6 Lunchbox Packing Tips for Efficient School Lunches + Delicious Recipes


When it comes to lunchtime, we want to ensure our kids are well fed and fueled for a day of learning. One way we can do that includes creating clever lunchboxes, filled with foods they’ll enjoy eating AND and making. And why not simultaneously make lunchtime easier on their hardworking teachers while we’re at it!

Need some ideas? Authors Marnie Hanel and Jen Stevenson have got us covered with tips to help both your kiddos and their teachers! They gave us a sneak peek inside their new book, Lunchbox: So Easy, So Delicious, So Much Fun to Eat, which is filled with tips, inspo, and recipes for lunches your kids will love. Find their tips, plus a few bonus recipes (including an easy cookie recipe using our OhMyMega Veggie! blend) below.

Teacher’s Helper: Lunch-Packing Tips

1. Open Source

Before sending yogurt tubes, applesauce packs, energy bars, or snack bags to school, see if your kid can open them independently. If not, open the packaging at home and transfer the goods to the lunchbox.

You can prepare your Once Upon a Farm pouch at home by opening the pouch and replacing the cap with an easy-to-open pouch top (such as the ChooMe Soft Sip Food Pouch top) and then packing it in an insulated bag.

2. Saved by the Bell

Lunchtime might be much earlier than you’d expect, particularly at a big school where the cafeteria is in constant rotation, so someone’s gotta eat at 10:45 a.m. Consider how much time there is between the arrival bell and mealtime when packing foods, like frozen sandwiches you hope will thaw before lunch but may not. And, if allowed, pack snacks for later in the day.

3. Awww, Nuts

PB + J is now A-OK at many schools, but if yours is a nut- (or other allergen-) free zone, remind yourself to follow the rules by stashing forbidden foods, like peanut butter, on high shelves and devoting one pantry shelf to lunch supplies.

P.s. Scroll down for a yummy, homemade nut-butter alternative!

4. Calling Fives

Lunchtime goes by fast. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids get at least twenty minutes to eat. That’s quick, especially given how long it takes to find a seat/peer into other kids’ lunchboxes/drop the fork your grown-up thoughtfully provided and get another one, etc.)

If you’re noticing the lion’s share of lunch coming back in the box, ask your kid if that’s because they ran out of time. If the answer is yes, select foods that can be eaten quicker (i.e., sandwich, not soup; almonds, not pistachios in the shell) and troubleshoot some of the likely culprits of lunch time-wasting: chatting, going to the bathroom, meandering to/from the water fountain, forgetting their lunchbox. For kids who are just slow eaters, consider packing a protein-rich smoothie; they might be faster sippers.

5. No Messing

Certain foods—spaghetti and meatballs, pho, ramen—are tough to keep tidy. (We happen to know three boys who eat these foods with their shirts off and go directly into the bathtub after.) Unless you have a fastidious foodie, save foods that are likely to spill or splatter for home.

6. Hunger Games

Tummy rumbles can distract anyone from concentrating. Set up learning success by making sure your kid eats breakfast or another snack close to schooltime, brings a protein-packed lunch, and (if allowed) has a snack stashed for the afternoon.

Nut-Butter Alternative: Cinnamon Maple Sunflower Butter

When it comes time to try a peanut-free spread, whether for reasons of school safety or just shaking things up, this recipe from Lunchbox is a kid-approved winner. If you ask us, this more than justifies the purchase of a food processor, which is the chopping/shredding/blending star of our hardworking kitchens.

lunchbox with sandwiches made with sunbutter

Makes about 2 cups


  • 1 pound (about 3 cups) hulled raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon coconut or avocado oil
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Spread the sunflower seeds on a large rimmed sheet pan and roast until fragrant and lightly browned (don’t let them burn!), 13 to 15 minutes, tossing halfway through. Let cool completely, at least 1 hour.
  3. Grind the seeds in a food processor until smooth, about 10 minutes, stopping occasionally to break up the mixture with a spatula if necessary. Add the cinnamon, oil, maple syrup, and salt, and continue processing until smooth and creamy, 5 to 7 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2  weeks.

Lunchbox Chocolate Chip Almond Flour Cookies, Ft. Once Upon a Farm

If you’re a fan of licking the spoon, and we certainly are, but a little nervous about the risk of raw egg, swap in a Once Upon a Farm fruit and veggie blend instead. The cookie dough is perfectly safe to eat, and it’s also vegan, gluten-free, and made with only one bowl. The kids who tested this recipe voted the OhMyMega Veggie! Blend as their mix-in of choice, but we found that all the variations using fruit and veggie blends disappeared quickly, so go with what you’ve got.

lunchbox featuring a cookie made with once upon a farm

Makes 2 dozen, 2-inch cookies, which fit perfectly in a lunchbox


  • 1¼ cups packed almond flour
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup semisweet chocolate chunks, roughly chopped or semisweet mini chocolate chips
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 Once Upon a Farm OhMyMega Veggie! pouch
  • ¼ cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Turbinado sugar (for sprinkling)


  1. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper. Position 2 oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Stir together the almond flour, coconut, brown sugar, chocolate, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl. Add the Once Upon a Farm pouch, coconut oil, and vanilla and mix until combined.
  3. Using a 1½-inch spring-loaded ice cream scoop (or just a spoon or a preschooler’s hand), scoop cookie dough onto the prepared sheet pans, spacing at least 1 inch apart. Gently press down each cookie to flatten and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes until golden. Cool completely. Pack in a lunchbox or store in an airtight container for up to 5 days. 
Lunchbox book cover

Adapted from Lunchbox: So Easy, So Delicious, So Much Fun to Eat (Artisan Books) by Marnie Hanel and Jen Stevenson. Copyright © 2022

More About Lunchbox: Packing your kid’s lunch doesn’t need to be a chore. This irresistibly colorful and creative guide gives you all the tools to make delicious, healthy, and playful lunches guaranteed to nourish and delight your child.

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