30 School Lunch Ideas That are Easy and Healthy - Baby Chick

30 School Lunch Ideas That are Easy and Healthy

Get 30 school lunch ideas with essential nutrients to focus on to help power your kids through their school day.

Updated November 27, 2023

by Dr. Nicole Avena, Ph. D.

Associate Professor of Neuroscience
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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

High protein food as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, buckwheat, oatmeal, nuts, bean, pumpkin seed and sunflower seed. Top view.

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

Fiber

Healthy food. Healthy eating background. Fruit, vegetable, berry. Vegetarian eating. Superfood

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

Assortment of food - natural sources of dopamine. Food good for brain on white background.

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

School lunch box for kids. Cooking. Child's hands. Top view, flat lay

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

Simple Modern Bento Lunch Box for Kids

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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

A paper lunch bag with a note from mom with an apple and a blackboard in the background with room for copy.

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

Kid's pink bento box with Charcuterie Board items

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

Clear round glass container filled with lentil pasta and veggies with a vinegarette.

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

Mint green bento box for kids filled with banana roll ups, bell peppers, pretzels, and ranch dressing

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

Kid's pink bento box with avocado toast, an egg, and fruits and veggies

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

Kid's pink bento box with Turkey and Cheese Roll-Ups and fruits and veggies

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

Kid's pink bento box with Hummus Wraps, hard boiled egg, clementine, and celery

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

Kid's pink bento box with Sun Butter and Fruit Sticks with cottage cheese, bell peppers, grapes and peanut butter

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

Kid's pink bento box with Lettuce Cups With Grilled Chicken, yogurt, crackers, apple slices, and blueberries

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

Kid's pink bento box with Chicken Salad, carrot chips, crackers, pineapple, and strawberry

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

Mint green bento box for kids filled with egg muffins, toast, strawberries, and yogurt

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

Kid's pink bento box with bean and cheese burrito and cantaloupe, celery, pretzels, and peanut butter

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

Kid's pink bento box with turkey club sandwich, strawberries, blueberries, yogurt, and peanut butter

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

Kid's pink bento box with mini rice cakes, cottage cheese, carrot chips, apple slices, and grapes

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

Mint green bento box for kids filled with taco salad, chips, blueberries, and a clementine

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

Kid's pink bento box with cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, carrot chips, blueberries, pretzels, and hummus

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

Mint green bento box for kids filled with english muffin pizza, apple slices, and yogurt

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

Mint green bento box for kids filled with egg salad, carrots, crackers, apple slices, and sun butter

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

Mint green bento box for kids filled with chicken, potatoes, broccoli, and bell peppers.

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

Mint green bento box for kids filled with spaghetti, string cheese, broccoli, and carrot sticks

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

Mint green bento box for kids filled with tuna salad, pita chips, apple slices, celery sticks

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

Mint green bento box for kids filled with greek yogurt and berries, granola, broccoli, celery sticks, and carrots

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.

22. Sliders

Kid's pink bento box with a slider, grapes, string cheese, carrot chips, and ranch dressing

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

Mint green bento box for kids filled with a buffalo chicken wrap, apple slices, celery sticks, and sun butter

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

Mint green bento box for kids filled with hot ham and cheese sandwich wrapped in foil with strawberries, pineapples, and yogurt

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

Kid's pink bento box with waffle strips, chicken nuggets, apple slices, carrots, cheese stick, and syrup

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.

26. Dumplings

Mint green bento box for kids filled with dumplings, carrots, celery, broccoli, and soy sauce packet

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

Mint green bento box for kids filled with white mac and cheese with broccoli, ham rolls, strawberries, and blueberries

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

Kid's pink bento box with antipasto skewers, crackers, and apple sauce pouch

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

Kid's pink bento box with blueberry pancakes, cantaloupe, watermelon, yogurt, and syrup

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.

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Nicole Avena
Dr. Nicole Avena, Ph. D. Associate Professor of Neuroscience
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Nicole Avena, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Visiting Professor of Psychology at Princeton University. She is the author of several books, including… Read more

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