The ultimate list of over 30 healthy and easy school lunch box ideas for kids! In this guide, you will find 30 real-life school lunch ideas, 25 of our favorite school lunch recipes, a list of our favorite lunch boxes, tips on how to make packing school lunches easier, as well as allergy substitutions for gluten, dairy, and nut-free lunches. Great for daycare, preschool, or elementary school-aged kids!
Medically reviewed and co-written by Jamie Johnson, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), and Lauren Braaten, Pediatric Occupational Therapist (OT).
School Lunch Box Ideas for Kids
Are you burned out from packing the same pb&j and apple in your kids’ lunch day after day?
Then you’ve come to the right place! Here are over 30 real-life lunches that will help you find some school lunch inspiration. Plus, you will find over 25 easy lunch recipes, FAQs, our favorite lunch boxes and accessories as well as our top tips for making packing lunches even easier!
I refuse to spend a ton of time making school lunches so all of these lunches were packed in roughly 5-10 minutes⏲, all while I was making dinner. I usually pack school lunches at night while I’m making dinner because I just can’t get my sh*t together enough in the mornings.
TIP: To make simple, easy and fast school lunches I utilized leftovers and simple ingredients I can pull out of my fridge – no fancy labor-intensive recipes involved.
So if you see nachos in one of the lunches, we probably had taco night for dinner and I used the leftovers for a fun nacho lunch. Muffins – I had those leftovers from the weekend when I did have some time to make some fresh muffins, but you could also use store-bought. Same with pasta and pizza – all leftovers.
All the extra cute Pinterest-worthy items – animal or eyeball picks, sandwiches, fruit and veggies cut into shapes are ALL OPTIONAL. Please 🙏 do not feel like you have to go the extra mile here; they are just kids’ lunches, after all. I have a slight bento box accessory shopping problem 🙈, so I add in a few extras. But you will still be a fantastic parent and lunch-maker if you skip them altogether.
Feeding kids can be tricky! But, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! Here you will find 40 Family Dinner Ideas, over 100 Healthy Snacks for Kids, great Hidden-Veggie Recipes, 50 Cooking with Kids Recipes and so much more! Plus, don’t miss my best-selling cookbook Little Bento: 32 Irresistible Bento Box Lunch for Kids for more recipes and ideas!
Back to School Lunch Video
Take a look at this video that features a fun back-to-school lunch for your kids.
Reasons to Love these School Lunch Ideas
- full of real, wholesome foods that your kids will love
- easy to pack lunches
- great for lunches at home
- full of nutrient-dense foods to boost learning
- can be made allergy-friendly – Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free or Nut-Free (see notes for each recipe)
- no fancy recipes – I used leftovers or simple ingredients to make these lunches
- great for daycare, preschool or elementary-aged kids
- can be packed in any bento box style lunch box or any containers you prefer
- healthy versions of school lunch food – pizza, nachos, and burritos – so your kid doesn’t feel left out
- balanced lunches with a protein, fruit, veggie, and something fun
Favorite Lunch Boxes
I tested out the top 6 lunch boxes to help you find the perfect lunch box for your toddler, preschooler, or big kid that can go anywhere they go – school, preschool, a school pod, lunch at home, a playdate, or a fun outing. Here are my top 3 lunch boxes for kids:
Best Overall Lunch Box: OMIEBOX
We love the OmieBox because it has a built-in thermos that can be inserted into the lunch box for warm or cold foods that can be removed if needed. How brilliant is that? Plus, you can insert dividers in the 2 smaller sections to separate the food, and each section is leakproof.
Best Eco-Friendly Bento Box: PLANETBOX ROVER
We have been using the Planetbox Rover for years, and we all absolutely love it! The Rover holds a good amount of food for both my 5 and 7-year-olds, and I know I can pack it with even more food as they grow. My girls love the fun magnets, the carrying case, and the small colorful pods you can add into the bento for small amounts of food. This lunchbox is made completely without plastic – it is made with only stainless steel and food-grade silicone.
Best for Younger Kids: Bentgo
This is a great little lunch box for younger kids or kids who don’t eat very much. I loved that it is a compact, lightweight, and completely leakproof lunchbox. My kids loved the fun designs on the front. Plus, this lunchbox is super easy to open and shut for younger kids.
Best Value Lunch Box: Easy Lunch Boxes
A very basic bento that comes in a 4-pack with different colored lids. This set of Bentos comes with the smallest price tag, and you can get all 4 boxes for under $20. This bento is a great size for both kids and grown-ups which means you can use them for the entire family. They aren’t made with the highest quality of materials (BPA-Free Plastic), but we have had our bento boxes for over 6 years, and they are still going strong. I think every family should have a set of these. They are also a great option if your kid tends to misplace everything in their life;).
