Back to School Favorites

August 18, 2022

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My back to school favorites

Can you believe the back to school season is already here? Every year the summer seems to fly by faster than ever. And whether your kids head back to school at the end of July, in August, or after Labor Day, it’s definitely time to start thinking about our fall routines.

The back to school season can be exciting and overwhelming all at the same time. From backpacks to lunches and school supplies, there’s so much to think about!

If you’re not sure where to to get started, I’m here to help! I spent an entire week sharing all of my back to school favorites on Instagram, and now I’m rounding them up on the blog, too.

Check out this guide to find all of the best back to school finds for any price point and stage of life!

Backpack Roundup

Backpacks are something I actually really love shopping for. Along with the perfect white T-shirt and crewnecks, it’s just something I can’t resist!

I like to find durable, classic backpacks that will stand up to wear and tear for years. All of the backpacks I chose also have large drink pockets—an absolute must!

Here are my favorites in a wide variety of styles:

  • Toddler Backpack: $24. I love the adorable primary colorblock options of this backpack. It’s a classic look, and your toddlers will love the bright colors.
  • Elementary Backpack: $39. This backpack also has great colorblocking, a wipeable fabric, tons of pockets, and an expandable drink pouch. Plus, since it’s from the tried and true L.L.Bean brand, you know it will last for decades! All in all, this bag gets an A+!
  • Middle school/High school backpack: $59. This backpack is big enough to fit a laptop, lunch, and books. It’s functional while still being super stylish and sleek.
  • Sporty backpack: $50. This Adidas backpack offers a more sporty look and comes in lots of colors. It has a big, flexible pouch on the side for holding a water bottle, and the fabric is easy to wipe down.

Lunch Box Essentials Roundup

I have tried MANY different types of lunch boxes and containers in my day. Finding the perfect setup can definitely feel like a Goldilocks situation: One might be too big, another one too small, another one doesn’t have enough dividers, another one doesn’t keep everything cold, etc.

Fortunately, I’ve finally found a great arrangement after years of trial and error.

Here’s everything you need for practical, convenient, and functional school lunch storage:

  • Fulton Co. lunch boxes: The Fulton Co. lunch boxes from Target have become the clear favorite around our house. They are so functional, they all have an outer drink pouch, and they last forever! Plus, they come in a few different styles that make it easy to prepare any type of lunch. I have ones that come with a hard, adjustable divider and ones that come in a soft style that is perfect for adding in a bento box. They also have a clip on the handle and a name card pocket on the back.
  • Freezer packs: These freezer packs from Amazon are great because they’re thin, don’t leak water, and keep everything cold without taking up too much space.
  • Lunch containers: I love Easy Lunch Boxes brand for inexpensive, durable, dishwasher-safe lunch containers. We’ve had them forever, and they’re just $13 for four. They fit perfectly inside the soft Fulton bag and have a little extra room in the front. (I wouldn’t recommend the knock-off brands on Amazon—they definitely aren’t as durable!)
  • Small containers: My kids usually take lunch items that are already bagged up, so we don’t use the bento box-style containers much. But if they want to take carrots and veggies or cut up fruit, I love using these mini Rubbermaid containers from the Chris Loves Julia collaboration. The muted blue color is beautiful, and they’re perfect for dips, berries, or anything small that you don’t want to get crushed.

The best school lunch boxes, water bottles, and containers.

Water Bottle Roundup

Water bottles are another school essential that can be tricky to shop for. You want something that won’t leak, is easy to use, just the right size, etc. Since it can be so hard to find the perfect water bottle, I actually tested out 23 insulated kids water bottles awhile back!

Here are my favorites from that test:

  • Takeya 14 oz water bottles: This was the first place winner from my water bottle test, and they’re STILL a family favorite. The carrying handle is great and can be thrown in the dishwasher, and they come with a removable boot. They’ve held up really well, and the 14 oz size is ideal for young kids!
  • Stanley 20 oz IceFlow: This smaller Stanley was just too cute to pass up on and would be great for younger kids! Get 20% off with code Home20.
  • Stanley 22 oz IceFlow: My 10-year-old loves the Stanley IceFlow water bottle. Like many of you, we all love the Stanley brand at our house. The designs are so cute, the colors are great, and they keep drinks cold forever! This one has a straw lid and is dishwasher safe, too. Get 20% off with code Home20.
  • Stanley 30 oz IceFlow: My high schooler uses the 30 oz IceFlow water bottle, which easily fits in the drink pouch of her backpack, or in a car cupholder. It’s dishwasher safe, has a nice handle, and is leakproof! Get 20% off with code Home20.
  • Mabel’s Labels stickers: These are not your ordinary stickers! These stickers are laundry-safe, dishwasher-safe, microwave-safe, and waterproof. They’re like magic! I’ve been using them to label everything in our house, including my kids water bottles. Write out your child’s name and let them add some personality with a custom sticker design!

