It can be frustrating for parents to come up with healthy and delicious school lunch ideas that their picky eaters will actually eat. Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy and tasty lunch options that will satisfy even the choosiest of eaters! In this post, I’ve put together a list of 10 amazing school lunch ideas that are both delicious and nutritious. So sit back and read on, your next school lunch inspiration awaits.
As my girls start school next week, I’m getting ready to tackle school lunches once again. My goal is to do some meal prep on Sundays, and then my kids can put together their own lunches throughout the week. The following are some tips, tricks & recipe ideas that I hope you’ll find useful for your own childrens’ school lunches… even if they’re picky eaters like my kids!
Find a Fun & Practical Lunchbox
I’ve found that a good lunch box that my children love is key to making them enjoy their school lunches more. My favourite lunchbox is the Sistema to Go Lunch Cube. It’s lightweight and easy to wash in the dishwasher, and it’s larger than many bento box style lunch boxes on the market so I can ensure my kids have enough to eat during the day. I find these boxes are large enough to fit a balanced lunch and a snack inside.
Follow the Lunch Box Rule of 5
I love the idea of “The Rule of 5” from Sarah Remmer, R.D. that I found on Fraiche Living. If your child is a picky eater, you can ask them to create their own school lunch as long as they follow the Rule of 5.
The Rule of 5 means that there are at least 5 items in your child’s lunch for balance:
- Vegetable (1)
- Fruit (1)
- Protein-Rich Food (2)
- Whole Grain or Starchy Vegetable (1)
School Lunch Protein Ideas
Our family finds it hardest to include proteins my kids love in their school lunches, so some ideas for proteins are:
- leftover cooked meat from supper
- all natural lunch meat
- boiled eggs or egg “muffins”
- yogurt tubes, cups or drinks
- cheese cubes, slices, or stringed cheese
If you need some specific school lunch ideas for picky eaters, here are 10 of my favourites below. Each of these lunch ideas includes all the items from The Rule of 5 for a balanced meal. You’ll notice none of these include a sandwich. If your picky eaters are like mine, they’re not huge sandwich fans!
- Start by packing a handful of tortilla chips in a separate container to keep them crunchy.
- In another compartment or container, add a layer of cooked black beans. These are a great source of protein and fiber.
- Sprinkle a generous amount of shredded cheese on top. You can adjust the quantity based on your child’s preference.
- Add a layer of cherry tomatoes for a fresh burst of flavor and some added health benefits.
- Include some cubed avocados as they are packed with nutrients and healthy fats.
- Finally, add a small container of sour cream, salsa, or Greek yogurt for dipping or spreading.
It’s not just the commercialized “Lunchables” that can get your kid excited. You can make a healthier and fresher version by using whole-grain crackers or pita bread, nitrate-free deli meat, and sliced cheese. Add some fresh fruit like grapes, banana slices or berries and your little one will have a yummy and balanced meal. You can even add some homemade granola bars or homemade cookies for a special treat (here’s my favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe)! Pack all of these elements in a cute lunchbox, and you’ll child will love it!
Make-Ahead Pizza Rolls
Everyone loves pizza, and you can make some mini pizza rolls ahead for quick and delicious school lunches for picky eaters. To make pizza rolls quickly & easily, you can also use a pre-made pizza crust dough, or use your own recipe. Roll the dough out into a rectangle, top it with your favourite pizza toppings (we like pizza sauce, pepperoni and cheese), and then roll the whole thing up like you’re making cinnamon buns. Slice the roll into 1/2″ – 3/4″ pieces, and place each roll on a greased pan. Bake for 30 min at 350 F. Sneak some veggies into these rolls like chopped bell pepper to add some extra nutrition.
Ham & Cheese Roll-Ups
If you have a child who doesn’t like sandwiches, ham and cheese roll-ups can be a good alternative. Spread some cream cheese on a tortilla, and then layer ham, romaine lettuce and cheese on top. Roll up the tortilla, and then cut into 2 inch sections. Use a toothpick to hold the roll-ups together, and place them in a lunch container. Add some carrot sticks, celery sticks, or apple slices with ranch dip on the side for a balanced meal. Get the full ham & cheese pinwheels recipe here.