Lunch Box Packing Tools
Besides having a lunch box, it’s great to have some of these tools on hand to make it easier to pack fun lunches.
School Lunch Tips
- Find a good time for you to pack school lunches – this may be the night before or the morning of. Find a time and stick to it.
- Get your kids involved – have them pick a few fruits or veggies they want to eat in their lunches for the week, help chop the veggies, make the sandwich, or even have them pick out the fun dip containers or food picks used.
- Utilize leftovers – make sure you take advantage of using any leftovers that will work as a cold lunch – cooked chicken, pizza, pasta, sauces, etc.
- Plan it out – using this handy printable, you can plan your kids’ lunches for the week.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best way to keep your child’s lunch warm is to use an OmieBox lunch box, which comes with an insertable thermos.
Depending on the age of your child, you may need to adjust some of the sizes that I have shown below. When in doubt, go with smaller bites for younger kids.
Kid Serving Sizes
Serving sizes will vary from child to child but generally, kids need a quarter of the portion an adult does. Parents tend to overestimate servings for their children. I recommend starting small not to overwhelm your kid and give seconds if your kid wants more. Keep in mind it’s totally ok if your child eats more or less of these serving sizes. Here are some examples of typical serving sizes for kids ages 2-12:
- 1/4 cup dry cereal
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 banana
- 1/4 -1/2 slice of bread
- 1/2 egg
- 1 oz. meat
- 1/2 piece of fresh fruit
- 1/3 cup of yogurt
- 1-2 tablespoons of cooked veggies
How to Build a Healthy Lunch for Kids
- Try to include at least 3 food groups
- Make one food group protein to help keep them full
- Avoid sugary drinks like soda, juice, lemonade, etc.
- Serve foods in an age-appropriate way (cut up v. whole) and in age-appropriate serving sizes
- Include different colors to make the meal more appealing
- Limit high-sugar and sodium foods
- Serve a variety of foods instead of the same ones to encourage them to try new foods
Kid Lunch Box Recipes
Here are some of our favorite school lunch recipes that are great served in a lunch box for school or at home.
- Homemade Uncrustables
- Homemade Pizza Lunchables
- Easy Spinach Muffins
- Beet Hummus
- Easy Pizza Pinwheels
- Veggie-Loaded Hummus
- DIY Turkey Lunchables
- Back-to-School Lunch Idea
- DIY Heart Pizza Lunchable
- Freezer-Friendly Spinach Waffles
- Rainbow Fruit Skewers
- Blueberry Avocado Mini Muffins
- On-The-Go Granola Bars
- Healthy Strawberry Yogurt Dip
- Valentine’s Day School Lunch
- Halloween School Lunch for Kids
- Avocado Tuna Salad in Mini Pita Pockets
- Cheesy Broccoli Quinoa Bites
- Easy Veggie “Fried” Rice
- Kale Pesto Chicken Quesadilla
- Easy Tomato Soup with Cheesy Bread Dippers
- Mini Chicken + Carrot Meatballs
- Pesto Summer Salad
- Mini Bagel Pizzas with Pepper “Sprinkles”
- Turkey + Carrot Roll-Ups
- Tortellini-on-a-Stick with Marinara Dipping Sauce
- Caprese Salad on a Stick with Basil Dipping Sauce
- Veggie-Loaded Rainbow Pizza
- Harvest Chicken Salad
30 Lunch Box Ideas
1. Chicken “Fried” Rice
Chicken, rice, corn, and carrots sautéed in a drizzle of sesame oil and coconut aminos. Edamame, peaches, broccoli and ranch, raspberries with apples cut out in the shape of hearts, and a few dark chocolate-covered raisins.
Allergy-Friendly – GF and NF. Use DF ranch and treat to make DF.
2. DIY PB&J with Crackers
Crackers are served with a container of peanut butter (almond butter or sunbutter) and another container filled with jam and carrots, olives, golden kiwi, mini grapes, cut strawberries and raspberries and mini dark chocolate chips. Eye picks can be found here.
Allergy-Friendly: GF – use gluten-free crackers, DF – use dairy-free chocolate chips, NF – use sun butter instead of peanut butter.
3. Gluten-Free Pumpkin + Cream Cheese Sandwich
Pumpkin pancake sandwich with cream cheese and raspberry jam, cut yellow peppers, mini grapes, Chobani yogurt tube, and a piece of dark chocolate. The pancakes were leftovers from a weekend breakfast, and the pancakes were made from a gluten-free pumpkin pancake mix from Trader Joe’s, but any homemade, mix, or frozen pancakes would work in this lunch box.
