play

Make sure the boxes are easy to open. If the lunchbox is too difficult for small fingers to manipulate, it’ll act like a barrier. And with little Johnny or Louise saying “come and play!” they’ll be all too keen to just up and off outside with very little in their tummy. We don’t want them coming home hungry or, even worse, hangry.

4. Kids eat with their eyes first

Try to set aside time to think about presentationIf: If it looks pretty and there are lots of different textures, they’ll be more likely to eat it.

Think what goes together visually, colour wise and texture. There are a great range of compartment lunchboxes out there, so do take a look. Compartment lunchboxes have many different sections to compartmentalise the food. So instead of putting sandwiches together, you could de-construct it, put all the elements in the lunchbox, but leave it for the child to assemble. That way they think they’re in control!

Kids love dips and chopped up veg. Well mine do anyway! They love that crunch from carrots and celery or breadsticks. And dipping it in a healthy dip is a bit like chips into ketchup (although it isn’t!)


5. Pack a balanced lunchbox

Try and make sure the lunch covers the essential elements for a balanced meal: protein, carbohydrates, dairy, one piece of fruit and veg, water or something to drink.

6. Try not to worry too much

This is just one meal out of three in the day. When they are at school, you are handing over control of your child, and increasingly so as they get older. All you can do is do your best with what you put together in the lunchbox, but ultimately it is down to the child as to what they actually put in their mouths from the packed lunch you provide.

So in addition, try and be sure to give them a good breakfast before they head off to school and a healthy snack when home from school, finished off with a good dinner to round of the day. That way you know they have topped and tailed the day well!

7. Pack a smaller lunch first and if necessary increase the size

Obviously you have to use your best judgment for how much to pack, but do remember the size of their tummy and not to over-pack the lunchbox. Older children are more likely to use up more energy running around at break times, so may need a larger lunch than perhaps a child in reception. You know your child best, but at first, if they are new to school, don’t over pack, it is a big adjustment for them, and the last thing they need is the big pressure of a big lunch to wade through, when all they want to do is play with their friends!

8. It’s all about balance

We are often asked how to transport milk to school and how to keep it fresh. For us, we have milk at breakfast and then a milkshake or smoothie when they come home from school. Mine prefer milk to be ice cold. You have to do what works best for you and your child, so as mine have so much milk throughout the day, I do not worry about milk at lunch. They have water instead. Be sure to pack in an insulated lunch bag with icepack to keep the milk chilled. You could partially freeze the milk, or send in a frozen yoghurt tube. This should be defrosted by lunch time.

Now for treats, we always put in a special treat on Friday to mark the end of the week. So when Friday comes it’s FUN FRIDAY for us. But a treat is only a treat if it is occasionally given. It’s all about the balance.

9. Swap foods in and out

Variety will help you avoid the lunchbox rut. Swap foods in and mix it up. Mine love a tortilla with melted cheese, tomato and ham. Kind of like a pizza. It’s just a spin on a ham and cheese sandwich really but with a difference. So think of pitta, muffins, wraps, rolls. There are so many bread alternatives. All different shapes and sizes to help make it FUN! And remember you can freeze all of these so have a constant fresh supply of bread alternatives

10. PLAN PLAN and PLAN some more!

Finally you have to PLAN! For me it is all in the planning. If I haven’t planned the lunches, the lunchbox rut re-appears. I find myself slipping back into familiar well tested lunchbox ideas, and unfortunately the yawn factor returns.

Keep a fresh supply of celery, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, a variety of fruit, (grapes, blueberries, apples, strawberries – whatever is in season) that can be chopped up or mixed for a splash of colour, to give them those options.

If you’ve some top tips to share to avoid lunchbox fatique, please comment and let us know.

We love hearing from you!

Caroline Job

The Lunchbox Lady x

Caroline The Lunchbox Lady founded Lunchbox World back in 2009, following an online search for a washable lunch bag for her three school-aged kids. She can be found tweeting @lunchboxworld or on her Lunchbox World Facebook page, and she runs a growing community Let’s Pack Lunch Her main website is and her blog is


More lunchbox and fun food ideas

45 kids’ meal ideas to mix up your menu

Sweet and savoury muffins for easy snacks

Back to school treats and snacks

Our favourite picnic lunch for a journey

Meal ideas to jazz up your lunchbox




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Arfa Moore

Thursday 24th of January 2019

I use insulated lunch bags for my kids.! This insulated bag beneficial to prevent the loss of heat of the food. I agree that, All you can do is do your best with what you put together in the lunch box. Keep Sharing..!! Visit:

Capture by Lucy

Sunday 15th of September 2013

Great tips! I am a huge fan of the principle of Bento to help get your children trying new tastes and expanding their palettes. I blog about it as part of my Bento Babies series, great to find your blog. Best wishes Lucy

Caroline Job (@lunchboxworld)

Monday 30th of September 2013

I hope the tips help. I will definitely look up your Bento Babies series. Thanks! x

Jennifer Howze

Monday 9th of September 2013

Love these tips. My daughter now gets a school lunch but for years I packed one. It took me ages before I realised how much better lots of little cut-up bites were rather than a big sandwich, an entire apple, etc.

Caroline aka the Lunchbox Lady @lunchboxworld

Thursday 12th of September 2013

My 15 year old still loves it in bite sizes! Makes it alot easier for them to eat, and if it's easy they are more likely to eat it! It's all in the psychology really. If it looks good and colourful, they are more likely to eat it too! I thought I had replied the other day but my reply seems to have vanished. So here it is again! Thanks for the comment x

Caroline Job (@lunchboxworld)

Monday 9th of September 2013

Hi Jen I totally agree! With a packed lunch, it has to be easy to eat - so if there are lots of fairy bites, I think psychologically for the kids they are more likely to just pop the bites in their mouths and before they know it, the lunch is gone. If it's big sandwiches, not cut up, it can end up overwhelming them! I say: Make everything as easy as possible for the kids to do what you want! x

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