10 Tips for School Lunches

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By The Paula Deen Test Kitchen

Packing the right lunch not only will ensure better nutrition, but you’ll also be able to cater to your child’s likes and dislikes. Our tips will help you put some fun in your kids meal all the while encouraging them to eat a balanced school lunch, which means there’s a good chance they will actually eat this lunch instead of leaving it behind in the rush to meet their friends on the playground.

1. Invest in a Super Cool Lunch Box.  Let your kids choose their own lunch box, insulated bag or paper bag to express their personal style.  Cool parents know that kids age (11-12) prefer paper bags, while younger kids (6-10) prefer lunch boxes.

2. Keep it Simple.  Don’t get to fancy with lunch.  Chances are your child prefers simple foods.

3. Get Your Children Involved.  Let your child be in on the menu planning.  If your children help plan their own lunches with their favorites, they will be more likely to eat them.  Ask specific questions: Would you like a fruit salad in your lunch this week?  How many times? Take your children to the grocery store with you to shop for their lunch.  Have them make a shopping list with you that has all their favorite foods listed.

4. Make Sunday Prep Day.  Fill small plastic reusable containers with yogurt for dipping or berries.  Put them in the freezer and pull one out each day.  By the time lunchtime comes around, the yogurt and berries will be thawed but refreshingly cool.  Small plastic reusable containers can also be used for snacks such as pretzels, whole-wheat crackers, homemade trail mix and organic popcorn.  Fill enough on Sunday to pop into your child’s lunch box each day.

5. Make it Dip or Dunk.  Kids happily eat vegetables if they are cut up into bite size pieces and a tasty dressing, hummus, salsa or yogurt dip is provided with them.  Lunch becomes a party when there are dips!

6. Make it Bite Size.  Kids are likely to eat seasonal fruits at lunch if they are in bite sized pieces such as cherries, grapes, berries, melon balls and Clementine slices.  Also, making bite-sized and mini versions of regular foods, like whole grain sandwiches, work well for small appetites and are much likelier to be eaten.

7. Leftovers/Protein.  Heat up leftovers from last night’s dinner and put them in a thermos.  Most middle schools offer microwaves for children to heat up their lunches.  If your child helps cook his favorite dinner at night he/she is highly likely to enjoy it for lunch the next day.  Leftovers are a great way to get protein into your child’s lunch, which is the most important part of this mid day meal.  Other ways include: cheese sticks, grilled chicken and peanut butter.

8. Dependable Drinks.  Since many children’s beverages contain nearly as much sugar per ounce as soft drinks, putting the wrong drink into a daily lunch box can translate to an extra 3-5 pounds of weight on your child by the end of the school year.  Drinks should be either zero calorie or low calorie.  Suggestions are:  Water, low fat milk and 100% Juice Drinks (Note:  Freezing water and 100% Juice drinks will keep your child’s food chilled and be thawed by lunchtime)

9. Wipe it Clean.  Pack an antibacterial wet wipe so your child can clean their hands before and after eating.

10. Final Note.  Include notes and celebrate special days.  For example an all green lunch for St. Patrick’s Day or an all red lunch for Valentine’s Day. Include a fun game such as a backwards message or cryptogram for even more fun. A special note for good luck on a test or an “I love you” will always add a smile to your child’s day. 

Great Leftovers for School Lunch
The Lady and Sons Chicken Fingers
Baked Spaghetti
Paula’s Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich
Wayne’s Beef Macaroni and Cheese
Bobby’s Goulash
Chicken Boudine
Cheesiest Fried Chicken Empanadas with Chili Con Queso Dip

Read More From Holidays and Entertaining.

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Read More From Kid's Kitchen.

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Reader Comments:


I love your cook books, magazines and shows.

By Barbara Bills on August 26, 2012


Hi Terri, If you make that adjustment, you will also need to be sure to adjust the other leavening agents that the recipe calls for, as the self-rising flour already contains leavening agents.

By Jonathan Able on September 06, 2011


that looks so sweet,I wish my mom could make that for lunch.

By mikyla on August 29, 2011


I wish the middle school and high school offered microwaves for re heaqting foods but sadly here they do not. Just sub par food.

