Whether it’s the beginning of the school year or some time in mid-April, finding lunches your kids will eat isn’t always easy. Especially when you take schools’ health standards or common food allergy bans. As a kid, my lunch (at my request) was always the same: Plain turkey sandwich, three Oreos or cookies of some kind, a bag of Goldfish Crackers, a piece of fruit, and a Capri Sun. I never got bored of that. My best friend’s lunch looked wildly different from mine and from day-to-day. In her lunches, you’d find everything from tuna salad to stuffed peppers.
Whether your little one is trying out for Top Chef Junior or a PB&J-everyday kinda kid, there’s almost always room for improvement or variety… and that doesn’t necessarily mean a ton of work for you. These lunch recipes for kids are all delicious, some make yummy finger foods, and most are easy enough that they can pack them on their own. What will you do with that extra ten minutes each night — Take a bath? Scroll Instagram? “Bond” with the spouse? Whatever you choose, we guarantee it’ll be more fun than trying to get the smell of bologna off your hands for the next three hours.
1. Lunch Meat Pinwheels
This can be as basic or as complicated of a lunch recipe as you want to make it. Have your little bug start with a tortilla and schmear of any condiment they choose. Next, they can layer on the lunch meat of their choice. Finally, try to encourage them to add some veggies. This might look like some julienned carrots or might be as ingenious as last night’s leftover green beans. Lettuce is always a staple for roll-ups, but shredded cabbage will add color and still give texture. Once they roll their creation, you might need to help them slice it to make the pinwheels. But, there’s also no harm in leaving it rolled up like a wrap. (Psst! You can also just do this with PB&J.)
2. Taste The Rainbow Bento
What can you find in the fridge that spells out ROY G BIV? Put your child on a mission to find something in the fridge (and maybe the pantry) that matches each color of the rainbow. Eating colorful foods is one of the best ways to ensure you’re staying healthy. Getting them involved in picking it out will ensure everything in their lunch will get eaten and including all seven colors will guarantee variety.
3. Hummus and Veggies
Is your kiddo a hummus fiend? Count yourself lucky and take advantage of it. Hummus doesn’t need to just be for a snack — you can have it for lunch, too! Get those individual cups or scoop some into a small tupperware. Then, let your kiddo pick our what they want to dip in. Options: Pita chips, pretzel crisps, celery, carrots, broccoli, etc.
4. Pita Pocket With Your Kiddo’s Favorite Salad Recipe
Pita Pocket fillings are practically endless. Tuna salad? Chicken salad? Shredded lunch meat? Even Taco Tuesday leftovers work in a pita. And, thanks to the internet, even staples like tuna or chicken salad don’t have to be the boring versions you had when you were a kid.
5. Fish Tacos
Mama, hear us out! Fish tacos taste delicious but sound like a complicated lunch recipe for kids, right? They can be — but they don’t have to be. If you’re already making fish fillets or fish sticks for dinner, just toss an extra one onto the baking sheet or into the skillet. Once it’s cooked, let it cool while you eat dinner. Afterward, have your child tear apart the fish and divide it in between two taco shells. Add in last night’s salad leftovers or some of that shredded cabbage you used for the pinwheels to add another level of crunch. For extra fun and freshness, consider helping your child slice a lime and include a wedge or two for them to squeeze over their tacos before they tear into their lunch.
6. Kid-Friendly Charcuterie
Be forewarned: The minute your child tells their friend’s mom you packed them charcuterie for lunch, there’s going to be an eye roll. It just sounds so fancy and like it requires soooo much work. It doesn’t, though! As a matter of fact, it might be even less work than the typical lunch because you don’t have to “fix” or “prepare” anything. Using your kid’s favorite sectioned lunch tupperware, fill each section with a serving of your child’s favorite fruits, cheeses or lunch meats. If your kid likes olives or nuts, you can add those in, but it’s hardly a requirement. Neither are crackers, though they might add a crunch to the mix.
This is also a great way to get your child to experiment. For their cheese section, do mostly chunk of their favorite cheese (probably American or cheddar), but also branch out with a few cubes of something more “fancy” — even if it’s just pepperjack or havarti, it’ll be different to them and will help you expand their palettes a little bit more.
7. Breakfast For Lunch
Mini Pancakes and a little cup of syrup? A thermos with some pre-cooked and still-warm egg bites? A few strips of turkey bacon and some avocado toast? Any of those ideas would fly in our world. If your child is going to “that” school, you might expect a note sent home about “unhealthy” pancakes and syrup. Still, your child will enjoy the variety and the “wackiness” of seeing breakfast in their lunch.
