It’s lunchbox season again. And again I find myself wandering the grocery store aisles looking for inspiration. The “fruit snacks” and sugar-filled yogurt tubes my kids beg for only depress me. Where’s the real food?

What to Pack in Lunchboxes

It is indeed possible to pack delicious lunches with a minimum of fuss and waste. Here are a few tips passed along by Parent Hacks readers over the years:

Send your kids on a spy mission. I ask my kids to report back to me what their friends are eating that looks good. I’m often surprised by what they tell me. Some of the ideas that came back from last year’s recognizance: hard-boiled eggs, lasagna, skewered apple chunks.

Freeze a week’s worth of sandwiches. Build your sandwiches assembly-line style on good quality bread, then pack them back into the thick plastic bread wrapper and pop the whole package in the freezer. Works well for peanut butter and jelly, many lunch meats, and cream cheese on raisin bread, and cuts down on the morning rush. (This trick works for muffins, too.)

Ideas for Hot Lunches

Think hot lunch. Pick up a stainless steel insulated food jar (Thermos Funtainers come in kid-friendly patterns) and send hot lunch to school. Soup, pasta, chili…all good on a chilly fall day. Add a few crackers and a piece of fruit and you’re done.

Freeze juice boxes and water bottles to use as ice packs. The drink will thaw by lunchtime, but will keep everything cool in the meantime.

Keep in mind that most kids love repetition. Several wise readers reminded me that my goal for my kids’ lunches — healthy, delicious variety — was likely different from my kids’ goals: filling their bellies quickly so they could get out to recess.

Beyond the thrill of the odd treat or note here and there, most kids aren’t sitting around savoring their lunches. As long as the lunch you pack includes a balance of protein, grains, fruits and vegies, you’re doing pretty well.