If I had to eat a sandwich for lunch five days a week for the whole school year, I’d get tired of it pretty quickly. My kids are the same way. For that reason, I’ve started branching out from the typical sandwich to pack in their lunchboxes, and came up with other healthy lunches to send with them instead. Pasta, breakfast foods, leftovers… they are all easy school lunch ideas and my kids LOVE them!
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School Lunch Ideas
I typically either find a carb or a protein first, and then fill the rest of their lunchbox with fruit, veggies, and a snack. I don’t send veggies often unless I know they will get eaten. I don’t like to think of unwanted carrots tossed in the trash.
We use leftovers whenever possible (because THIS mom doesn’t feel like cooking food at 7:00 AM). The high schooler has access to a microwave but my 3rd grader doesn’t, so most school lunches aren’t foods that need to be warmed.
We try to keep it balanced and healthy, and avoid plastic and prepackaged foods as much as possible. But every now and then life happens.
Here are a few of our favorite school lunch ideas that we keep on rotation.
Breakfast Themed Lunches
Packing lunches for school days got very easy when I realized my children would eat breakfast foods any time of day! You can whip up a big batch of pancakes or waffles, and keep them in the freezer to warm up each morning. Add in some sliced fruit and you have a delicious lunch.
Pro tip: to keep apple slices from turning brown, sprinkle them with a little lemon juice before packing them away into your kid’s lunch box.
- Waffles (with maple syrup, Nutella, or jam), sausage links, fruit
- Leftover banana pancakes (I make a double batch when we have brinner), bacon, fruit
- Mini bagels with goat cheese and blackberry preserves, greek yogurt, strawberries, Larabar mint chocolate balls
- Boiled eggs, toast strips, jam, cantaloupe
- French toast, syrup, sausage, fruit
- Fruit muffin (berry or banana), yogurt with granola, mixed fruit
- Egg muffins, fresh fruit, sausage
- Yogurt bar – yogurt with a variety of toppings (here are some of our favorite yogurt bowls)
- bagel topped with cream cheese and fresh berries, chicken sausage, and a yogurt pouch
Non-Sandwich Lunches for Kids
These healthy school lunch ideas are mostly leftovers that are easy for kids to eat at school (without warming up), pasta salads, and a hodgepodge assortment of foods that my kids will eat. Think charcuterie or snack tray, but deconstructed into bento-style lunchboxes.
When you have picky eaters, you have to get creative! And trust me, I have the pickiest eater ever, so I know the struggle of packing a child’s lunchbox with anything besides Goldfish crackers.
- Leftover Annie’s shells and cheese, Annie’s bunny grahams, blackberries, grape tomatoes, organic “nummy bears” for dessert
- Rolled up deli meat, cheddar cheese slices, Skinny Pop mini cakes, sweet baby peppers with hummus, blueberries, chocolate chips for dessert
- Cheese quesadilla, mixed fruit, tortilla chips and salsa
- Salami, cheese cubes, olives, grapes, wheat crackers (yes, my 8 year old really eats this!)
- Lettuce tuna wraps, avocado slices, crackers, baby carrots, fruit
- Leftover chicken cubes, broccoli, grape tomatoes, ranch dip, cuties
- Boiled egg, sliced fruit, sugar snap peas with ranch, muffin
- Pinwheels (ham, cheese, and mustard on a tortilla, rolled and cut into wheels), carrot sticks and ranch, apple slices
- Leftover pizza, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, dried mango
- Diced sweet potatoes (sauteed in oil), ham slices, pita chips, strawberries
- Tortellini topped with pesto, salami slices, greek yogurt topped with strawberries
- Chicken nuggets, Terra sweet potato chips, raspberries, almonds
- A thermos of chicken noodle soup (it stays warm), some whole grain crackers, and a piece of fruit
- Homemade calzones and fresh fruit
- Deli turkey wrapped around a cheese stick, celery sticks topped with sunflower seed butter (we love Sunbutter and it’s allergy friendly!) and mini chocolate chips, and pretzel sticks
- Cheese roll-ups (basically a cheese burrito – a tortilla with cheese melted inside), some tortilla chips, plain greek yogurt for dipping (tastes like sour cream), and cucumber slices
- Egg mini muffin, homemade granola bar, string cheese, and orange slices
Read more about how to pack school lunches your kids will actually eat!
Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids
- One bowl lunch: Italian pasta salad with diced/shredded chicken, tiny bits of broccoli and carrots, halved grape tomatoes, topped with Italian dressing and feta cheese
- Meatless Monday: Apple nachos drizzled with warmed peanut butter (make sure PB is allowed at school, or use sunbutter) and topped with diced strawberries, wheat crackers and cheese
- Quinoa salad: cooked quinoa topped with diced avocado, feta cheese, black beans, halved grape tomatoes, and a sliced boiled egg. Drizzle with Newman’s Own olive oil and vinegar dressing.
- “Snack” lunch: Popcorn, blueberries, cheese cubes, applesauce, graham crackers
- Deconstructed cereal bowl: dry cereal (such as Cheerios or Fruit Loops), vanilla yogurt, sliced strawberries and bananas
- Sushi bento: California rolls, edamame, salad with ginger dressing
Holiday Themed Lunches – Fun Lunch Ideas
- Valentine’s Day: Sandwich cut into a heart shape, heart shaped cheese slices, heart shaped strawberries, dried cranberries, red candies
- St. Patrick’s Day: Chips and guacamole, kiwi slices, broccoli, “green” boiled egg
- Easter (the day after): Deviled eggs, ham slices, baby carrots, Peeps for dessert
- Memorial Day/4th of July/Veteran’s Day: Strawberries and blueberries in vanilla yogurt, apple and cheese slices, blue tortilla chips and salsa, marshmallows for dessert
- Halloween: Sandwich cut into a ghost shape (ok ok, there’s ONE sandwich lunch), purple yogurt (mixed berry), grapes (pretend they are eyeballs), pretzel sticks (bony fingers), piece of candy for dessert
Creative Ideas for Sandwich Days
Some days, you may have to fall back on sandwiches. It’s not the worst thing, it’s still a great lunch option, and your picky eater will be fed one way or another.
But if you want some ideas to take a boring sandwich and make it more interesting, here are a couple ideas that I’ve tried.
Make a sandwich with a buttered croissant (I grab a pack of mini croissants from the bakery section at the grocery store) instead of regular sliced bread. You can add in some deli meat and slices of cheese, and it’s still a basic ham and cheese sandwich – but in a new shape and with a different texture!
Or if you’re using sliced bread, use simple cookie cutters to cut those sandwiches into fun shapes. My kids LOVE when I do that, and they end up eating everything in their lunchboxes.
I bought the set of sandwich cutters pictured above because they remove the crust from the bread while also cutting the sandwich into fun little shapes. The dinosaur shape and the dog and doghouse ones are our favorites.
The set also comes with small stainless steel cutters that are supposed to be for fruits and veggies, but I sometimes use those to cut sandwiches into tiny little pieces and then put them in a small bowl in my kid’s lunchbox.
There are also some tiny little animal-shaped forks that my kids love when eating small finger food like blueberries or strawberries.
Best Lunchboxes for Kids School Lunches
As you can see, we love to use our Planetbox for packing school lunches! The different compartments make it easy to pack in a variety of ingredients without letting things touch (nobody wants blueberries in their macaroni).
My son loves the magnets that fit into the different lid areas as well, and the matching lunchbox makes him the coolest kid at the lunch table.
We’ve tried out a few other lunchboxes that have also been really good. The Bentgo brand stainless steel lunchbox is really durable (they also make a plastic bento style lunchbox that’s less expensive).
The LunchBots stainless steel lunchboxes are also really good, and come with different colored lids so your kids know which lunch belongs to which child.
Have more school lunch ideas to share? Please comment below so we can keep the ideas flowing!
Amanda is a mom of 4 living a mostly crunchy lifestyle outside of Atlanta, GA with her husband, 2 dogs, and a cat. As a former special education teacher who also has her personal training certification — Amanda really enjoys teaching others how to do things!
When she’s not working, Amanda enjoys DIY projects, exercising, photography, hiking, and long walks through Target.