Back-to-school season is a tumultuous one at the best of times: emotions are running high and often conflicted; the physical preparations required can get frenetic; logistical nightmares loom. Now that we’re in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, of course, it’s orders of magnitude more fraught.
We don’t even know what exactly “back-to-school” will be like this year across the board. Some states are planning to reopen classrooms (micro-schooling is one option on the table), while others are likely to keep relying on distance learning—in which case, some parents are considering pandemic pods and hiring tutors (if they can afford it). Some schools have already opened and then instituted quarantine for staff and students after confirming positive cases of coronavirus.
No matter where and how your little ones do go back to school this year, they’re going to need to eat, so many of our picks from previous years are still relevant. But we’ll also be updating this guide as we get closer to fall with more timely information, like where to buy masks for kids.
We know we can’t make this easy, but we hope that having the right gear, recipes, and guidelines will help a little bit, and we wish you all the best.
Use the links below to jump to the info you’re interested in, or scroll through to see all of our back-to-school content.
- Back-to-School Gear
- Back-to-School Breakfast Recipes
- Back-to-School Lunch Ideas
- Back-to-School Dinners
- Back-to-School Snacks
- Back-to-School Fun
Masks, of course. But also the old standbys: lunch boxes, meal prep gear, cute food-themed accessories, and college dorm essentials (because little ones aren’t the only ones—maybe—off to school). We obviously focus on the edible and edible-adjacent, but for more tech-related essentials, be sure to check out CNET’s Back to School Gift Guide too.
More than any backpack or lunchbox, this is (sadly) the most important accessory for all kids going back to class this year. See our picks for The Best Places to Buy Face Masks for Kids Online and be sure you know how to properly wear and clean a cloth mask too.
Related Reading: The Best Hand Soaps, Sanitizers, and Lotions to Buy Online
Plastic is becoming a monumental environmental concern, but there are plenty of sturdy (and adorable) sustainable options for packing more eco-friendly lunches. These are some of our picks for Best Reusable School Lunch Supplies.
Lunches don’t pack (or cook) themselves, but these time-saving tools will help streamline the process and save your sanity. Think of them as school supplies for your kitchen. Check out these Meal Prep Tools for Streamlining Lunch.
Honestly, most of these are cute enough to take to work too…or to the park for a socially distant picnic if it’s still a while before offices and schools are back open for business. See our picks for Best Lunch Boxes.
Preparation is key, and these meal prep containers will help you get everything in order for the week ahead. Check out the Best Meal Prep Containers.
Related Reading: The Best Meal Prep Cookbooks to Help You Go Pro
If you’re off on your own for the first time, these are the basic tools you need to cook for yourself. See our College Dorm Cooking Essentials guide.
Once you’ve got the basics down, you can add in a few more tools for fun. See our favorite Fun Dorm Food Gadgets.
Breakfast in a Hurry
School days demand breakfast to fuel you for the day ahead, but they’re also extra-busy, so getting it done can be difficult. Make it easier with these ideas.
No time to make pancakes, but still want to do one better than cereal? Try these Instant Pot Breakfast Recipes (if not on a weekday, they’ll still give you more time to relax on Saturday and Sunday).
Burritos can work just as well for breakfast as they can for lunch—and they don’t have to be unhealthy, either (especially not compared to a Pop-Tart), but there are some key tips to success. Check out our Easy Back-to-School Burrito Ideas.
The beauty of a make-ahead breakfast cannot be denied. That’s why we’re rounding up our best make-ahead breakfast recipe ideas to get you out the door faster; check out these Make-Ahead Breakfast Recipes for Busy Mornings. They’re still convenient even if you’re not going any farther than the living room computer desk.
The start of school may mark the end of summer, but it’s still hot, and kids are pretty grumpy. Try giving them a healthy frozen smoothie pop for breakfast and it’ll brighten their day a bit. Get the Breakfast Popsicle recipes.
Yogurt is a timeless no-brainer breakfast option, but there are so many kinds (including newcomer oat yogurt)—this guide will break it all down and help you choose the healthiest option. See our Guide to Yogurt.
Homemade granola is seriously easy, endlessly adaptable, and much healthier than many of the store-bought options out there—not to mention way cheaper. Learn How to Make the Best Homemade Granola and sprinkle it on that yogurt (or put it in a baggie for a school snack).
It can be a struggle to eat a healthy breakfast every day (even most days), but here’s a guide to getting it done. See our tips, tricks, guidelines, and recipes for pulling off a Healthy Breakfast Every Day.
School Lunch Ideas
If your kid munches on packed lunches, it is extra work, but you can streamline it (and still keep things interesting) with these school lunch ideas, tips, and recipes.
Little kids can struggle with certain packaging, but due to social distancing regulations, they may not be able to get the help they need. See How to Make Easy-Open School Lunches to ensure they get to eat their food on time.
If your kids are still distance learning, it might seem like more hassle to pack a lunch ahead of time, but this homeschooling mom of 15 finds the opposite to be true. See How & Why to Pack School Lunch Even at Home.
If you still need some help on the how to pack school lunch in the most efficient way, here are some tips and tricks. See The Best Way to Pack School Lunch.
These easy lunch options are only slightly more involved than slapping together a PB&J, but they’re way more exciting (and pretty healthy too, while still being kid-approved). Get our Kids’ Lunches That Are Better Than PB&J.