8. Stuffed Peppers
So, maybe my best friend’s mama was onto something. It certainly seems “gourmet” to find stuffed peppers in your lunch. However, it was probably just leftovers, right? While I would have revolted at the sight of leftovers for lunch (I was an only child, okay?), my bestie never minded. If your kiddo loves to help with dinner, let them be in charge of prepping that extra pepper for their lunch. Maybe show them how to add in some taco or Greek seasoning to the mix, so it’s not so monotonous. After dinner, it’s as simple as wrapping the pepper in foil (or squeezing it into a tupperware), letting your child choose a coordinating snack and drink and you’re done. So much easier than your typical routine.
9. Mason Jar Salad Recipe
Okay, so I hated salad when I was a kid. But, I was a picky eater. The kids in my life now would absolutely love opening their lunch bag and finding a mason jar filled with a fresh salad. They’d also enjoy assembling the salads themselves.
If you start with a simple spring mix base, what happens next is wide open. Maybe Wednesday is more Taco Tuesday leftovers with some corn cut off the cob from Monday. Thursday’s salad might have leftover baked chicken sliced up and tossed with some strawberries that are a day away from turning. Shooooot, girl. You could even toss in some dino-shaped nuggets. It’s protein! If you’re in a real pinch on Friday, break up some of this morning’s bacon and chop up a hard-boiled egg. Salads are such an easy lunch recipe for kids and yours will love picking out their own “ingredients” for each mason jar.
10. DIY Pizza Kid
You know those pizza Lunchables your kid has been begging for? You can do that yourself. Bag some mini pizza crusts (or a bagel or english muffin) and include a small container of pizza sauce in their lunch box. (Or last night’s spaghetti sauce. We won’t tell!) What toppings do they love on their pizza? Maybe they’d get a kick out of some bacon and some pineapple chunks. Or maybe they just want to make a smiley face with some mini pepperonis. Either way, as long as you remember the cheese, you’ll still win Mom of the Year status.
11. BBQ Sammich Lunch Recipe
Got leftover chicken? Show your kid how to shred a piece of chicken, then stir in their favorite BBQ sauce. Bam. BBQ Sammy. Put it in a tupperware and include bread, a bun, tortilla or pita pocket so they can assemble at school. Some mini pickles or a cup of baked beans will help create a nice picnic feel to their lunch.
12. Thanksgiving Sammies
That time between Thanksgiving break and holiday break is brutal. Help your kiddo ease back into school by hooking them up an extra special lunch when they return. Use your Thanksgiving leftovers to create the most perfect sandwich (or roll-up or taco) to find in their lunch box. If you have any leftover holiday napkins or paper plates, include those, too, for an extra festive meal.
Kids love cute food, and what’s cuter than tortellini? They’ll love their fun little lunch full of little twisted pasta and you’ll love knowing they’re having a nutritious meal. Best part about tortellini is you can sneak in healthy veggies like spinach and mushrooms in their day to day.
While we’re on the cute food kick, why not try some gnocchi and parmesan for lunch? Trader Joe’s Outside-In Stuffed Gnocchi has a mouthful of cheese and tomato sauce in each bite, and their sweet potato and herb butter gnocchi is a staple for anyone with kids.
15. Veggie Burger
With a bun or bun-less, a veggie burger patty with a side of fresh veggies or salad is a super yummy lunch to take to school. With so many choices and organic varieties available, veggie burgers are a great way to sneak in tons of nutrients and vegetables into kid’s lunches.
16. Buckwheat and Chilled Greek Yogurt
If you haven’t heard of buckwheat you must be living under a rock. This super food is a beloved grain across the world, especially in Europe, and is a fantastic source of iron. It’s basically pure iron! This super versitile grain goes with anything, so you can serve it with grilled shrimp, chicken, or steak. For a lighter, but still filling lunch, try boiling some buckwheat, serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream and some flaky salt on top for flavor. If the kids don’t eat it, you can gobble up all those yummy leftovers for yourself.
17. Tacos Verdes
If you can grill a chicken breast and chop up some onions and cilantro you can pull together this delicious and healthy lunch for the kiddos in under 20 minutes. Garnish with onions, cilantro, lime juice and mild verde sauce for an awesome tangy flavor kids will love.
18. Chicken Tetrazzini
Don’t roll your eyes just yet, while most chicken tetrazzini recipes call for gently sautéing mushrooms and whipping up béchamel sauce from scratch that’s not this recipe. This recipe from Family Fresh Meals will have a creamy, savory, and rich piping hot chicken tetrazzini on the dinner table in 45 minutes flat. Not bad.