Healthy Lunch Ideas for Kids

School lunch for kids

school breakfast week

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It dawned on me this week that I am in a serious funk finding healthy lunch ideas for my kids. They have dutifully carted off with the same, sad ham sandwich in their lunch bag for at least the last two months. There have been few complaints, but this is not ok.

Why? Because I know variety is so important. Because I know variety is fun. And more importantly, I know I can do better. Am I just that lazy?

No. In fact, I’ve been busy, a tad stressed, and more than a little overwhelmed. Lunch ideas were the last thing my brain needed to deal with. Can you relate? 

Barriers to making our kids healthy lunches

It’s not that we are lazy. Look around at all the things we as parents do. Nope, not lazy all; more like overachievers. Am I right? We do five thousand things on the daily and then some. 

Rotating healthy lunch ideas takes a lot of brainpower, and sometimes those ideas just get buried way back in the outer netherregions of our brains, pushed deep down in favor of more important tasks, like Teams meetings and laundry.

So we resort to the same tried and true lunch combos, over and over again. It’s not bad per say, but I know we all want to do better. We want healthy and happy little eaters.

What about school lunches?

Ah, school lunches you say! That’s the answer! Sadly, last time I checked, the menus at our public school were not much better than I remember as a kid. 

A friend recently sent me a picture of a child’s lunch choice and it was appalling. Corndog, fries, and chocolate milk. Sadness. 

Instead of resorting to school lunch to save the day, let’s take a few minutes to resurrect some of those healthy lunch ideas and get them back in the forefront of our brains.

Pulling out some healthy school lunch ideas

“I can’t find them,” you say. “Those ideas are so buried it will take a brain surgeon to extract them, one by one.” I know you ain’t got no time for that. Neither do I. 

But what I have that maybe you don’t is a handy list written up eons ago with some killer lunch ideas WE can use to feed our kids better. And I’d love to share it with you!

I want to stress we are not going for perfection here. These are relatively well-balanced foods that:

  1. Most kids will eat
  2. Include fiber and color, and
  3. Are easy on the pocket-book

Have a read-thru of some of these quick ideas, and then click the link below for a handy printout you can keep at your desk or on your fridge to guide your meal planning and shopping.

Have other super fun ideas? Find me on Instagram and share them with us!

Easy and healthy lunch ideas for kids

Nut butter and Jelly on whole-wheat or gluten-free bread

I know it sounds boring, but you can’t go wrong with nut butter and a little jelly on whole-grain bread. Throw in some apple slices and maybe a cheese stick and you have a nice box of things for your child to choose from. 

While peanut butter is the most popular choice, consider other options like almond butter or cashew butter. Better yet, try sunflower seed butter, especially if there are nut-allergic children at school.

Bento Box

Have you seen those fun bento box containers at the store? Even Marshalls had a neat selection just the other day. Snag one of these and pack each compartment with delightful choices.

Ideas? Fill your bento box with things like:

  • Cheese cubes
  • Yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Crackers
  • Mini sandwiches
  • Egg bites or hard-boiled eggs
  • Muffins
  • Pasta
  • Meatballs
  • Diced chicken or cured meats (meat sticks, pepperoni, etc)
  • Veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, zucchini, etc)
  • Fruit slices and/or berries
  • Avocado slices
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruit
  • Edamame

Choose a few of the above and pack into each compartment. 

Also, this is a great tool for helping kiddos become good eaters by giving them autonomy over what they choose while at the same time exposing them to a wide variety of tastes, colors and smells.

This is also a handy resource for parents when you run out of “normal” lunch options. Just say, “Hey kids, it’s bento box day!” and never look unprepared again. 

Small Whole Wheat Bagel w/ Cream Cheese and Carrot Sticks

You might be thinking bagels are unhealthy, and often they are, but the smaller size, whole wheat ones are a great choice for growing kids. 

Add a nice, thick layer of cream cheese or their favorite spread and pack it with some fruit and veggies. Can’t go wrong. 

Chips, Dip and Avocado

This is an idea I gleaned from other parents. Pack a baggy with tortilla chips or crackers of your choice. Include a Tupperware or the aforementioned bento box filled with salsa, avocado slices, sour cream or greek yogurt and some shredded cheese. Your child can dip or load up the chips as they desire.

Meatballs or Sausages

Consider making a batch of chicken of turkey meatballs and use the leftovers for lunches. Pair with brown rice and veggies for a well balanced meal. Alternatively, you could pair rice with chicken or turkey sausage slices.

