Summer is winding down, which means it’s school time for the kids. And time for parents to resume the ever-challenging “what to pack for the kids’ school lunch” routine. This year, make it easier on yourself by investing in the right lunch-packing tools. You’ll save time, natural resources and brainpower if you buy reusable containers that fit your kids’ eating styles and dietary habits.

Here are three of my favorite containers, with ideas on how and what to pack for healthy, balanced lunches that will keep your kids happy and energized.

What to Pack

  • 1 protein source
  • 1 high-quality carbohydrate (think brown rice, whole-wheat or whole-grain crackers or bread)
  • At least 1 fresh fruit or vegetable (it doesn’t hurt to include both)
  • 1 sweet treat or drink—you’ll probably make your kid’s day a little brighter! I try to include only one item that contains added sugar.

1. For Kids Who Like to Snack for Lunch or Don’t Like Their Foods to Touch

Unlike some bento lunch-box systems, the kid-friendly Bentgo Kids Leakproof Lunch Box does not involve separate containers that a child can spend her entire lunch period trying to open. This option is easy to use and easy to pack with a variety of your child’s favorite foods. You can go over-the-top fancy or keep it simple, but a nice array of colors is a good way to ensure you’re including a variety of food groups.

Lunch Idea—Nibbles & Bits

  • Turkey and cheese roll-ups. Stack one slice of cheese and one slice of nitrate-free turkey together, roll and slice into smaller pieces. Try: Applegate Organics Roasted Turkey Breast or Lightlife Meatless Smart Deli Turkey
  • Whole-grain crackers. Try: Back-to-Nature Harvest Whole Wheat Crackers or Milton’s Gluten Free Baked Crackers
  • Melon balls
  • Squeezable yogurt. Try: Stonyfield Organic YoKids Squeeze

2. For the Kid Who Eats Salads 

…or cold pasta or rice dishes, but likes to retain control over what goes in and what gets eaten separately, the Sistema Klip It Collection Salad to Go Container features a large main compartment, plus separated sections in the lid for add-ins. An integrated dressing container and nifty snap-together utensils are all very kid-friendly and fun to use.

Lunch Idea: Asian-Style Chicken and Rice

  • In main compartment: Cooked white or brown rice
  • In lid:
  • Sliced leftover chicken
  • Sliced red bell peppers and edamame
  • A sesame-flavor dressing. Try: Annie’s Naturals Organic Asian Sesame or Drew’s Organics Orange Sesame Ginger
  • 1 or 2 cuties

3. For Kids Who Like a Classic Lunch Bag 

The Lunchskins Reusable Lunch Tote is a modern, environmentally friendly alternative to a classic brown bag for the kid who likes a sack lunch. The tote features a Velcro closure and webbing handle. Unlike insulated lunch sacks—which can be bulky and smelly, and aren’t insulated in a meaningful way—this folds down small and washes well. 

Lunch Idea: Kid-friendly Club Sandwich

  • Two slices whole-wheat or gluten-free bread, bacon, sliced tomato, turkey and lettuce. Try: Dave’s Killer Bread 100% Whole Wheat, Udi’s Gluten Free Whole Grain Bread
  • Organic apple
  • Small container (try Rubbermaid LunchBlox) of sliced cucumbers and baby carrots
  • Small bag of popcorn or chips. Try: PopChips Sea Salt

Got Milk?

A box of milk is a healthy calcium addition to a lunch box any day of the week. Horizon offers a number of flavors. Need a dairy-free option? Silk offers soy and almond milk in single boxes, each loaded with plenty of calcium.