Allergy-Friendly: GF and NF. Use a Dairy-Free brand of yogurt tube (like Kite Hill).
4. Rainbows & Chocolate
Rainbow fruit skewer, plain Greek yogurt with a jam heart, and healthy chocolate zucchini mini muffins.
Allergy-Friendly: already NF, use a Dairy-Free yogurt and make the muffins with Gluten-Free Flour.
Turkey + Cheddar + Salami on a Stick, cut kiwi, red pepper, and carrot sticks with a side of ranch, strawberries, blueberries, and dye-free candy. Sandwich sticks can be found here and ranch containers -here.
Allergy-Friendly: GF and NF. To make Dairy-Free use a Dairy-Free ranch and cheese.
6. Choose Your Own Adventure
Applesauce with cinnamon, salami with dinosaur pick, sliced and cubed cheese, turkey roll-ups, almond crackers, orange pepper slices, kiwi slices, mini grapes and chocolate raisins.
Allergy-Friendly: NF and GF. To make Dairy-Free use Dairy-Free treats and cheese.
7. DIY Hummus and Veggies
Build your own Hummus Lunch – carrots, broccoli, snap peas, peppers and pita chips with hummus, strawberries and chocolate coconut cookies.
Allergy-Friendly: NF and DF. To make Gluten-Free make sure to use Gluten-Free crackers.
8. It’s Friday and I’m Over School Lunches
Cream cheese with honey star sandwich, lentil puffs, cut grapes, cut carrots and dye-free candy.
Allergy-Friendly: NF and DF. For GF use GF bread.
9. Tortellini and Chicken
Spinach Tortellini, chicken and snap pea dippers with a pesto ranch sauce, grape, blackberry and blueberry fruit salad and a couple of dark chocolate-covered pretzels.
Allergy-Friendly: NF. To make Dairy and Gluten-Free use Gluten-Free pasta and a Dairy-Free dip.
10. Pesto Pasta and Avocado Pudding
Spinach pesto pasta salad with chicken, mozzarella, corn and tomatoes, cut strawberries and raspberries and chocolate avocado pudding.
Allergy-Friendly: NF. To make Gluten-Free, use Gluten-Free pasta. To make Dairy-Free, use a Dairy-Free cheese or omit the mozzarella.
11. Green Monster School Lunch
Pesto gluten-free pasta with parmesan, cut kiwi, grapes and avocado salad, roasted seaweed, cut cucumbers, and dye-free candy.
Allergy-Friendly: GF, NF and DF. If Nut-Free, make sure your pesto is nut-free.
12. 5-Minute Lunch
Ground turkey and cheese quesadilla with homemade guacamole, try-color pepper slices, fruit salad (grape, pear, and kiwi), and a couple of yogurt-covered cookies.
Allergy-Friendly: NF. To make Dairy-Free, use a Dairy-Free cheese and dessert. To make Gluten-Free, use a corn or Gluten-Free tortilla.
13. Mexican Fiesta
Bean and cheese burrito with guacamole (I wrapped the burrito in the foil before packing the lunch up), corn, sliced carrots, watermelon balls, and dye-free candy. I used a frozen burrito for this lunch, but any homemade or frozen variety you prefer would work.
Allergy-Friendly: NF. To make Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free you can use DF cheese and a GF tortilla.
14. Hidden Veggie for #thewin
Beet applesauce, cut tomatoes, sliced string cheese, snapeas, cut mild Italian sausage with outer-space picks, a mini container of mustard, and a dye-free gummy.
Allergy-Friendly: NF and GF. To make Dairy-Free, use DF cheese or omit.
15. English Muffin Pizza
DIY Pizza Lunch – mushroom pizza on an English muffin, simple salad with carrots and tomatoes, blueberries and blackberries, and a juice box.
Allergy-Friendly: NF. To make Dairy-Free use DF cheese. To make it Gluten-free, use a GF English Muffin.
16. Gluten-Free Pesto Pasta with Chicken + Corn
Gluten-Free pesto pasta with chicken and corn, Pure Organics Apple Strip, cut cucumbers, blackberries, and walnuts.
Allergy-Friendly: GF and DF. For Nut-Free, omit the walnuts and make sure you use nut-free pesto.
17. Breakfast for Lunch
A favorite in our house! Cinnamon maple syrup steel cut oats, hard-boiled egg, spinach chocolate waffles, kiwi and blueberries, and some orange slices.
Allergy-Friendly: DF, NF and GF.
18. DIY Cheese & Crackers
Laughing cow with two types of crackers in silicon muffin liners, chopped broccoli, chopped red and green pluots, snapeas, and a chocolate pretzel.
Allergy-Friendly: NF. To make Gluten-Free, use GF crackers and treat. To make Dairy-Free, use DF cheese and treat.