PB & J Waffle Lunch Box
Making a PB & J Waffle Lunch Box is a fun and delicious twist on the traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Here’s a simple recipe that your kids will love for their school lunches:
- Start by toasting 8 frozen multigrain waffles until they are golden brown and crispy.
- Spread a tablespoon of peanut butter on one side of four waffles. (Use a nut butter alternative like WowButter if your child cannot bring nut butter to school.)
- On the other four waffles, spread a tablespoon of jelly.
- Combine one waffle with peanut butter and one with jelly to make a sandwich. Repeat this process until you have four sandwiches.
- If desired, pack each lunch box with a hard-boiled egg and a mandarin orange for additional protein and fruit.
Pancake Bites Lunch
Even the pickiest eaters love pancakes, and they’re even more alluring when they’re mini! I use pre-made pancake mix to make these pancake bites incredibly fast, but you could also use your favourite pancake recipe. Simply mix up a batch of pancakes as you normally would, and then drop the batter into a mini muffin tin. Add any toppings you wish (I like chocolate chips, sprinkles or fruit), and then bake them for 15 minutes at 350 F.
Combine a few pancake bites with some veggies, fruit and protein for a delicious school lunch.
Chicken & Rice Lunch
This flavorful chicken & rice combo is loved even by my picky eaters! Cook some seasoned chicken breast strips at the beginning of the week and portion them into containers in the fridge for your kids’ lunches. Make some brown Minute Rice in the morning (get the individual packets for easy prep) and pop the warm rice in an insulated container. Combine the chicken and rice with some fruits and veggies for a yummy, balanced school lunch. For an extra protein element, add some dip for the veggies like hummus or a yogurt based dip. Get more non sandwich school lunch ideas for picky eaters here.
Cheese & Meat Kabobs
- Begin by cutting your lunch meat into one-inch strips. Choose any meat your child likes – ham, turkey, or roast beef work well.
- Roll up each strip of meat and slide it onto a wooden skewer.
- Next, add a cube of cheese to the skewer. You can use Colby jack, sharp cheddar, or Swiss cheese based on your child’s preference.
- Follow this with a cherry tomato and a grape.
- If your child enjoys lettuce, you can add a small folded leaf to the skewer as well (this is a fun alternative to a salad)!
- Repeat this process until the skewer is full but still easy to handle.
- Make as many kabobs as needed for your child’s lunch.
Pop these with some fruit and extra veggies in your child’s lunchbox for a super yummy meal!
Homemade Mac & Cheese with Broccoli
My homemade mac & cheese is always a huge hit with my girls, and adding some chopped broccoli makes it perfect for a school Thermos lunch. Make a big batch at the beginning of the week and store in a sealed container in the fridge. Have your kids portion it out in the morning, warm it up in the microwave, and then put it into an insulated container. Pack this with some pepperoni sticks, fruits and veggies. It also tastes great paired with chicken nuggets which you can also cook and store in the fridge for week-long use!
Muffins & Snacks
I love items like homemade muffins, homemade breads and homemade biscuits because I can make them on Sundays for the kids to enjoy all week. My favourite muffins with healthy veggies inside are these Vegetable Savoury Muffins from Healthy Little Foodies. With the addition of garden zucchini, carrots, peas and corn they offer lots of vegetable goodness, and I can prep them on Sunday for the whole week. For the ones shown above, I used only carrots and zucchini, and I added extra seasonings. Yum! Pack these along with some protein like chopped, cooked chicken and some fruits and veggies for a balanced and delicious school lunch.
Don’t like a savoury muffin? Pack a sweet muffin with the added health benefit of fruit instead. My banana chocolate chip muffins are my kids’ favourite, and they can be paired with some protein, veggies and fruit in a school lunch.
With these 10 delicious and healthy school lunch ideas, your little ones will be excited to open their lunch boxes every day. Try these recipes out and see what your picky eaters gravitate towards most. Remember, when it comes to school lunches, it’s all about variety and balance. Finding the right balance between taste and nutrition can be tricky, but with time and practice, you’ll have it down to an artform in no time. Happy lunch packing!