Easy Back-to-School Lunch Ideas for Kids

Make packing lunch easier with simple-to-prep lunch ideas, the best lunch foods to keep in stock and tips for picky palates.

bento box, fruit and vegetable bento box, carrots, celery, apples, crackers, mango

Back to school means packing lunches — lots and lots of lunches. That may sound a bit stressful (okay, maybe a lot stressful). But it doesn’t have to be. We’ve gathered some of our favorite tips, go-to lunches and staple lunch ingredients to keep on hand to make packing lunches easier for you, plus tons of recipes to keep you inspired. Want to be more lunch-prepped and less stressed this school year? You’ve come to the right place.

traditional sandwich lunch box for school

7 Easy School Lunch Ideas

Let’s take a look at seven of our go-to lunches that are easy to prepare and pack.

1. Leftovers: If it was good for dinner the night before, it’s great for lunch the next day. Anything from veggie sushi to pizza is game. Give leftover rice new life with these Baked Brown Rice Kibbeh opens in a new tab — fun finger foods perfect for the lunch box.

2. Personalized Pasta Salads (Plus Bean and Grain Salads too!): You can make a simple pasta salad opens in a new tab and customize it with ingredients you know your kid loves. Or put together a quick salad using leftovers from dinner. A great chance to add extra veggies.

3. Yogurt and Fruit Parfaits: Simple and perfect. Layer your kid’s favorite yogurt, fruit and granola (or crunchy topping) — and whamo! Lunch is ready to go. Check out this Vanilla Berry Yogurt Parfait opens in a new tabfor inspiration.

4. Sandwiches and Wraps: Need a break from the classic deli meat + cheese + bread combo? Sandwiches and wraps are a great opportunity to try something familiar at dinner but unique to lunch. Pad Thai Wraps opens in a new tab have all of the flavors of classic pad thai wrapped into a quick lunch: tangy peanut sauce, fresh vegetables, fragrant herbs and crisp bean sprouts.

5. Dips and Dippers: Kids love to dip! Pair crunchy raw broccoli bites with a bean-based dip such as Green Garbanzo Hummus opens in a new tab.

6. Rice Bowls: Start with brown rice or quinoa (or both). Add a protein such as leftover chicken or cooked beans. Add veggies (sautéed greens, steamed veggies, raw corn kernels or carrot matchsticks). Pack sauce or dressing on the side. This Quick and Easy Rice Bowl opens in a new tab is a great place to start.

7. Bento Box — the Ultimate Assorted Lunch: If your child isn’t into mixing textures, have them use bento-style lunch containers to pack everything individually.

10 Lunch Ingredient Staples to Keep Stocked

Whole Wheat Breads

opens in a new tabFrom classic sliced whole wheat loaf and bagels to pita and tortillas, slow-burning whole grains are a great choice for your kid’s lunch. Avocado, Lettuce and Tomato Pita Pockets opens in a new tab pack whole grain pitas with a mix of greens, tomatoes and mashed avocado for a satisfying and colorful midday meal.

Nut Butters

opens in a new tabWith many schools having peanut policies, alternative nut butters are smart lunch staples to keep in the pantry. Sunflower spread is a great nut-free alternative in this Apple Sandwiches with Granola and Peanut Butter opens in a new tab recipe.

Fresh Fruits

opens in a new tabYou can’t go wrong with fresh fruit. Just make sure it’s a variety that travels well, like apples, grapes, bananas and oranges. Prepared fruit salad is a great option for including berries and fruits that require some preparation, like pineapples and mangoes.


opens in a new tabString cheese and cottage cheese are staple lunch favorites. But don't forget about the classic cracker companions: cheddar, Colby and herby cream cheese. This sweet and tangy cheese dip opens in a new tab is a great dip for fruit too.

Grilled Chicken

opens in a new tabKeeping a container of grilled chicken in the fridge can tame some of the pickiest of lunch eaters. From kabobs with veggies opens in a new tab to chicken salad, grilled chicken is a great lunch staple for your kiddo.

Hummus, Bean Spreads and Edamame

opens in a new tabBean spreads are a tasty option for your kid’s lunch. Try this Quick Hummus and Vegetable Stuffed Pita in their next lunch box.


opens in a new tabA super versatile lunch staple — from parfaits and dips to a great mix-in for fruit salads, yogurt can also step in as a clever mayo substitute.

Dried Fruit, Nuts and Seeds

opens in a new tabWe're talking trail mixes, banana chips and kid-fave dried fruits like mangoes, tart cherries, raisins and cranberries. Served on their own, as toppings, mixed into salads or baked into handy bars opens in a new tab — dried fruits, nuts and seeds are definitely worth keeping in stock.

Hard-Boiled Eggs

opens in a new tabServed as is or prepared in egg salad, hard-boiled eggs are an excellent lunch choice. Especially when paired with whole grain crackers. Eggs are also a great meat substitute in sandwiches and wraps.

Fresh Veggies

opens in a new tabColorful and crunchy! Make sure to keep your crisper stocked with fresh veggies. Whether you're serving up veggie sticks, a salad or dippers, the options are abundant. Cucumbers, celery and carrots are classic choices, but don’t be afraid to try out jicama, sugar snap peas or vibrant bell peppers.

Bento box lunches with veggies, fruit, nuts and sandwiches

Tips for Fussy Lunchers

If you have a finicky lunch eater who’s always bringing home a full lunch box, try some of these tips to connect with your kid’s lunch preferences and to get you through the school year too.

Tip #1: Communicate and get creative. Think about what you already know your kid likes and use that as lunch box inspiration. You know quesadillas never fail to please at dinnertime. Easy — lunch quesadillas. Your kid loves breakfast foods. Breakfast for lunch — good to go!

Tip #2: Presentation. Always consider the visual, interactive and presentational aspects of lunch — especially wth picky eaters. A variety of bright colors can really make a difference in making lunch an inviting experience. If your kiddo likes apples sliced but hates the brown color they turn, a short bath in lemon juice and water solves that. Keep in mind that fruits and veggies that are kept whole are less likely to leak and cause unappetizing lunch box situations.

Tip #3: Encourage your picky eater to be involved in lunch prep. If your kid is picky about lunch, get them involved in the prep opens in a new tab. Opening their lunch box and seeing something they made may be just the thing that gets them excited about eating lunch. Plus, being prepped cuts down on the time it takes to pack lunches.

Tip #4: Dont forget the milk. If they don’t feel like eating, pack a nutritious drink perhaps! Milk can be good choices for picky lunch eaters.

Tip #5: Don’t be afraid to think outside of the (lunch) box. Here are some tasty examples of easy lunch solutions for picky eaters.

Lunch Box Quesadilla opens in a new tab is an easy make-ahead lunch that older kids can prepare in one pan. Kids can customize the ingredients depending on what you have on hand — it’s a delicious way to use up leftovers.
Club Sandwich Kabobs opens in a new tab are fun and ideal for kids to help make since they can roll up the meat and cut ingredients with a table knife. For a gluten-free alternative, skip the bread and add more veggies.
There is something simply perfect about bread-free Deli-Style Rollups with Ham opens in a new tab, roast beef or turkey.
Macaroni and Three Cheese Lunch Muffins opens in a new tab is a childhood favorite with a twist — kids can eat it with their hands. Too young to use the stove? Little ones can still help make them by fitting the muffin cups with paper liners, measuring the cheese and sprinkling the tops of the muffins with parmesan.
Sesame Noodles opens in a new tab uses sesame tahini and toasted almond butter for a rich nutty (but peanut-free!) flavor. Encourage kids to add leftover tofu, chicken or shrimp from last night’s dinner.

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