11 school lunch ideas for students of all ages
These fun ideas will make you a lunchbox legend.
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The daily grind of slapping together two slices of bread with a nondescript filling can get old pretty fast. We may start back to school with the best of intentions, but packing school lunches can rapidly become a thankless morning ritual.
If your kid comes home from school with barely a bite taken out of their sandwich, it may be a clue that it’s time to mix things up. We searched far and wide for inspiring school lunch ideas to keep things exciting after the luster of back-to-school has worn off.
What to pack for school lunch
You want healthy, you want fast, and you want easy school lunch ideas, amiright? We found a veritable treasure trove of mouth-watering school lunch ideas in the inspiring Instagram feed of @lunches_by_lindsay, an account run by Lindsay Pruss, an elementary school teacher, who is on a mission to empower kids to make healthy school lunch choices.
These ideas are cute, colorful, and fun and translate well into high school lunch ideas (if you’re hoping to wean your teen or tween off the vending machines).
Here are some of our favorite school lunch ideas that are accessible and simple to execute—and that kids will actually eat—as well as what to pack them in.
1. A healthy school lunch idea that will push their palates: Savory stuffed peppers
Those tiny, sweet peppers are a colorful, kid-friendly favorite. Here, Pruss makes them the main player in the lunch box. This is a healthy “out of the comfort zone” school lunch idea that may expand the culinary repertoire of picky eaters. These sweet mini peppers are filled with cream cheese and sprinkled with some Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel seasoning.
Pruss’s pro tip: For more adventurous palates, fill these with tuna salad, egg salad, or even hummus.
2. A super satisfying school lunch idea that can be eaten on the go: Quirky quesadillas
Quesadillas are super quick to make, can be stuffed with all sorts of surprises, and their crispy edges make them satisfying to bite into between classes—making them a perfect choice for high schoolers.
In our family we like to stuff them with spinach or beans, but Pruss says there is no reason to stick with the old standbys. Classic cheese is a surefire bet for picky eaters, but if you want to mix it up she recommends getting creative with combos like apple and honey, pizza toppings, or leftover chicken with a little bit of taco-style seasoning.
Pruss’s pro tip: When in doubt, throw in a cute note or drawing to make your kids' day.
3. A fun school lunch idea that will definitely make them smile: Breakfast for lunch
Breakfast isn’t just the most important meal of the day, it’s also the yummiest, which is why we are strong proponents of breakfast for dinner—and for lunch and snacks, but who is counting, really?
The best breakfast of all? Pancakes and bacon, with a liberal pour of syrup. The only way to make that meal better? Put it on a stick! “Food on a stick is always more fun,” says Pruss. We agree.
These are a great Monday lunch, using leftover silver dollar pancakes from Sunday breakfast. Don’t forget the maple syrup for dipping—just be sure to put it in a well-sealed container.
- Yumbox at Amazon for $40
- WeeSprout condiment container 3-pack at Amazon for $20
- Perfectware bamboo knot skewers at Amazon for $17
4. A school lunch idea that they won't expect: Dumpling day
Whether they are leftovers from last night’s dinner, or you have a frozen bag sitting in the freezer, pierogies, wontons, samosas, and potstickers travel well and make for a fun, quick-to-eat lunch that’s way more exciting than a turkey sandwich.
They serve up great at room temperature and pair perfectly with a yummy dipping sauce or with just a handful of veggies, if you’re in a rush. And for kids that complain they “don’t have enough time to eat,” these are a fun finger food that can be eaten quickly while catching up on schoolyard gossip.
Pruss’s pro tip: Pack these dumplings cold or at room temperature. Also, be sure to line the compartment of their bento box with a paper napkin to absorb condensation.
- Kinsho bento box at Amazon for $17
- Silicone baking cups 36-pack at Amazon for $14
- Joie vegetable crinkle cutter at Amazon for $7
5. An easy school lunch idea that kids will devour: Leftover pizza bites
A soggy, leftover slice may have felt like a good breakfast option back when you were in college, but for a kid opening their lunch box, it can feel pretty uninspired.
