School lunch ideas don’t have to be boring to be healthy or unhealthy to be fun. Many ideas exist to make school snacks and lunches fun and healthy with visually appealing shapes and sizes and nutritious ingredients. These tips and tricks will ensure your child never gets bored with what you pack and guarantee they will get all the essential nutrients they need to power them through their day.
Essential Nutrients to Focus On for School Lunch Ideas
So, what school lunch ideas does your child need to feel full, have long-lasting energy, and boost their immune system? A balanced lunch includes three nutrients: protein, fiber, and fat. Now, that may sound broad, but these three essential nutrients provide our bodies with fuel.1,2
Protein is essential to kids’ school lunch ideas because it serves a significant role in a child’s growth and development. Without it, they can experience growth stunts or decreased height growth. Protein also helps build muscle and muscle recovery, meaning less sore legs from running around at recess. Finally, protein allows for healing, which boosts overall immunity.1
The next essential part of perfect school lunch ideas is fiber. Fiber is what will keep your child full for longer. Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate, and it feeds our gut microbiome. This means it keeps everything moving, allows for slower stomach emptying (hence the feeling fuller), and lowers the glycemic response in the bloodstream (no sugar high).2
Fat is the final puzzle piece of kids’ school lunch ideas, and it rounds everything out. Overall, increasing healthy fat intake slows the effects of sugars hitting the blood quickly, like how fiber functions. It also provides your child’s body with essential fatty acids important in cognition, brain health, and aging. Fatty acids also inhibit fat-soluble vitamin absorption, essential for optimal immunity and overall well-being.3,4
School Lunch Ideas: Packing Tips
Now that we know what to include, how can we incorporate each into school lunch ideas that a child will want to eat? This can be challenging, especially if your kid is a picky eater. But some tips can help with food boredom.
Pre-Cut and Arrange Foods
Children love to be visually stimulated. Kids’ school lunch ideas instantly look more appealing by pre-cutting wraps, fruit, cheese, or anything else you include in different shapes and sizes. Think, “Is this plate Instagramable?” It sounds silly, but it helps!
Try a New Lunch Box
It seems too simple to be true, but a new lunch box with organizational compartments for each part of the meal may get your kid to finish it. Different types of lunch boxes also help with food prioritization. With all school lunch ideas, if you place the main course with the most nutritional value on top, followed by snacks and a treat, children are less likely to be distracted by multiple parts of a meal.
Write a Note
Again, it seems simple for kids’ school lunch ideas. But if you show your child how excited you are about what you made them for lunch, they might get just as excited to eat it. This encourages healthy eating choices in adulthood and can boost adequate intake in childhood.
30 School Lunch Ideas
Here are 30 ideas for school lunches your kids are bound to love.
1. Charcuterie Board
Take the deli meat of your choice and roll it into a wrap, then cut and cube your cheese of choice. You can add whole-grain crackers to go with it, as well as grapes, celery or carrot sticks, and hummus to use as a dip.
2. Protein Pasta Salad
Boil about a half-cup serving of lentil pasta per the package instructions. Dice up some cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, and your cheese of choice. Toss it all together in a container with a vinaigrette dressing.
3. Mooala Banana Milk with PB&J Banana Roll-Ups
This banana milk is an excellent option for the thermos when looking for a low- or no-sugar beverage for your child. The milk is organic and dairy- and nut-free.
For the PB&J banana roll-ups, get a slice of whole-grain bread. Press it down to flatten it. Then, spread a layer of peanut butter or sun butter, then a layer of jelly. Place a peeled banana on top and roll the bread with PB&J around the banana. Cut into four or more slices. Add some bell peppers and pretzels for the sides.
4. Avocado Toast
Toast a slice or two of whole-grain bread. Mash avocado with lemon juice and seasoning. Place the avocado mix in a side compartment of the lunch box for a build-your-own idea. Include apple slices and peanut butter on the side for even more nutrients.
5. Turkey and Cheese Roll-Ups
Using a whole-grain tortilla, place deli turkey slices and the sliced cheese of your choice on the wrap. Roll it all up tightly and then cut the wrap into four spirals. You can add carrot chips and berries on the side for extra fiber.
6. Hummus Wraps
Using a whole-grain tortilla, spread the hummus of your choice on it and add a sprinkle of your cheese of choice on top. Then stack lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. Roll the tortilla up and serve with half a hard-boiled egg and clementine on the side.
7. Sun Butter and Fruit Sticks
Take two slices of whole-grain bread and spread Sun Butter or another nut-free spread on one side. Add mashed strawberries or raspberries to the other slice of bread and smash them together. Cut the final sandwich into three to four sticks. Make the lunch complete with bell pepper sticks and a full-fat cottage cheese on the side.
8. Lettuce Cups With Grilled Chicken
Using butter lettuce or romaine leaves as a cup, pile in grilled chicken (cooked and cooled), shredded carrots, and a condiment of your choice. Add some apple slices and a Greek yogurt cup on the side.
9. Chicken Salad
Take about a cup of cut-up rotisserie chicken or shredded boiled chicken and mix it with some mayo and your seasonings of choice to make a chicken salad. Include some whole-grain crackers in the lunch box to put the chicken salad on or dip into the chicken salad with carrot chips as a side.
10. Egg Muffins
Egg muffins are a great meal prep item! Scramble two eggs with peppers, onion, broccoli, and cheese. Put the scrambled eggs into a muffin tin and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. Allow to cool before packing it with berries and whole-grain toast.
