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Shop our go-to grocery list for family-pleasing lunches

The kids will eat this up!

Package of Brainiac Brain Butter, loaf of Milton's multigrain bread, package of Zespri Sun-gold kiwis and package of Applegate oven-roasted turkey. Credit: Reviewed / Brainiac / Milton's / Zespari / Applegate Naturals

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Back to school time means getting back to the grind for many families. Gone are the days where bedtimes aren’t enforced and homework isn’t a concern once school is back in session. And if your kiddo brings their own lunch to school, the luxury of not having to plan their lunch every single day evaporates as the summer season comes to a close.

As a busy working mom, and a registered dietitian, I know first-hand how challenging it can be to come up with school lunch ideas for kids that actually offer substantial nutrition and help keep little tummies full until the final school bell rings.

Thankfully, over the years I have found some must-have grocery items that help make my quest for delicious and nutritious lunch box meals a breeze. While the lunches aren’t quite Pinterest-worthy (no “themed” boxes that have a color scheme going on), they are made with items that my daughter enjoys and I am happy to offer to her.

And if you’re short on lunch ideas for adults, these items not only make for great kid-friendly lunches, they allow for adult-friendly grab-and-go lunches, too. After all, data shows that skipping meals (like lunch) consistently has a negative impact on daily diet quality, potentially resulting in health impacts over time.

Here’s the back-to-school grocery list I use to create lunches that not only appeal to kid’s taste buds, but also appeal to grown-up dietary needs and habits. When I make my back-to-school grocery run, these must-haves always find their way into my cart. Each item helps me make a kid-friendly and adult-worthy pre-made lunch to keep both of us fueled mid-day.

1. Zespri sungold kiwis

Package of Zespri Sungold kiwis.
Credit: Reviewed / Zespri

It's fun to go beyond the apple for lunchtime fruit options.

If my daughter could eat candy at lunchtime every day, she would do so in a heartbeat. But I prefer that she eats more nutrient-dense food during the day instead of sugar-packed snacks.

Zespri SunGold Kiwis are a perfect solution for a lunchtime addition or even a snack. These kiwis are bursting with natural sweetness, but no added sugar.

This refreshing and sweet golden kiwi provides the complete package of feel-good nutrition with more than 20 vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin E and antioxidants. They even provide more than 100% of your daily vitamin C needs in one fruit.
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Lunch idea for kids: These kiwis are easy to include in a bento box. For my daughter, I remove the skin and slice them for her future enjoyment.

Lunch idea for adults: I simply toss whole kiwis in my lunch bag for my own snack or meal addition, knowing I can just cut, scoop, and enjoy!

2. Wonderful pistachios, honey roasted

Package of Wonderful Pistachios.
Credit: Reviewed / Wonderful Pistachios

Add this protein-packed nut for a healthy crunch in lunches for kids and adults.

Wonderful Pistachios are a complete protein, providing all nine essential amino acids. They are a great protein choice because they’re naturally cholesterol-free and add fiber to your day.

In fact, pistachios are the only good source of protein among popular snack nuts, with more than 10% of the daily value for protein per serving. The Honey Roasted flavor is  kissed with honey, sugar and a pinch of salt for a sweet and savory protein source. 
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Lunch idea for kids: I add these to my daughter’s bento box for a satiating plant based protein source that she is happy to eat (thanks to the sweetness).

Lunch idea for adults: I use these nuts as a salad topping or an addition to my yogurt parfait.

3. Applegate naturals oven roasted turkey breast

Package of Applegate Naturals Oven Roasted turkey breast
Credit: Reviewed / Applegate Naturals

Sliced turkey is more versatile than just a sandwich filler.

Applegate Naturals Oven Roasted Turkey Breast is a versatile grocery item that helps me make a variety of lunches that satisfy everyone in my family. Casein-, dairy-, and gluten-free, their turkey checks so many important boxes.

Since it contains no fillers or artificial ingredients, I can feel good serving it along with other nutrient-packed foods for a balanced lunch. Bonus? The turkey is humanely raised with no antibiotics ever.
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Lunch idea for kids: Instead of buying pre-made lunch packs, I love cutting this turkey into perfect circles using a cookie cutter and pairing it with cheese and crackers for a DIY meal for my daughter. She also enjoys turkey pinwheels made with cream cheese, lettuce, and tomato all wrapped in a whole grain tortilla.

Lunch idea for adults: For me, I tend to make a simple turkey wrap utilizing the same ingredients, and enjoy it along with some veggies, fresh fruit, or other goodies.

4. POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice

Bottle of POM Wonderful pomegranate juice next to Breville blender, and travel thermo.
Credit: Reviewed / POM Wonderful / Breville / LunchBots

Pomegranate juice adds a super-food boost to smoothies. Pack them in a thermos for a cool lunch treat.

