I once sat down to calculate roughly how many lunches we will have packed in our house by the time my kids are through school. It’s an astonishing number: Lunches 5 days a week during the September through May school calendar multiplied times 3 kids times 13 years of K-12 puts the figure at over 7,000 lunches.

Seven. Thousand.

No wonder we’re tired of smearing peanut butter and slicing apples, people!

To help us all get to the finish line, which for some of you may be a year away , for other, 18 years, I’ve put together a guide of healthy school lunch ideas. You can print it and post it on the fridge  (which is my plan) for you and for your kids, who can be terrific helpers in the school lunch effort at every age.

Put the Guide into Action

Below are 10 examples of how the Healthy Lunch Guide translates into meals.  Keep in mind that the volume of food depends on the age, stage, and appetite of your child, that milk can be cow’s milk or calcium-fortified plant milk, and that there is room for goodies and extras, just not super sized or every day.

  1. Turkey and Cheddar sandwich on whole grain bread, a container of applesauce, red bell pepper slices with ranch dip, water.
  2. Greek yogurt parfait with blackberries, sunflower seeds, and slivered almonds, a whole grain granola bar,  sugar snap peas, water.
  3. Thermos of leftover chili with a piece of corn bread, an apple, slices of jicama doused in lime juice, milk.
  4. Chopped salad with quinoa and leftover rotisserie chicken, a Mozzarella cheese stick, pear slices, water.
  5. Quesadilla on a whole wheat tortilla, a small thermos of black beans with salsa, half of an avocado, pineapple slices, and water
  6. Thermos of leftover whole grain pasta with turkey meatballs, a  bunch of grapes, fennel and cucumber slices, milk.
  7. Tuna salad with whole grain crackers for scooping, carrot sticks, a little container of strawberries, a bottle of milk.
  8. Minestrone soup with extra chick peas for added protein, 1/2 of a cheese sandwich, cut up cantaloupe, water.
  9. Bento-style lunch with whole grain pita wedges, hummus, feta cheese, olives, cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes,  two small tangerines,  water
  10. Peanut butter (or Sun Butter) and banana sandwich on whole grain bread, carrot and celery sticks, a cup of yogurt with blueberries and honey on top, water.

For loads more lunch ideas and recipe inspiration, check out Best Lunch Box Ever: Ideas and Recipes for School Lunches Kids Will Love

And if you’re wondering just how much food to pack in your child’s lunch, you might like this post over on Real Mom Nutrition.