Pruss has a simple tip for changing up last night’s pizza to make it more appealing: Transform it into pizza bites. Just cut last night's pizza into small squares and suddenly your quick weeknight dinner has turned into a breezy lunch prep idea that kids will devour.
Pruss’s pro tip: Pack a fun little fork with these pizza bites, like one of these adorable animal-themed ones. “Eating is less messy and so much more fun!” says Pruss.
- Bentgo Kids stainless steel bento box at Amazon for $50
- Torune animals food pick at Amazon for $6
- Silicone baking cups at Amazon for $9
6. A yummy school lunch idea that's got soul: Chicken and waffles
It’s school lunch, soul food style. Who doesn't love chicken and waffles? Just skewer them up for a lunch that’s filling and fun. Be sure to get a well-sealed dipping container for the maple syrup.
Pruss’s pro tip: To make sure everything stays crispy, be sure to let waffles and chicken cool separately before putting them on the skewer and packing in the bento box.
7. A fun school lunch idea for kids who love their sauces: Pasta dippers
Pasta salad is kinda boring (especially from a kid’s perspective). We love this tapas-style idea for turning leftover pasta into a dipper-style lunch.
Pruss likes using bow tie pasta for a fun look and recommends having kids help out by letting them skewer the pasta and any other additions they’d like, like pepperoni, peppers, olives, and mozzarella balls, in different patterns.
Pruss’s pro tip: Keep pasta from sticking by running it under cold water before assembling the skewers.
8. An easy school lunch idea that's all about the throwback: DIY Lunchables
Healthier than store-bought, and just as easy! The sky is the limit on this customizable spin on an old favorite. Just get your child’s favorite deli meat (pepperoni is a perfect size, but you can also cut ham, turkey, or vegan lunch meats to fit). Then make it fun by cutting any cheese they like into a fun shape. We love Pruss’s idea of getting kids involved with the prep of this lunch.
Pruss’s pro tip: Store the crackers in a separate snack bag or a well-sealed container. The meats and cheeses will naturally let off a bit of moisture, so storing crackers separately will help to keep them crisp.
- Bumpkins reusable snack bags starting at Amazon for $7
- Stainless steel fun-shaped cutter set at Amazon for $12
- 38-piece vegetable cutter and tiny fork set at Amazon for $7
9. A school lunch idea that will put sandwiches to shame: Pinwheel wraps
It’s time to think outside the bun. Wraps are basically a sandwich in disguise. When cut up into smaller pinwheels and served up in a bento box, they transform traditional sandwich components into a fun and easy-to-eat option.
Spreads like mayonnaise or mustard, and non-traditional ideas like hummus or guacamole, help the wraps stay rolled up throughout the day, without the need for picks.
Pruss’s pro tip: Shredded cheese makes for an easier roll up than sliced cheeses.
10. A fast school lunch idea when you're crunched for time: Fried favorites
There is nothing wrong with chicken nuggets or fish sticks. Both taste great at room temperature, they pair well with crunchy lunch box veggies, and kids love them. As we learned when our kids were infants: “fed is best” and that’s a philosophy to stand by if you have picky eaters.
While we do love a good Pinterest feed, filled with sophisticated and photogenic school lunch ideas, if you are crunched for time and inspiration (or if you have a kid who eats like a typical kid), these fried (or air fried) favorites are sure to be devoured and may grant you legend status at the lunch table.
Pruss’s pro tip: Chicken nuggets are A-OK once in a while. If you’re feeling guilty about sending your kids off with fried food, toss in a few veggies in some fun shapes.
11. For a flavorful school lunch idea: Pesto pinwheels
Fun, delicious, and simple to make, these pesto pinwheels are a go-to for Pruss since her kids gobble them up.
Simply take a roll of Pillsbury crescent rolls, unroll it flat and seal all the perforated edges to form one large sheet of dough. Spread with your favorite toppings combo like pesto and shredded cheese, or tapenade and cream cheese. Using a pizza wheel, cut into 2-inch strips, then roll and cook as directed on the dough package. Cool completely before packing in the bento box.
Pruss’s pro tip: Mix up your pesto options. Pruss recommends using a basil pesto for one half of the rolls and a sun dried tomato pesto for the other.
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