I love making smoothies for lunch boxes. And leaning on POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice allows me to create nutritious concoctions that are absolutely delish. There are 700 mg of polyphenol antioxidants in every 8 ounces of this juice—four times the antioxidants as green tea, on average.

To make a smoothie, I combine the POM juice with frozen pineapple, coconut milk, and a pitted date in a blender and blend on high until creamy (the frozen pineapple does wonders for that).
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Lunch idea for kids: I pour a kid-size serving in a thermos for my daughter and pack it with the rest of her lunch.

Lunch idea for adults: Once the kids portion is removed, I add some ground flax seeds and a dash of turmeric to the mix and pour a serving for myself, or stash it in the fridge for lunchtime.
$28 at Amazon

5. Brainiac brain butter

Package of Brainiac Brain Butter next to multi-colored sealable travel containers.
Credit: Reviewed / Brainiac / Tavva

This nut butter gets an upgrade with brain-boosting nutrients. Use it as a dip or a spread.

Both my daughter and I can benefit from eating more brain health-supporting nutrients like choline and omega-3 fatty acids, and Brainiac Brain Butter allows us to do just that.

This is essentially an almond butter made with a touch of chocolate and a boost of DHA omega 3 fatty acids, choline, and ALA—three nutrients that support brain health. This spread is one that everyone in my family is happy to include as a sub for sugary hazelnut spreads.
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Lunch idea for kids: For my daughter, I send the spread in a sealable container that’s easy to open and she uses it as a dip for pre-washed berries.

Lunch idea for adults: I enjoy spreading it on top of rice cakes and then sprinkling on some blueberries and hemp seeds.
$28 at Amazon

6. Joolie’s organic medjool dates

Package of Joolies Medjool dates.
Credit: Reviewed / Joolie's

Medjool dates are truly the candy of the dried-fruit world, sans added sugar.

These shelf-stable fruits are a great pantry staple to have when I need fruit for lunchtime but all of my bananas and apples are gone. Each box in Joolie’s Organic Medjool Dates snack pack comes with three organic glyphosate-free pitted dates that are easy to eat and naturally sweet. With no added sugar and a boost of fiber, these fruits are a great solution for any sweet tooth.

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Lunch idea for kids: My daughter will eat them on their own, so I add a box to her lunch as a sweet treat. To her, they’re almost as good as candy, but to me they’re far more nutritious.

Lunch idea for adults: I enjoy stuffing the dates with some soft cheese and an almond for a balanced addition to my lunch.

7. Pacific foods organic chicken noodle soup

Boxed carton of Pacific foods Chicken Noodle Soup next to multi-colored resealable container.
Credit: Reviewed / Pacific Foods / LunchBots

Soup is a nutrition-packed lunch option for kids and adults, especially when you have a leak-proof thermos.

When the weather cools down, there is no reason why people can't enjoy a warm bowl of soup at lunchtime, even if they don’t have access to a microwave. By using a thermos that preserves heat, a classic chicken noodle soup can be enjoyed by all.

Pacific Foods Organic Chicken Noodle Soup uses no GMOs, preservatives, or additives. Made with organic chicken broth, hearty egg noodles, real organic chicken, garden veggies, and a blend of seasonings, this soup appeals to kids and kids at heart.
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Lunch idea for kids: Since one serving provides 13 grams of protein, it is a dish that can tame those tummy grumbles until the school day is over. Pair it with crackers and a piece of fruit for a complete meal.

Lunch idea for adults: I like to stir some fresh baby spinach into my bowl of soup, and I may opt for pepper crackers over something more kid-friendly, but it’s basically the same idea.

8. Popchips variety pack

Box of PopChips variety mix of chips.
Credit: Reviewed / Popchips

The variety pack of Popchips gives fun flavor options for everyone's lunch box.

Classic potato chips are an easy food to toss into a child’s lunchbox. But as delish as they are, they can be loaded with unnecessary fat because of the way they are fried. Popchips uses a unique process that combines heat and pressure to pop, not fry, the chips, so they are a perfect solution for chip lovers  looking to  save  some calories in the long run. 
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Lunch idea for kids: I snag a variety pack of the Popchips and add either the Sea Salt or Sour Cream and Onion into my child’s lunch box.

Lunch idea for adults: I lean on the barbecue flavor as a crunchy addition to my salads instead of croutons. Simply crumble the chips, sprinkle, and enjoy! 

9. Barilla farfalle and Barilla rustic pesto

Box of Barilla farfelle bowtie pasta next to jar of Barilla pesto sauce.
Credit: Reviewed / Barilla

Put pasta and pesto to work for a lunch that can satisfy a range of tastes.

