Back to School - Packed Lunch Ideas

By Elizabeth Atia

When I was a child, school lunches consisted of a peanut butter and jamsandwich, a piece of fruit and a small carton of milk.

If we were really lucky, we might get a wagon wheel for a treat, but it was pretty basic fayre. Packed in a paper lunch bag, of course.

My children have been requesting packed lunches for school for several years now, preferring them over the school dinners on offer. I like to think I’ve become quite good at making them and keeping them interesting. I try, anyway!

With the easing of lockdown restrictions and the children finally going back to school after five months off, I confess I’ve been enjoying the old routine of assembling their lunch boxes in the morning again. A return to that familiar morning structure.

There are five basic components to each lunch box:

1. Carbohydrate main – a sandwich, wrap, cold pasta salad, noodles, crackers or breadsticks

2. Protein – meat, cheese, hummus or nuts

3. Fruit – berries, peeled oranges, grapes, apple or banana

4. Vegetables - salad, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, etc.

5. Small treat – usually home bake of some sort or a square of dark chocolate

To help keep their lunch boxes chilled until lunch time, I pack them in a thermally insulated bag with a reusable ice pack. I prefer to use those reusable bento lunch boxes too with the separate compartments. This helps keep waste and packaging down to a minimum and makes clean up a breeze after school.

Here are a few of my kids’ favourite lunch box ideas:

1. Tuna & cheese sandwich or tortilla wrap with salad.

2. Smoked salmon & avocado maki sushi. (Get the recipe here:

3. Toasted sesame lunchbox noodles. (See recipe below)

4. Breadsticks with peanut butter or cream cheese to dip.

5. Cheese & crackers/oatcakes.

6. A flask of home madesoup served with crusty bread to dip.

7. Sesame seed bagel with cheddar cheese and salad.

8. Greek pasta salad.

9. Hard-boiled eggs formed into bento shapes with a salad ‘garden’. (See recipe below)

10. Hummus & pitta bread. Serve with a selection of vegetable crudites to dip.

Toasted sesame lunchbox noodles

1 nest of medium egg noodles

½ carrot, cut into thin strips

1 spring onion, cut into thin strips

1 tsp toasted sesame seed oil

½ tsp soy sauce

1 tsp sesame seeds

Cook the egg noodles according to the packet instructions. Drain and rinse under cold water to halt the cooking process. Toss with the vegetables, toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds.

You could vary this recipe by adding some fresh garden peas straight from the pod (no need to cook!) or some edamame beans. Serve with chopsticks for a little bit of lunch box fun.

Hard-boiled egg bento shapes for a lunch box

2 hard boiled eggs

Salad leaves



1 tsp olive oil

½ tsp lemon juice

Boil your eggs for 10 minutes for a hard-boiled yolk. While the eggs are still warm, peel them and carefully place them into a plastic bento egg mould – there are a wide variety of shapes available. Submerge the plastic mould with the egg into cold water for 5-10 minutes to allow the egg to cool completely before removing.

To make a garden ‘salad’ choose a colourful blend of salad leaves. Cut your carrot into ¼ inch thick circles and, using a small flower-shaped cookie cutter, cut the carrots into flowers for the garden. Do the same with the cucumber.

Drizzle the salad with the olive oil and lemon juice for a dressing, and arrange the egg shapes and vegetable ‘flowers’ on the top of the salad garden.

Elizabeth Atia

Mum, daydream adventurer, ex-pat Canadian & quite possibly Britain's most northerly award-winning food blogger. Calls Shetland home.

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