You’re not gonna make these on the day of (update: you might, if you’re all still at home together during COVID-19), but your Instant Pot is a top-notch meal prep tool and these recipes are all kid-friendly. Get our Instant Pot Lunch Recipes for Back-to-School.
Got leftovers? Get your kids to eat them—and happily—with these creative transformations. See How to Turn Leftovers into School Lunch.
These are some of the best foods to pack with your kids to help boost their brain function. See which Brain Food to Pack for Lunch.
You don’t have to double the work when it comes to packing school lunches and work lunches; just make a few creative tweaks to your portion and leave your kids’ a little plainer. See How to Make Lunches You and Your Kids Will Like.
Kids still jockey for juice? Skip the high-sugar, store-bought options and pack (or pour) these Healthy Juice Box Alternatives instead.
Even littler kids can have a hand in getting their lunches together. Chef Cat Cora speaks from experience. Get her tips on How to Get Kids to Help Pack Lunch.
Grilling weather should hold out for at least a couple more months, so when you’re barbecuing dinner, why not cook up some extra grub for the next day’s lunch? Get our Back-to-School BBQ Recipes.
It seems that nut allergies, wheat allergies, and dairy allergies all continue to become more common, and even if your kid doesn’t have them, many schools require allergy-safe snacks. Luckily, there are tons of tasty options. See our Allergy-Friendly School Snack Recipes for proof.
Simple, kid-friendly, and fairly healthy, these will be school year staples for sure. See our 10 Healthy Recipes for Back-to-School.
Related Video: How to Pack a Veggie-Filled Lunch Kids Won’t Trade Away
Not just a reward for getting through another round of classes, but a necessity for many growing (and hence, constantly hungry) kids, after-school snacks don’t have to come from a box. But if they do, we also have some healthier choices to suggest.
Kids come home hangry (or constantly whine for snacks while they’re there all day)? This fantastic one-bowl snacking cake from Jessie Sheehan is easy and quick to put together, and can be made with whatever fruit you happen to have. Get the Apple Snacking Cake Recipe.
Related Reading: The Best Cookbooks for Kids
Not all granola bars are created equal (ditto any other snack you can think of). These earth-friendly options are better for you and for the planet. See some of the Best Eco-Friendly Snacks.
Even if your kid doesn’t have dietary restrictions, if they’re gonna eat nacho chips and chocolate candies, may as well make ’em plant-based! See some of our picks for Best Plant-Based Snacks.
Of course you do! And now you can introduce your kids to the wonders of Dunkaroos and Ritz Bits with these Copycat ’90s Snack Recipes.
Easy Dinner Plans
Busy weekdays often blur into busy weeknights, so dinner can be another stress-inducer. But here are some easy and delicious ways to get dinner on the table in a reasonable amount of time.
Chances are, you’ll be leaning on your Instant Pot a lot more during the school year. Here are 15 Quick and Easy Instant Pot Meals to give you a head start on dinner plans.
Tuesday night is not the time to break out your fancy-pants chef cookbook, but there are a lot of cookbooks perfectly suited to feeding the family in a hurry. See our picks for The Best Cookbooks for Busy Weeknight Family Dinners.
Unsurprisingly, Instant Pot and pressure cooker cookbooks are an entire subset of the above. We picked out some of our favorite Instant Pot Cookbooks too.
An alternative to quick and speedy, the slow and steady Crock-Pot is another great option for weeknight meals. We have a plethora of slow cooker recipes on the site, but here’s a roundup of 21 Easy Slow Cooker Meals the Whole Family Will Love.
No Instant Pot required for these 30-minute meals that parents and kids will love. Get 11 Quick & Easy Meals for Busy Weeknights.
Don’t believe your kids will actually go for any of the above? Try taking some advice from a mom of two picky eaters. See Jessie Sheehan’s Tips for Feeding Picky Kids.
These hearty, healthy salads make for great dinners, and the leftovers pack up perfectly for lunch the following day. Get our Best Grain Salad Recipes.
Just for Fun
All homework and no play is no way to do things, so don’t forget to have some fun!
Homemade Pop-Tarts are one back-to-school project everyone can get behind. See How to Make Pop-Tarts From Scratch.
Get a glimpse of what other kids are eating. And maybe glean some inspiration too. Check out these International School Lunches.
Related Reading: Charming Snapshots of What Kids Eat Around the World
These grown-up versions of grade school classics taste way better than you remember. Get our Cafeteria-Style Recipes That Actually Taste Good.
We paired up some nifty lunch boxes with thematically appropriate lunches for a totally on-point eating experience. See our Thematic Lunch Box and Food Pairings.
School fundraiser coming up? Don’t panic. See our 9 Tips for Bake Sale Success and you’ll nail it. (If there are no bake sales this year, your kids will still appreciate any of these treats for a special occasion.)
Do kids actually still do this (or did they, before social distancing)? And how did it get started in the first place? Find out Why We Give Apples to Teachers.
Any drink you mix up to celebrate once the kids are back in class, of course (or that the teacher downs once they’ve gone home for the day)! But seriously, check out this cheeky Back-to-School Cocktail Recipe in particular.
This post was originally published in 2019; it has been updated with new information, and additional images, links, and text.
Header image courtesy of Liliboas / E+ / Getty Images