Getting creative with homemade packed lunches

I can hardly believe it, but school is right around the corner, and in fact, some have already rounded that corner! With school days on the horizon, chances are packing regular lunches is one of the forthcoming “chores” of running a home that can get mundane.

It may be still summer break for my family, but I find myself packing lunches for the kids and myself at least a few times a week for all of our outings to the pool, beach, botanical gardens and more.

Whether it’s for school or a family outing, I tend to get stuck in a rut– packing PB & Js in a standard lunch more often than I like.

In case you’re fighting the same fight, I wanted to offer some creative ways to change things up in the packed lunch department. It’s time to think outside the lunchbox (sorry, couldn’t help it with that one) and get some fun and healthy variety in our packed lunches.

New standards

If you’re looking for something creative to take the place of the sandwich, here are a few ideas:

  • veggies and and a little container of hummus dip
  • a sandwich roll, sliced and laid in a container on their side (see photo above for our latest creation, made on rectangular lavash “bread”)– we call this “sandwich sushi” 
  • a “bowl” (container with a lid) of PB (or other nut/seed butter) and jelly, served with whole wheat crackers or a rice cake
  • good quality cheese cubes, cut up nitrate-free meat and crackers for a homemade version of icky processed Lunchables

Be sure to check out Aimee’s guest post over at Simple Mom with some great out-of-the-ordinary lunch ideas. My favorite was the frozen smoothie idea– check the post for details.

Photo by Muffin Tin Mom

Muffin tin lunches

My friend Michelle writes a super cute blog called Muffin Tin Mom where she shares all sorts of cute ways to use muffin tins and cups for lunch. One thing I love to do in my daughter’s lunch is to place a few flower-shaped silicone muffin liners/cups in a larger container, with a small item in each flower.

Not only do muffin cups separate the food nicely, they also are flexible enough to fit well into a larger container and they look cute, too. 

On her blog, Michelle has lots of ideas for themed meals which would be really fun in a packed lunch. My daughter would get a kick out of a color-themed meal, and she loves it when I cut her sandwiches in cute shapes with a cookie cutter (isn’t that the mom life, eating the leftover edges of a kid’s sandwich?).

Don’t forget a note from mom!

Packing a lunch for a child is the perfect opportunity to send a little extra love your kid’s direction. I love sending little notes in my daughter’s lunch; since she can’t read yet, I often just send a doodle I drew for her or a simple message.

If you want to get über-cute, choose any of these sweet printables I found with a simple Pinterest search.

But there’s something about a hand-written, hand-drawn note, too. I read somewhere once (probably on a blog, although I forgot where) about the idea to keep a stash of notes in a jar in the kitchen. Kids will be excited to see a familiar note or drawing, and that makes lunch-packing simpler, too.

As long as the notes come home in decent condition, I save them in my jar to use again another day. When Gigi can read, I’ll probably change them up more but for now, rotating through them works great!

Are you feeling daunted by the thought of packing lunches for school or family outings? What are your go-to creative elements that you serve to keep things fresh?


Nicole lives near the beach in Southern California with her husband and three young kiddos. She writes a a lifestyle blog about creativity, family life, community, and all sorts of other fun stuff, and also keeps a homeschool journal called The Bennettar Academy. Her most recent (free!) ebook is about why and how to make more time for reading.

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  1. Martin Jones says:

    The sandwich sushi looks great! Will definitely have to try that one out, and no crusts to cut off or be left in the lunch box either – perfect!

    kids island

  2. Great ideas! Where do you find the silicone liners/cups?

  3. I love the notes. My mom packed a lunch for me all through high school, and always wrote me a note. Now my husband often packs a lunch for me and always leaves a note in my lunchbox. I have a box completely stuffed full of them that is fun to go through and read as a reminder of how much they each love me.

  4. Do your kids really eat all the veggies in those sandwich sushi rolls?? I’m impressed! 🙂

  5. honored for the mention! thank you. 🙂

  6. I am so boring, a sandwich every day… I need to branch out, great ideas.

  7. GREAT ideas! I struggle so much with new healthy ideas to make for my boys’ lunches. I love the sandwich sushi best! Thanks and have a great day! Claire

  8. Hi, I love the lunch packing ideas. I wanted to tell you and your readers about my site where I post free, printable lunch notes every day, Jokes, fun facts, poems, etc. – please take a look.

  9. I love all these ideas, but when it comes down to it, my older son wants nothing but peanut butter and jelly every day. For a while, I was pushing him to try new things, but then I realized that we’re ALL happier when I pack something he’s certain to eat. A little comfort food in the middle of his day… now I’ll just have to add a note or drawing to surprise him!

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