Lunch Box Ideas as Children Head Back to School

Elizabeth McMullen by Elizabeth McMullen

Aug. 1, 2023

Elizabeth McMullen by Elizabeth McMullen

It may not seem like it, but school will soon be back in session. Before you fret about what to pack in your little one’s lunch, let us save you time and reduce your stress by sharing ideas about how to jazz up school lunches! 

There are so many school lunch options but in the end it comes down to this, pack food that your children like and that you feel good about.

First, let’s answer common questions about packing school lunches.

How to Keep Milk Cold Until Lunchtime

We recommend keeping your milk, Stringles® string cheese and other perishable treats chilled (ideally, under 40 F) and ready for munching.

Let's dive into how to pack milk for a child's lunch. You can keep cold milk in a thermos for two to six hours without it spoiling, assuming it stays under that temp.

Keep the thermos in the freezer until you pour the milk into it to ensure the thermos stays as cold as possible. But if you’re afraid of it spoiling, we recommend packing chocolate or white single-serve organic milk boxes. Organic Valley shelf-stable milk is exactly that — shelf stable.

Combined with ultra-pasteurization and shelf-stable packaging, this milk can be stored unopened for up to 180 days without refrigeration or preservatives. Although many people prefer their milk chilled, it is safe to consume even if it hasn't been in a cooler all day.

A girl holds a stick of Stringles string cheese and she sits on a school bus.

How to Pack a School Lunch

Gone are the days of throwaway paper lunch bags (phew!). The U.S. Department of Agriculture and suggest using an insulated lunch bag and at least two ice packs to ensure the contents stay cold. Here are tips to help keep everything cold:

  • Keep the ice packs in the freezer until morning. 
  • Pack lunch the night before and stick the entire lunch bag in the refrigerator. When packing a lunch in the morning, place the ice packs on the top and bottom of the perishable items. For example, place the ice pack at the bottom of the bag, then the sandwich and veggies, and put the ice pack on top of that.
  • Some whole fruits like unpeeled bananas and apples, and chips, bread, crackers, PB&J and pickles do not need to be refrigerated and can be put on top of the ice pack in the lunch box or bag. 
  • To keep bread from getting squished, use a small bento box. Or use a bento box with several compartments to separate food and keep an eye on portion size. Be sure to read product descriptions and reviews to ensure your bento lunch box does not leak before packing sauces or things like cottage cheese. And don't worry, there are numerous eco-friendly lunch boxes on the market these days.
  • You can freeze a yogurt tube and juice box the night before to keep the contents cold. The tube and juice box will thaw while the children are busy learning and making friends. When they head to the lunchroom, they will have chilled yogurt and juice. 
A bento box with fruits, veggies, turkey slices and string cheese.

A bento box of goodies for school lunch.

Healthy Choices for School Lunches

  • Make easy deli roll-ups with four simple ingredients: Organic Valley Roast Turkey Breast (or deli meat of their liking), cream cheese, spinach and a flour tortilla. Spread the cream cheese on the flour tortilla, add the turkey and spinach, roll it up and cut it into 1-inch pinwheels. Pack it up with apple slices and Stringles.
  • Make this easy quesadilla the night before with Organic Valley Thick Cut Shredded Mexican Cheese and a good flour tortilla. Add red peppers or other veggies your kiddo likes. Baby tomatoes sliced in half and cucumber rounds are good choices. Cut into triangles and pack with dipping sauces like guacamole or salsa.  
  • Finally, let’s go with a tried and true: a cheese sandwich made with our American Cheese Slices. Add lettuce or other organic vegetables and you have a delicious lunchtime favorite. Use a cookie cutter to make fun shapes. I’ve been told by my source (my 6-year-old goddaughter) that you can’t go wrong with cheese and bread.
  • An organic clementine, blueberries or other organic fruit and Good Health® Organic Baked Puffs are a great addition to any lunch. Organic hard-boiled eggs, hummus with cucumbers, and ants on a log (spread peanut butter or Organic Valley Cream Cheese on a piece of celery and put raisins on top) are also good children's lunch options. 
  • Pack a piece of dark chocolate or a marshmallow as a sweet little treat to get them through the afternoon.
A woman and girl prep lettuce for sandwiches.

Let your children help pack their lunches. Not only is it good together time with their parents, they will surely let you know their likes and dislikes that particular day (this may keep them from swapping food with their lunchtime companions, too!).

Other tips to make lunch fun:

  • Pack an eco-friendly crazy straw (another request from my goddaughter). 
  • Pack a little note for them to find when they lift their sandwich. 
  • Draw a face on the string cheese wrapper.
  • Pack chocolate milk instead of white milk (also a request from my goddaughter). 
  • Pack a reusable napkin (and remind them to use it instead of their shirtsleeve for wiping their hands). 

Now, you should be set to pack your child’s lunch in style and start the school year off right! 

Elizabeth McMullen works in public relations at Organic Valley. McMullen lives near the Mississippi River in the beautiful Driftless region of Wisconsin. A self-proclaimed cow lover, she enjoys reading, being on the river and spending time with her family.