19. Healthier DIY Nachos
DIY Nacho Kit – organic corn chips, lettuce, shredded cheese, taco turkey and guacamole all in silicon cups. Also in the bento is grapes with mandarin orange sections and allergy-friendly chocolate chips.
Allergy-Friendly: GF and NF. To make Dairy-Free, use DF cheese.
20. Healthy Lunchables
Crackers, turkey rollups, salami and 2 types of cheese cut into flowers (I used this cutter), apples and blueberries, olives and carrots with ranch dip.
Allergy-Friendly: NF. To make Gluten-Free, use GF crackers. To make Dairy-Free, use DF cheese and ranch.
21. Tortellini + Chicken Dippers
Cheese tortellini and chicken dunkers with pesto dip, cut cantaloupe, cut cucumbers, popcorn and chocolate pretzel.
Allergy-Friendly: NF and DF. To make Gluten-Free, use GF tortellini and treat.
22. Happy Tummy School Lunch
Kefir pouch, snap peas and carrots with ranch (similar container here), sliced apples, crackers with cheese and salami, and dye-free candy.
Allergy-Friendly: NF. To make Dairy-Free, use a dairy-free kefir pouch or replace it with an apple pouch and use DF cheese and ranch. To make Gluten-Free, use GF crackers.
23. Breakfast for Lunch
Gluten-Free cinnamon-sugar pancake muffin, strawberries and raspberries, yogurt and granola, kiwi and avocado, sliced chicken sausage and daily vitamins. I used this pancake mix but turned them into muffins by following the recipe on the back of the bag.
Allergy-Friendly: GF. To make Dairy-Free, use DF yogurt. To make Nut-Free, use NF granola and make sure the pancake muffin mix is NF.
24. A Pizza the Puzzle
Leftover pizza cut into puzzle pieces, carrots, pepper slices, and snap peas with ranch in a mini container, strawberries and raspberries, Chobani yogurt tube, and dark chocolate raisins.
Allergy-Friendly: NF. To make Dairy-Free, use DF cheese, ranch, and yogurt tube. To make Gluten-Free, use GF pizza.
Turkey + cheese bagel sandwiches on-a-stick with cucumber and tomatoes, plum halves, beet strawberry applesauce in squeeze pouch and a few dark chocolate candies.
Allergy-Friendly: NF. To make Gluten-Free, use GF bread. To make Dairy-Free, use DF cheese and chocolate.
26. Almost Out of Groceries Lunch
Bean and cheese quesadilla with smashed avocado, sliced apples, cut kiwis, sliced carrots and chocolate raisins.
Allergy-Friendly: NF. To make Gluten-Free, use GF or corn tortillas. To make Dairy-Free, use DF cheese and pack a DF treat.
27. Greek Lunch Spread
Greek Meatballs with feta dipping sauce, pistachios and roasted chickpeas, sliced olives, cucumber, feta and tomato salad, cut watermelon, and dark chocolate. I used pre-made organic Greek flavored meatballs that were gluten-free.
Allergy-Friendly: GF and NF. To make Dairy-Free, use DF dip, omit the feta in the salad and pack a DF treat.
28. Chicken Salad & Crackers
Curry chicken salad served with gluten free crackers and cucumber slices, watermelon stars and a mixture of freeze-dried blueberries and dye-free candy coated sunflower seeds.
Allergy-Friendly: GF and NT. To make Dairy-Free, use a vegan mayo in the chicken salad.
29. Is it Friday yet.. ??
Leftover cheeseburger and pickles, sliced mini peppers, raspberries and blueberries, cucumbers with ranch in a mini container (similar), and a piece of dark chocolate.
Allergy-Friendly: NF. To make Gluten-Free, use a GF bun. To make Dairy-Free, omit the cheese and use DF ranch.
30. Gluten-Free Pizza Roll-Ups
Gluten-Free pizza roll-ups with marinara dipping sauce, carrots with ranch dip, grapes, berries, and chocolate-covered gummies.
Allergy-Friendly: GF and NF. To make Dairy-Free, use DF cheese, ranch and treat.
- 2 tbsp peanut or almond butter
- 2 tbsp jam
- 6-10 crackers
- 2-4 tbsp each strawberries and raspberries, chopped
- 6-8 baby carrots
- 4 black olives
- 1 kiwi, peeled and quartered
- small bunch grapes, can cut lengthwise
Place the peanut butter and jam into small containers with lids. Add to one section of container with the crackers.
Add in the grapes, kiwi, olives, carrots, strawberries and raspberries to other sections in your lunch box or seperate contatiners.
Gluten-Free: to make gluten-free, use gluten-free crackers