Free Lunch Ideas Cheat Sheet: How to Help Your Kids Pack a School Lunch

As a mom, one of my biggest pet peeves is repeating myself. Yet, it happens. All. The. Time.

Things like – Kid: “What’s for dinner?” Me: “Same thing I said five minutes ago.”

Or ME: “for the last time, put away your shoes or I’m going to throw them away.”

Lunch list of foods to pack free printable for kids

That’s why I LOVE this lunch packing cheat sheet. Now when they ask “what do I put in my lunch?,” all you have to do is point at the fridge!

Aside from making parent life easier, teaching your kids to pack their lunches gives them independence and can help with healthy eating habits.

So first, check out these smart tips for helping kids pack themselves. Then, grab the free printable!

9 Best Tips for Packing Lunch Without the Fuss

After years of trial and error, these tips make lunch making even better!

1. Create a Lunch Station (Or Multiple Stations)

Set up a designated area in the kitchen that’s easy to reach and has all the necessary supplies. Think about lunch boxes, containers, utensils, napkins, etc.

back to school checklist for parents of elementary, high school, college, 6th, 7th, 8th grade


  • Mark a small basket in the pantry with snack and lunch items.
  • Make a drawer in your fridge for snacks and lunch items.
  • Designate a spot in your freezer for any pre-made lunch items they can toss in.

Make sure your kids know where to find these things! It takes a little set up at the beginning, but makes everything so much easier.

2. Set a Clear Goal

In my home, my kids take lunch three times a week. Does this always happen? Nope. Some weeks they’re off school, we’re tired, or other things pop up.

But we are WAY more consistent by having a number that the kids try to hit.

Maybe for you, your kids will take lunch every day. Or once a week. Either way, set the expectations now so that everyone is on the same page.

3. Stock Healthy Options

To ensure your kids eat healthy, keep a variety of whole foods within reach. Make sure they have veggies, fruits, and proteins to choose from.

4. Prep in Advance

Pre-wash and cut fruits and vegetables, portion out snacks, and cook proteins ahead of time. This will make it easier for kids to grab and pack their food.

This is something I like to do on Sundays while prepping a few dinner items for the week. It’s often quick, helps us eat healthier, and saves time during the week.

5. Set Up a Routine

Establish a regular time for packing lunches, such as the night before or after they brush teeth in the morning. Consistency helps build the habit.

daily morning routine checklist for kids

You can also build it into your morning checklist >>

6. Supervise & Help for a While

Your kids are going to mess up and be confused at the beginning. (And let’s face it, they’ll probably try to sneak in some extra junk food too.)

Assist and supervise the first few times to ensure they understand what to do. Gradually give them more independence as you both become more confident.

7. Use the Carrot or the Stick for Motivation

Everyone is about positive reinforcement these days. And simple praise can go a long ways. You can also give reward coupons or extra screen time when they take a certain number of cold lunches.

But for kids with zero motivation, like my middle schooler, you may need a consequence. When my son buys extra lunches at school (instead of bringing), he has to pay for them himself. This ensures that he’s not buying tons of junk food in the cafeteria. Plus, he still gets to make the choice.

8. Teach Portion Sizes

One of the things I love about Bento boxes is that they keep portion sizes decent. If you aren’t using a lunch box with spots for food, show your kids the appropriate portion sizes for each food group.

9. Try a Rotating Menu Plan

If your kids are going to take cold lunch often, work out some variety in lunches ahead of time. Perhaps they take sandwiches Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the other days are for more exciting options they’ll look forward to.

Free Printable Lunch Items Cheat Sheet

Grab the school lunch ideas pdf below!

lunch packing list and tips, school lunch box ideas list free printable

Note: I didn’t put a lot of treats on the printable because I don’t like the idea of making sugary stuff an expectation. If you want, you can add them into your own on the blank printable option below.

blank lunch packing list, healthy foods to pack for kids lunches

Want a blank copy to customize your own? I’ve got you covered! Sign up below and you’ll get both sent straight to your inbox – along with the awesome newsletter full of things like this!

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Best Healthy School Lunch Ideas Printable & Tips

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