My Lunch Prep Method

Now let’s talk about prepping school lunches! This can be a big pain point for many families, and I totally get it. Making school lunches every morning can be a big time suck and source of stress for kids and parents alike.

My kids have been enjoying free lunches at school for the past two years, but now that we’re bringing our own lunches again, we’ve been using my lunch prep method that saves us SO much time and headache every day.

Here’s how it works:

  • Bulk sandwich prep: I prep a bunch of “main dishes” all at once sometime during the week. I can prepare 25 sandwiches in just 10-25 minutes, and it saves us so much time in the morning!
  • Freezer storage: I store all of the main dishes in baggies and freeze them.
  • Grab a sandwich: We pull out enough main dishes for the school week, then the kids choose one they want and throw it in their lunch box every morning.
  • Add side dishes: The kids review our “lunch menu” and add a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other snacks to go with their main dish. (Popcorners, Z Bars, and dried seaweed are some of our favorites!) The kids know they need to diversify, so they’re not just eating all chips and cookies.
Lunches assembled with sandwiches and side dishes.

Here are some of the main dishes my kids love (and keep in mind, you can totally tailor these ideas with foods your kids like best!):

  • Ham and Cheese on Hawaiian Rolls: It’s so easy to make a whole package of Hawaiian roll sandwiches all at once. Just layer in meat, cheese, a thin layer of mayo and mustard, and you’re done! I usually pack 1-2 rolls in a baggie for my younger kids, and 3 or 4 for the older kids. These freeze and thaw so well, and it’s still one of my kids’ favorite lunch options.
  • Bagels and Cream Cheese: I usually pack up a whole bagel for my older kids, and half bagel in a snack bag for my younger kids. This is another main dish that can be easily frozen.
  • Homemade Uncrustables: One of my kids absolutely loves Uncrustables, but they can be pretty pricey, so I’ve started making my own. I use this tool for Amazon to make the sandwiches, and then you can fill them with whatever you want, including Nutella, honey, Sun butter, nut butter, etc.

Lunch Prep Essentials

  • Sandwich spreader: If you’re making PB&Js, Uncrustables, or spreading mayo and mustard, this sandwich spreader is super handy!
  • IKEA baggies: Airtight baggies are by far the best way to keep sandwiches fresh, and IKEA baggies are my absolute favorite. They come in some unique sizes that are perfect for lunches, and they’re made of 80% sugar cane, making them more environmentally friendly than the typical sandwich bags.
  • Sandwich knife: I love this knife for slicing Hawaiian rolls all at once, or for cutting a loaf of homemade sandwich bread. The serrated edge makes it so much easier to cut without crushing the bread.
  • Cutting board: This wide cutting board is the perfect size for making a bulk batch of sandwiches or bagels.
  • Uncrustables cutter: I LOVE this little tool I found on Amazon! It saves us so much money by allowing me to make homemade Uncrustables, rather than constantly buying the name brand at the store.

Back to School “Lunch” for Dinner

Last year I put together a post all about our back to school “lunch” for dinner, and we plan to do it again this year! It’s a fun tradition for ringing in the start of a new school year, and the kids certainly never complain about having chicken tenders and French fries for dinner!

Here’s a link to the post for all of the details.

After-School Cookies

Another tradition we love is having freshly baked cookies after the first day of school. While I can’t promise to make my kids baked goods every day, it’s a great way to make the first day of school feel special and catch up on all of the events of the day.

Here’s a post with more details about it, and a recipe for my favorite easy lemon cookies! (These soft sugar cookies would be great too!)

Happy Back to School Season!

And there you have it: ALL of my favorite back to school essentials in one place! I hope you found some helpful products and tips to make your back to school season go a bit more smoothly. If you try any of these ideas, take me on Instagram at @homeandkind. I’d love to see your posts!

I like to hang out on Instagram and share more in-depth tutorials on everything I make, create, and organize.  Come be a part of our Home & Kind Instagram community.

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