10 local mamas share their healthy back-to-school lunch ideas

Many schools have already begun, some schools start next week, and all of our summer breaks will end with that first walk up to a smiling teacher and their classroom door. It will feel like both an eternity and a blink, then like that, they’re off to learn, play, grow and trade their almond butter sandwich for a bag of Fritos and half a fruit roll-up. 

Here are 10 Chicagoland mamas sharing their healthy lunch ideas you’ll want to follow for back-to-school inspiration and beyond.

Michelle Elfvin of @ChicagoMomGoesSuburban

Yes, I’m starting this off with my very own lunch inspiration straight from the lunchboxes of our three little boys. Our 4-year-old is pretty picky and the two older ones aren’t at all. But we’ve managed to find products they all love that are tasty, healthy and fun to eat! What makes lunch more exciting for them is their bento box style lunch boxes from Planet Box which means less plastic containers to clean for me and easier maneuvering for them. 

What’s inside:

  • Organic bread by Dave’s Killer Bread
  • Lekkco Belgian Dark Chocolate Spread, gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free spread (they like it better than Nutella!)
  • Skinny Pop
  • Mickey-shaped veggie chips (2.5 servings of veggies per serving)
  • Assortment of dried fruits
  • Organic yogurt with organic granola (chia, flax & quinoa granola from Organics brand.)
  • Glutino brand gluten-free yogurt covered pretzels.
  • Lärabar Kid Brownie (made with ingredients like buckwheat flour, coconut oil, and chia seeds)
  • Organic turkey roll-ups by Plainville Farms

Dana Ivy of @danaivy

Given that I have to make my 3-year-old son’s lunch five days a week now, it could definitely be challenging to come up with healthy lunch ideas on the daily! I try to stay away from giving my son, Brody, bread as I find it makes him tired and moody, and instead, I aim to include nourishing and filling foods in his lunch box that are both healthy and delicious. Our bento box of choice is Cool Bites. It’s leakproof, comes with an ice pack and the compartments are stackable. 

What’s inside:

  • 3 circular slices of fresh mozarella
  • Veggie straws
  • Raspberries
  • Small box of chocolate-covered raisins 

Alyssa Goldwater of @aglassofgoldwater

As a mom of two toddlers (1.5 and 2.5), I’m the president of the Picky-Eaters Club. So when it comes to feeding my crew, I have to be strategic. From colors and textures to the way it’s presented, everything matters. When I can, I try to sneak healthy fats and veggies into the rotation, but on a regular, fast-paced day when I need to throw together something quickly, it’s usually a carb, fat and a fruit (if I’m lucky), and hope for the best. 

What’s inside:

  • 1/2 sliced banana — smiley face shape encouraged
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter — organic if you’re a good mom, generic Jewel brand if you’re me
  • 4 whole wheat crackers — see, very healthy
  • 5 blueberries — because they will not eat one more beyond that
  • 5 carrots

Kristen Love of @thelovenotes

Oh, my stars! I create lunches that are easy to put together, and that my little ones love. Boom. Easy lunch! Serve them up in fun silicone cups/sandwich shapes and everything automatically tastes better!

What’s inside:

  • Sun butter & jelly sandwiches
  • Rolled up turkey + cheese with olives
  • Strawberry + blueberry salad
  • Mixed veggies (Pro tip: Try frozen bags of veggies and steam them up in advance.)

Teresa of @tiarastantrums

At my daughters’ school, there are not any tables for lunch, so everyone has to sit on the gym floor during lunch period. Having their lunch in one container just makes lunch time so much easier for them. This is a great way to get rid of leftovers too! 

What’s inside:

  • Variety of veggies
  • Quinoa
  • Grilled chicken

Ziba Lennox of @dancingmamastyle

As a lifelong dancer and co-founder of MaZi Dance Fitness, healthy food for my 2 and 4-year-old is always on my mind! It’s not easy, they are both so different. My younger one will eat anything: salmon, prosciutto, fish, fruits and veggies and even salsa but I must say that Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood “Daniel Tries a New Food” book was key in influencing my 4-year-old (the picky one) to try new food!

What’s inside:

  • Earth’s Best Chicken Nuggets (no antibiotics)
  • Amy’s Organic Yogurt
  • Homemade egg
  • Ham 
  • Hearty bread
  • Slice of Provolone
  • Pretzel Chips
  • A banana

Megan Jedlinski of @meganjedlinski

We’ve kept our toddler daughter’s meals low in sugar and primarily plant-based, so a typical lunch is not only colorful to her eyes but her palette too! 

What’s inside:

  • Mini veggie wraps made with Angelic Bakehouse’s Sprouted 7 Whole Grain wraps, hummus and a variety of vegetables
  • Pees
  • Vegan broccoli “cheese” sticks
  • Antioxidant-loaded berry mix

Julia Flowers of @julia_and_child

This is Nova’s first year at school and she is super excited! She was also pretty pumped to pick out her school lunch. We found this great bento box from Bentology with five containers in one box so she can have lots of variety. 

What’s inside:

  • Applegate Organic Uncured Beef Hot Dogs
  • Plantain chips
  • Seasonal fruits and veggies
  • Whole Foods 365 Organic Mozzarella Sticks
  • Pitted green olives 
  • Annie’s Organic Fruit Snacks 

Magda Lasota of @Magdalasota_

My 4-year old is a picky eater. He’s not a big fan of fruit or veggies, but loves hot dogs. When I prepare his lunch box, I try to offer a variety of finger foods in different shapes and colors for him to choose from. Combining his favorite and least favorite snacks side by side in a lunch box often convinces him to be more adventurous and try a food item he would typically refuse. 

What’s inside:

  • Uncured chicken or turkey hot dog from Applegate Organics (shaped in an octopus)
  •  Cheese or PB&J mini sandwich
  • Seasonal fruit and veggies

Christine Corrigan from @mommahasyou

My son is not quite school aged, but we are constantly out and about. This means I pack our lunches and like to have foods that are easy for my son to pick up and eat. Despite not having a school aged child, I was an elementary school teacher for nine years. I understand that lunch time can be busy and a very social time for kiddos, often eating lunch becomes an afterthought. By providing your child with a healthy but easy to eat lunch, it allows kids to eat and still enjoy their lunch break. I love to serve my son hot food when possible, which makes the OmieLife bento box the perfect way to serve lunch. It has a removable compartment that can store hot food. 

What’s inside:

  • Green Tortellini, Eggs and Ham:
  • Buitoni’s spinach and cheese tortellini
  • Chopped-up hard boiled eggs
  • Sprinkle of bacon
  • Smashed Black Beans and Sweet Potato Wraps: 
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Black beans
  • Whole wheat wrap
  • Other sides:
  • Carrot sticks
  • Ranch
  • Fresh fruit
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