As I enter the final push of preparation for the school year, I’m looking back at my own lunch photos to help get some inspiration. As I do, I’m reminded of the lunches that were popular with RRG readers last year — the ones that got the most clicks, the most “likes,” the most appreciative comments. And I thought, if I need a little inspiration boost to get me geared up, you probably do too. Right?

Here’s a little inspiration “cheat sheet” for you, with some of the lunch ideas that you, dear readers, seemed to favor last school year. I’ve also included some tips on how to prep for these lunches in advance, because prepared is forearmed, or something like that.

Lunch #1: DIY Nachos

Vary the vegetables and meat or beans, use tortillas instead of chips — this can be a nacho lunch, a burrito lunch, or a taco lunch, depending on your mood and your family’s preferences!

Ingredients: Taco meat, tortilla chips, guacamole, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes/cheese (and an applesauce cup, not pictured)
Get Prepped: Taco meat (freeze in individual servings); tortilla chips and applesauce cups (stock in pantry); peppers/tomatoes/cheese (slice/cube/shred up to 72 hours before)

DIY nacho lunches

Lunch #2: Yogurt Parfait

When I posted this yogurt parfait idea, the response was really positive. It’s a filling, healthy and easy-to-eat alternative for kids who aren’t big on sandwiches or leftovers.

Ingredients: Plain yogurt with peanut butter (or sunbutter) and preserves; mini corn muffins with butter; peppers; pomegranate seeds; chocolate covered sunflower seeds
Get Prepped: Mini muffins (bake and freeze); peppers and pomegranate seeds (slice/prep up to 48 hours in advance); chocolate sunflower seeds, preserves, nut/seed butters (stock in pantry)

yogurt parfait lunch

Lunch #3: Breakfast for Lunch

Bacon and eggs in a lunchbox are far more possible than you might think. Rounded out with some filling breakfast accompaniments, this option makes for a refreshing change from sandwiches.

Ingredients: Boiled eggs; bacon; yogurt with berries; O cereal; celery with peanut butter (or sunbutter); peppers and snap peas
Get Prepped: Boiled eggs (cook and store for up to 7 days prior); bacon (cook and store for up to 48 hours); O cereal and nut/seed butters (stock in pantry); peppers and snap peas (slice/prep up to 72 hours prior)

breakfast for lunch

Lunch #4: Substantial Sandwich

I don’t know what it was about this particular sandwich lunch that you liked, but it’s one of the most popular lunch posts of last year. The thick sandwich and the chocolate coconut milk make for a lunch with a little more bulk and staying power, great for days when there are after-school clubs or sports practices.

Ingredients: Home-brined corned beef on pumpernickel; chocolate coconut milk; berries; applesauce cup; greens and peppers
Get Prepped: Corned beef (make and freeze if you’re ambitious; buy cooked from deli and freeze if not); pumpernickel (freeze in individual slices for quick thawing); coconut milk and applesauce cups (stock in pantry); berries and peppers (slice up to 48 hours in advance)

corned beef sandwich lunch

Lunch #5: Tea Sandwiches

Tea sandwiches are a fun way to switch up the same old, same old — and they’re easy for smaller hands.

Ingredients: Salami and lettuce on whole wheat w/ crusts cut off; frozen berries and apple slices OR cinnamon chickpeas and sauerkraut; peppers and sauteed broccolini
Get Prepped: Salami and bread (wrap individual portions and freeze together in zip-top bags for ready-to-go sandwich kits); berries (stock in freezer); cinnamon chickpeas (stock in pantry); peppers and broccolini (slice/saute up to 48 hours in advance)

tea sandwich lunches

Lunch #6: Hot Dog Spears

Cutting hot dogs into spears makes them easy to eat and reduces choking risk. This one is strictly a fun lunch that will put a smile on kids’ faces.

Ingredients: Hot dogs; lettuce; applesauce cups; carrots; sauerkraut; berries; cucumbers
Get Prepped: Hot  dogs (cook, cool and slice into spears up to 48 hours in advance); applesauce cups (stock in pantry); carrots and cucumbers (slice up to 72 hours in advance)
hot dog lunches

Lunch #7: Mini Bagel Sandwiches

Mini bagels are an easy alternative to regular sandwich bread, and offer perfect portions for elementary school kids. Fill them with anything your family likes — here, it’s leftover ham from a Sunday dinner.

Ingredients: Whole wheat mini bagels with butter; baked ham; broccoli and peppers; mandarins; dark chocolate peanut butter cups
Get prepped: Mini bagels and ham (freeze in individual portions for easy access); peanut butter cups (stock in pantry); broccoli and peppers (slice up to 72 hours in advance)

mini bagel sandwiches

Lunch #8: Mac and Cheese and Sides

Mac and cheese in a thermos is a great kid-approved lunch, but it doesn’t have the staying power I think my boys need on busy days. Adding some rolls of their favorite lunchbox proteins ensures they get what they need.

Ingredients: Annie’s mac and cheese (in the thermos); roast beef OR smoked salmon; salad with various vegetables; oranges or berries
Get Prepped: Mac and cheese (make up to 48 hours in advance); roast beef/salmon (freeze in individual portions); salad (make and store, undressed, for up to 72 hours); oranges/berries (slice up to 48 hours in advance)

mac and cheese rollup lunch

Lunch #9: Burger Sandwiches

Sandwiches don’t have to be all about deli meat. My guys like a burger on long days — you can pack condiments on the side in small leakproof cups if that’s something your family would enjoy.

Ingredients: Burgers and lettuce on whole wheat bread; popcorn; peppers; apple slices with peanut butter (or sunbutter) and dark chocolate chips
Get Prepped: Burgers (cook and freeze); popcorn, chocolate chips, and nut/seed butter (stock in pantry); peppers (slice up to 72 hours in advance)

burger sandwich lunches

Lunch #10: Soup and Sandwich for Big Eaters

This one was technically for my husband, but you all seemed to love it! It’s a good concept for any age but especially good as an example for big eaters like teens.

Ingredients: Chicken noodle soup; Chicken salad with lettuce and butter on homemade bread; banana; clementine; cheese cubes; pretzels with coconut butter; chocolate chip cookies
Get Prepped: Soup, bread, and cookies (make and freeze, if you’re making — I’m not judging if you buy instead); chicken salad (make up to 48 hours in advance); cheese (cube up to 72 hours in advance)

hubby soup and sandwich lunch

Bonus Lunch: Rollups

This lunch has to be in the Top 5 of most popular ones I’ve ever packed. The rollup concept, with meat on the outside and veggies on the inside, is one I came up with years ago, and every time I post it it’s a hit with readers. You can make these with endless variety (different meats, cheeses, and vegetables), and they’re as fast to pull together as a sandwich.

Ingredients: Turkey or Ham rolled with greens, peppers and tomatoes; sweet potato chips; zucchini mini muffins; sunflower seeds; berries OR oranges
Get Prepped: Turkey/ham (freeze in individual portions); mini muffins (bake and freeze); sweet potato chips and sunflower seeds (stock in pantry); oranges (slice up to 48 hours in advance); peppers/tomatoes (slice up to 72 hours in advance)

rollup lunches