How to Plan a Lunch at Your School

If you found this post, you must be getting ready to plan an Appreciation Lunch at your school. YOU ARE AMAZING! Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to make the teachers and staff feel loved. 

In addition to this post, I created a free downloadable "Appreciation Lunch: Planning Worksheets and Checklist" that walks you through the entire planning process; from asking the essential questions before you begin, to packaging up a plate of food for the night custodians, who always miss the fun appreciation events. I'll share with you my tips and tricks, my exact SignUp Genius wording, and make this process as streamlined as possible.  

How to plan a teacher appreciation lunch - tips and tricks plus a free planning guide with checklist

Choosing a Theme

So many fun themes, and so little time! Our printables shop has an assortment of lunch printables, but the sky is the limit! What will you choose? Things to keep in mind:

  • Time of year. Are seasonal decorations readily available?
  • Theme request? Does the PTA or a staff member have a particular theme request? For instance, a "Back to School" lunch, or an author visit?
  • Are decorations and supplies readily available? I started designing printables because there was nothing in the Dr. Seuss theme I was planning. Don't do that to yourself. LOL! 


Coordinating Volunteers

It's true. The success of any school event depends on the number of and willingness of your fellow parent volunteers. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to contribute to your lunch.


  • Give plenty of lead time. If you know you are having a monthly lunch, and have the dates scheduled out for the entire year, provide a list of dates as soon as they are confirmed.
  • Send an email about your event one month in advance. If you are anything like me, your calendar fills up fast! You want to get the Appreciation Lunch on your volunteers' radar with plenty of notice.
  • Use SignUp Genius for your sign up. SignUp Genius makes it easy to create an event, track who has signed up to bring an item, and quickly see which items you may need to supplement. You can contact everyone on the sign up with the click of a button, AND if you are planning more than one lunch, you can duplicate the sign up! It is a huge time saver. As an added bonus, SignUp Genius will automatically send everyone a reminder two days before the event. Did I mention it was free?!
  • Remind, remind, remind. One week before the event, send a follow-up email to any volunteers who haven't signed up to bring anything yet. I can't tell you how many times I have read an email on my phone, made a mental note to respond later, then promptly forgot. Reminders are very much appreciated.

The Sign Up Form 

You've already read the many reasons why I love SignUp Genius. Now it's time to dive into sign up specifics. The number of staff members will dictate quantities, so I can't help you there, but I can provide other guidance.


  • The event description should include the location, day, and time of drop off.
  • How would you like the items delivered? (Disposable containers?)
  • When/where should they pick up their serving platters?
  • Would you prefer homemade items?
  • Make a note if there are any food allergies. (No peanuts, for example.)
  • Include your name and contact information in case anyone has questions.


Themes make food requests easy. Are you having a salad bar? Request a variety of salads (at least four). Taco bar? Ask for taco ingredients. You get the idea. 

  • Include options for all diets: gluten-free, protein-based, low-calorie, vegan, etc. 
  • Don't forget the condiments! The staff lounge may not be stocked with items like salad dressing, butter, etc.
  • Include a few little dessert items like chocolate chip cookies or brownies.
  • Sparkling water is always a crowd favorite.
  • Be very specific regarding quantity and flavor. Do you want chips? Ask for specific types: tortilla chips, potato chips, Doritos... You get the idea. Otherwise you could end up with five bags of pretzels. 


Other items you may consider asking for: tablecloths, paper plates, napkins, flowers, volunteers to set up, volunteers to clean up, etc. Again, be specific regarding quantity, size, and color.


Set Up and Clean Up 

Setting up is my favorite part of any event. I love making the tables look just right. The person setting up and receiving the food may be you, or multiple volunteers.


If you are the person setting up, you should have the tablecloth, plates, napkins, cutlery, cups, decorations, and (of course) printables with you.

  • If another volunteer is setting up, tell them where the decorations are located. (Under the food table is my go-to spot.)
  • Be sure to ask the school secretary or office manager if there is a specific spot you should set up. Some schools are just thrilled you are providing lunch; others are very particular about how they would like things done. I've had kids at both.
  • If you have a large school and a significant number of people dropping food off, recruit a second person to receive the food and check it off the sign up sheet. You or another volunteer can find a place for the item on the pretty table.
  • PRO TIP: When I first started planning these events, I would customize all of the food labels ahead of time. I do as much in advance as I possibly can. The labels were set out for the parents to find when they dropped off their food items. That worked well roughly half the time. The other half of the time, people made something else, or completely forget. Now, I print the blank food labels and fill them out as the food arrives.


This section was tricky for me to write. I don't want to scare you off (amazing appreciation planner that you are), but I want you to be prepared. Here's the thing, you are probably going to be the one cleaning up. It's not that parents are unwilling; it's the timing. Often parents are at work when clean up needs to happen, or they are at home with a toddler, and we all know toddlers create more work when you try to bring them along to do anything.

  • I aim to clean up an hour after lunch ends. This allows time for crock pots to cool and any remaining staff to clear out. It also gives me enough time to wrap up leftovers, wash serving platters, wipe down the tables, etc. before school ends.
  • Unlike breakfast or dessert bars, leftover food is typically picked up by parents after school instead of saved for the staff to eat the next day.


  • If your child is at a school with required volunteer hours, offer double the hours for anyone who volunteers for clean up duty.
  • Request that parents bring food items in disposable serving dishes or on paper plates. This reduces clean up and saves you time tracking people down later when they inevitably forget to pick up their serving platters.
  • Use a portion of your budget to buy Press and Seal wrap. Yes, that brand specifically. It seals the food and stays put. I also highly recommend gallon-sized storage bags.
  • Before putting anything away, double-check with the secretary or front office manager. Sometimes they want the food left out.
  • Put together a lunch plate for the night custodian(s) and leave them a note. They always miss the fun appreciation events. I got to be good friends with them over the years. They are, after all, the ones that vacuum up the aftermath, and let you into locked rooms after school when you are setting up for events the following day.

Lunch Ideas

You can read about the specifics of themed lunches I have coordinated below:

Who Feast Luncheon (Dr. Seuss)
SOUPer Lunch (Superhero)
Interstellar Lunch and Space Capsule Lunch (Space)
Taco Assembly Station and Pizza of Resistance (LEGO)
Downhome BBQ and Chili Cook-Off (Western)


It's Your Turn!

Are you feeling prepared and ready to plan a lunch for the superstars at your school?! I created a Planning Worksheet and Checklist to walk you through the process. It has additional helpful information and lists not included in this post. You can do it!