Pasta is a staple in my home because it provides important nutrients like protein and B vitamins. And unlike many other “white carbs,” pasta has a lower glycemic index, meaning that it digests slowly and offers a bit more satiety than white bread or cookies.

The Barilla Rustic Pesto has a fresh-tasting essence that allows for easy meals in a snap. Made with quality ingredients, leaning on this jarred pesto saves me a ton of time in the kitchen by allowing me to skip making the sauce from scratch.

I make a chilled pesto pasta salad for both my daughter and myself using the jarred pesto and Barilla farfalle pasta.
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Lunch idea for kids: For my daughter’s version, I add some cheese, sliced chicken breast, and peas.

Lunch idea for adults: For myself, I include some Bella Sun Luci sun dried tomatoes, cooked broccoli, and the same chicken for a grown-up version of this dish.

10. Eggland’s best eggs

Carton of Eggland's Best eggs
Credit: Reviewed / Eggland's Best

Eggs know no boundaries. Serve them as part of a protein-packed lunch.

Eggs aren’t just a breakfast food, and I use them for easy protein-packed lunches for everyone in my family. Eggland’s Best Eggs are my go-to because they have 25% less saturated fat, 6 times more Vitamin D, and 10 times more Vitamin E compared to other eggs. On Sundays, I hard-boil a few of these eggs and keep them on-hand for lunchbox additions.

Lunch idea for kids: My daughter enjoys eating a hard boiled egg with a sprinkle of seasoning (currently she’s into Everything But The Bagel Seasoning from Trader Joe’s).

Lunch idea for adults: I love mashing one or two hard boiled eggs with a touch of mayo and dill for a classic egg salad.

11. Milton’s craft bakers: the original healthy multi-grain bread

Loaf of Milton's multi-grain bread next to multi-colored cookie cutters.
Credit: Milton's / Elfkitwang

Whole grains keep bellies fuller longer. Bread in cute shapes keeps kids smiling longer.

Sandwiches are a lunchtime staple and are incredibly easy to whip up the night before. But instead of using refined white bread for our sandwiches, I lean on Milton’s Craft Bakers Multi-Grain Bread.

This bread is hearty and delicious with 5 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber (12% of your daily recommended value), and a major boost of whole grains per serving. The loaf’s signature mixture contains a blend of wheat, corn, oats and a hint of honey, which gives it an impressive nutritional value.
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Lunch idea for kids: I use this bread to make a nut or seed butter and sliced banana sandwich for my daughter (cut into the shape of a heart, of course).

Lunch idea for adults: And for me? I love a veggie and hummus sandwich to help keep me going for the rest of the day.
$13 at Amazon

12. Cucumbers

On left, green cucumber. On right, cookie cutter next to assorted fruits and watermelon.
Credit: Reviewed / Walmart / Ruckae

Cucumbers are a crunchy lunch addition, whether simply sliced or cut into fun shapes.

Speaking of veggies on sandwiches…Yes, the classic cucumber helps elevate both grown-up and kid-friendly lunchboxes in the nutrition and enjoyment departments. As a hydrating and fiber-packed veggie, cucumbers are a fantastic addition to salads, sandwiches, and even on their own as a crunchy snack.

Lunch idea for kids: My daughter seems to enjoy them the most when I peel some of the skin off and use a small cookie cutter to make slices into flower shapes. I put some in her lunchbox with hummus for dipping, or as a stand alone side.

Lunch idea for adults: I love them as a crunchy addition to the hummus and veggie sandwiches mentioned above, or dipped in that same hummus along with an array of peppers, carrots, and other colorful veggies.
$19 at Amazon

13. Cheerios

On left, box of General Mills Cheerios. On right, person holding multi-colored stack of containers.
Credit: Reviewed / Walmart / Ruckae

Cucumbers are a crunchy lunch addition, whether simply sliced or cut into fun shapes.

Cereal is an easy,  affordable, and delicious way to deliver nutrients kids need and will happily eat. And while it is true that cereal is a quintessential breakfast food, there’s no reason why it can’t be included in a balanced lunch also.

Classic Cheerios are a cereal that both kids and adults have been eating for years, and leaning on this cereal fuels both big and tiny bellies with whole grains and nutrients like fiber and calcium.
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Lunch idea for kids and adults: For both myself and my daughter, I love including a portable bowl with an easy-open lid, filled with Cheerios. Include an old-school container of milk and some freeze-dried strawberries and you have yourself an extremely economical and nutritious lunch option that everyone is happy to eat. On occasion, I will include some Honey Nut Cheerios in my daughter’s bowl for a little more sweetness. 
$45 at Amazon

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