By Lori erickson on August 24, 2011


When a recipe calls for plain or all-purpose flour, can you use self-rising flour instead. Stupid question, but, i would like to know. THANKS!

By Terri H. on August 18, 2011


Hi, Paula, I received your best dishes get well card what a help it was in my healing, warmed my heart. I'm feeling like a person again. Thanks for being so giving. I am a cafeteria manager at a high school I feed 200 hungry teenagers during school year, I enjoy this job. I also bake my cinnamon rolls for the St. Louis Cardinal team. It would be a hoot if some day you could just show up in our little town. tell then, have fun in whatever adventure life takes you to. God blessings Catherine

By Catherine Gipson on August 16, 2011


Dear Paula, I love your article above it is very practical. Last year my twin daughters went to afternoon Pre-K so they needed a lunch. And I used a storage container from ziploc for their lunch that was amazing and would work with the meals you suggested above. (http://www.ziploc.com/Products/Pages/ContainersSmartSnapSeal.aspx?SizeName=Divided Rectangle) I am using them again this year when they go to all school kindergarten. I just wanted to pass this along. Love ya! Heather (boom-boom)

By Heather E Beers-Dimitriadis on August 16, 2011

I share this post, I love it.
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By Callaway iron on December 05, 2011

Dear Paula,

My daughter Emily is planning a Sunday afternoon wedding for July 24, 2011. She is trying to keep a budget and wants to have cute bag lunch picnic theme. Do you have “any” ideas for the bag lunch? So far we think we would like sweet potato chips and cup of fruit in it. The sandwich part is throwing us for a loop. She wants to serve lemonade & ice tea for the beverages.

Tammy Mohn

By Tammy on August 31, 2010

Dear Paula: Me & my two girls, as well as the granddaugters really enjoy your shows and your wonderful recipes. Your two boys just add a lot of fun to your shows too. You have always reminded us of our sweet Mema, who passed away in 2003, especially loving to cook and the way you love to joke around and laugh, even if it’s at yourself. We hope you and your crew will be around for a very long time.

By Maebelle Minick on September 12, 2009

Dear Paula
I brought my grand daughter your cookbook my first cookbook she just loves it she has made every recipe in the book now she is waiting for the new book for lunch box told her i would get it for her when it comes out. Thanks Paula for the books for the kids to enjoy
Georgia Lind on September 11 2009

By georgia lind on September 10, 2009

Dear Paula,
My 8 year old son and I made the chicken pot pie recipe together.  We got the recipe from the Paul Deen’s my first cookbook. It was delicious and so much fun to make!  Thank you so much for the delicious recipe!

By Susan Hueske on September 10, 2009

Dear Paula: Peace & Joy! When my sister and I were in Grade School(does this date me??) we sometimes took our lunches to school (and this was not often, as we could walk home for lunch). The most favorite sandwich was peanut butter and banana, but, not fried as in your delicious version!!! I am going to try this one and will let you know what I think. My taste buds and palate are so developed, I never know if I will like something or not.God Bless, Mary Ann

By Mary Ann Staples on September 10, 2009

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Paula, I love watching you and your family. I miss seeing your show, I watched you everyday. My son lives in Charleston S.C. He took me to the Lady & Sons to eat. Oh my goodness! People are always telling me that I look just like the cooking lady Paula Deen. I always tell them that you are my hero. May God Bless You Mary Ann
Mary Ann Tharp in A Summer of Burgers on August 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Add a few spoonfuls of parmesan cheese to the flour and cornmeal breading and it kicks the tomatoes up another notch. Bev
in Crispy Fried Green Tomatoes on August 15, 2014 at 10:33 am

I just bought Paula's Peach Salad Dressing and wondered if anyone has a good recipe that they use it in?
Melissa in Taste Testing 101 on August 13, 2014 at 8:36 am

Congrats Bobby. Loved the family picture miss you Paula on TV will be watching online. Jack is getting big. Looks like his mom but Matt aka moose has your face. Your eyes cheeks hair even falls to his face like yours except to the left. Good luck on your next venture. You give us other 60+ yr women strength to move on. Keep up the good work.
Carol Bryant in Love at Last on August 11, 2014 at 6:12 pm