11. Bean and Cheese Burrito
Use a whole-grain tortilla, pile on a quarter-cup of black or refried beans, and your cheese of choice. Roll the tortilla up and heat the burrito long enough to melt the cheese. Finally, wrap it in some foil to keep it warm. You can add some melon slices and celery sticks on the side.
12. Turkey Club Sandwich
Take two slices of whole-grain bread and add sliced turkey, pre-made and cooled bacon, lettuce, sliced tomato, and mayo to make a sandwich. Berries and Greek yogurt are great on the side.
13. Mini Rice Cakes and Cottage Cheese
Here’s another build-your-own bowl; place mini rice cakes, one serving of cottage cheese, carrot chips, and apple slices in the compartments of a bento box-style lunch case.
14. Taco Salad
This salad includes shredded lettuce, Siete Foods vegan charro beans or black beans, diced tomato, pre-made guacamole, and one tablespoon of sour cream. Layer or mix salad ingredients according to your preference in a lunch container. Add tortilla chips and a clementine on the side to balance it out.
15. Cucumber and Cream Cheese Sticks
Using two slices of whole-grain bread, spread cream cheese on one side of each piece. Then add some sliced cucumber on top of one piece. Put the bread slices together and cut the sandwich into sticks. Add carrot chips and hummus for dipping on the side.
16. English Muffin Pizza
Take one sliced English muffin and spread the pizza sauce of choice on both sides. Add pepperoni and cheese on top of both slices. Bake them in a toaster oven until the cheese is melted. Place the two sides in a lunch box with apple slices and Greek yogurt.
17. Egg Salad
Prepare boiled eggs to preference. Once the eggs cool, chop them and mix the pieces with mayo and seasonings of choice. Put the egg salad in a container, and include whole-grain crackers in the lunch box to put the egg salad on or to dip the crackers in. Add carrot chips and apple slices on the side.
18. Grilled Nuggets
Grill half a chicken breast, let cool, and cut into bite-sized nuggets. In the box, include two tablespoons of a dipping sauce of your choice. For the sides, try roasting some fingerling potatoes and broccoli.
19. Pasta and Meat Sauce
Boil a serving of whole-grain pasta per the package instructions. Then cook a ground meat of your choice. Using a jarred pasta sauce, mix in the ground meat to create a quick meat sauce. Place the pasta in a container and top it with the sauce. Include a side of broccoli, carrot sticks, and string cheese.
20. Tuna Salad
For this school lunch idea, combine canned tuna with olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and chopped red onion. Serve the mixture with celery sticks, apple slices, and pita chips on the side.
21. Greek Yogurt Bowl
In a container, use one serving of Stonyfield yogurt topped with berries. Add granola of choice on the side so your child can top the yogurt themselves with it, and a side of veggies of your choice to balance out the meal.
An excellent school lunch idea for using leftovers! Take two pre-prepared mini burgers of your choice and place them on two slider buns. Assemble with lettuce and the condiments of your choice. Add a side of carrot chips and string cheese.
23. Buffalo Chicken Wrap
Using rotisserie or canned chicken, shred the meat in a bowl and add buffalo sauce and ranch seasoning mix. Mix until coated and spread the mixture on a whole-grain wrap with lettuce. Roll the wrap and serve with apple slices and sun butter on the side.
24. Hot Ham and Cheese
Take two slices of whole-grain bread, some sliced ham, and the sliced cheese of your choice. Put the sandwich together and heat in a toaster oven until the cheese is melted. Wrap the sandwich in foil to keep it warm. Add a side of berries and Greek yogurt.
25. Chicken and Waffles
Take one cooked or toasted waffle and cut it into sticks. Use your choice of chicken, like chicken nuggets, and heat thoroughly. Place all the items in a bento box. Add maple syrup in a container for dipping and apple slices with Horizon Organic string cheese on the side.
Make three to four store-bought dumplings for this school lunch idea according to the packaging instructions. Place them in the lunch box with a dipping sauce of your choice. Add a side of carrots, celery, and broccoli.
27. White Mac and Cheese With Broccoli
Prepare white cheddar macaroni and cheese according to the box instructions. Take half of a cup of the cooked pasta and combine it with steamed broccoli. Serve it with a side of deli ham roll-ups and berries.
28. Antipasto Skewer
Take sliced or diced salami, whole olives, some cheese cubes of your choice, whole cherry tomatoes, and sliced pepperoni, and create two to three skewers, alternating each item after another on the stick. Serve the skewers with whole-grain crackers and White Leaf Provisions apple sauce.
29. Protein Pancakes
Make two to three pancakes from Bob’s Red Mill protein pancake mix (according to the directions), and add fresh blueberries while cooking. For extra fun for this school lunch idea, put the mixture into a squeeze bottle to make the pancakes into different shapes. Add a side of yogurt and melon to round out the lunch.
30. Leftovers from Dinner
This is by far the easiest thing to do for a kids’ school lunch. Make whatever leftovers you have on hand into a new meal to switch it up. For example, rice from the night before can become a burrito bowl for school lunch by adding beans, cheese, lettuce, and tomato.
You are now equipped with the tips, tricks, and ideas to make school lunch ideas rock! The best tool in your toolbox is remembering the three significant components of every meal — fiber, protein, and fat. With those in mind, you can make different and fun meals your kids will love.