Warming it all up and throwing into this insulated bowl would do the trick: Bentgo Bowl

Tortilla Roll Ups

These are great. Take a tortilla of any type (whole-wheat, gluten free, etc), spread something on the inside like hummus, guacamole, nut butter, etc, and then layer on a few slices of deli meat and/or cheese before rolling it all up. Kids love it. Lots of variety to choose from and easy to eat.

Quesadillas

This is a big hit with my kids. Grab a whole wheat or gluten-free tortilla, layer the inside with cheese, shredded chicken, and black beans, and bake them up into creamy, cheesy triangles of goodness. Include a few apple slices on the side and you are all set.

Leftover Fried rice

Fried rice and rice dishes in general lend themselves well to reheating for lunches the next day. If leftovers are not available, consider those handy frozen rice meals at Trader Joes or the like and add extra protein (even tofu perhaps?) along with extra veggies.

Just don’t forget to include a fork lest you receive a scolding from your angry, forkless child. Hell hath no fury like an elementary student sans fork (who could have found a plastic fork in the cafeteria, but I digress).

These sporks will save you and your child from future misery.

“Healthy” Muffins

Sometimes in the evenings I whip up a batch of low-sugar muffins that pack in healthy ingredients like flax, hemp seed, greek yogurt, squash or some other interesting addition that adds flavor without heaping in the sugar. Then I send my boy off with one or two in his lunch along with fruit and some protein like nuts, string cheese, or a hard boiled egg.

Check out this muffin recipe for one idea. 

Homemade Pizza

School pizza is typically yuck, but homemade pizza is yum! I usually get a pre-made, whole grain crust of some sort and then load on healthy ingredients like mushrooms, peppers, broccoli and pepperoni.

Quiche

Do you ever make quiche at home for a meal? If so, send your little one off to school with the leftovers! Not only does it taste great cold, but it’s packed with protein and fat to keep them going the rest of the day. Make sure to include some veggies either in the quiche itself or on the side.

Pita Sandwich

To change up the sandwich game a bit, take a whole wheat pita, fill it with a spread like hummus, tzatziki, or baba ganoush, and then add some shredded veggies. Add fruit and cucumber slices on the side.

Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese with Peas (or other pasta dishes)

Often on the weekends we make up a box of Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese shells. My boys love adding peas which seem to snuggle themselves nicely into the cooked shells. Usually we make extra and reheat it on weekdays for an easy lunch. 

Alternatively, you can take pasta dinner leftovers or pasta salad and in the same way package up for weekday lunches.

Consider something like for keeping pasta warm: Mira Thermos

Chili

Pretty self explanatory. Find a canned chili you like (I like the Amy’s vegetarian chilis), pack it up in a thermos and your kiddo is good to go. 

Potstickers

Frozen potstickers are always a hit with my kids. Warm them up before school, throw in a thermos, and off you go. Pack some fruit on the side. 

Egg Bites

These can be added to a bento box, but they also can be the star of the meal. Warm these up from frozen or homemade and place in a thermal container. Pack with fruit slices and nuts. 

Essential tools for packing lunches

Having a few resources on hand will make this whole lunch-making business a whole lot easier. 

First off, keep these printable lists around to jog your memory for new ideas each week.

Printable List

Printable graphic list (this is great for posting on the fridge)

Second, have the right tools around so that packing lunches is easy and fun. Here are things I use to make lunches portable and help reduce needless waste.

Lunch bag: Genteen insulated bag

Bento box: Basic or Fancy

Thermos: Mira or Bentgo bowl

Reusable “bags”: Stasher bags

*I love these SO much, and they can go thru the dishwasher

Packable utensils: Sporks

*I’m a big fan of sporks. Why not keep it easy?

The big takeaway

Maybe it’s just me, but school lunches are the last thing I want to think about. But it’s important, and one of our jobs as parents is to help our kids enter the world as healthy eaters.

While lunch choices are not going to change the world, they may make an impact on how our kids view food and the choices they make as adults. 

Thankfully lunch does not need to be gourmet. Just use a few of these ideas and keep rotating options. Variety is key!

Besides producing healthier eaters, sending our kids off with homemade lunches saves $$ and reduces waste. While it requires a bit more time on our part, the payoff is worth it.

If you are struggling in this department and/or have a picky eater, please reach out! I love to help families find better balance with food.

At the end of it all, however, don’t stress. YOU are doing great and your kids are doing great. Just keep doing the best you can, and reach out for help if you need it.

Danielle VenHuizen

Registered Dietitian, Certified LEAP Therapist