Although your kids have a bewildering ability to enjoy the same SpongeBob reruns on an endless loop, when it comes to lunches, they crave originality. And you can’t just stare blankly into the fridge or pantry waiting for lunchtime inspiration to hit.
Not to worry: We put together a roundup of fun and easy kids’ lunch ideas that will spark your creativity and ban lunchtime blahs for good.
Lunch Ideas for School
From soggy sandwiches to crumbling cookies, box lunches can be tricky. They must be portable yet indestructible, with the ability to stay cold — or warm — until the right time. All you need is some forethought and the proper tools.
Keep it Separated
Origination in 5th century Japan, the bento box has been adapted by cultures across the globe. The design usually features a main compartment and two smaller ones, which can help simplify your packing routine. Think one entrée (a sandwich or leftover rotisserie chicken) and two side dishes (such as fresh fruit or veggie sticks) to create a variety of tasty combinations.
Put It on a Stick
Food on a stick is a state-fair staple because it instantly ups the fun factor. Mini-kebobs present endless options: Choose bite-sized fruit with dipping sauces, or your kids’ favorite meats and cheeses. Just remember that younger kids should be supervised with skewers.
Recipe: Peanut Butter, Pickle, and Bacon Quesadilla
It’s PB&J, reimagined. You’ll need the following ingredients:
2 whole wheat tortillas
2 tablespoons nut butter (almond, peanut, cashew, etc.) 2 strips of bacon, crumbled
7-8 pickle chips (sweet or dill), drained
Cooking oil spray (such as Pam)
Cook bacon, then drain and crumble. Spread nut butter on one tortilla, top with bacon and pickle chips, then cover with the second tortilla. Spray a pan with oil and heat on low to medium heat. Cook filled tortilla until golden brown on both sides. Cool, then slice and pack in lunch box.
Lunch Ideas for Kids
Whether you’re hosting a weekend playdate or serving home-schoolers, these tips will keep lunchtime from being anything but boring.
Rather than simply reheating dinner leftovers, reimagine them:
- Chop cooked veggies and toss them with leftover noodles and Italian dressing for a cold pasta salad.
- Slice up last night’s chicken and serve as healthy chicken fingers with a variety of dipping sauces, such as ranch dressing, barbecue, and tahini.
- Layer previously cooked taco meat and shredded cheese in a dish to bake a Mexican casserole and serve with salsa and sour cream.
Invite kids to be part of lunchtime prep. They’ll enjoy making their own traditional or fruit pizza with crescent roll crusts, or quesadillas with cheese or peanut butter.
Recipe: Popcorn Casserole
Turn a movie-time favorite into a blockbuster lunch. You’ll need the following ingredients:
4 cups cooked popcorn (bagged works)
6 cooked hotdogs (turkey, chicken, or beef), diced
2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack, or mozzarella)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch pan with cooking spray. Spread popcorn in pan, then cover with hotdog pieces and cheese. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Serve with condiments such as ketchup, mustard, and pickle relish.
Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters
Feeding picky eaters can feel like a chore, and serving the same three foods over and over is no fun for them — or you. Make life simpler for everyone with these ideas:
Hold a Lunch Summit
Sit down with your picky eater and come up with a list of foods he or she is willing to at least try. Use that list for inspiration when making lunches.
Slow and Steady
Although you may be tempted to fill your child’s lunch with new foods, offer them alongside tried-and-true favorites. Make a reward chart to track how many times something new was eaten.
Recipe: DIY Potato Bar
Letting kids build their own loaded potato lets them feel in charge, which can help ease food anxiety. Serve at home, or pack a baked potato with one or two toppings. Here are some suggested flavor combos:
Classic: butter and sour cream
Mexican: black beans and salsa
Greek: spinach and feta cheese
Italian: pesto or tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese Mediterranean: hummus and chopped olives or tomatoes
Lunch Ideas for Toddlers
Toddlers are all about independence, which means they want to feed themselves. To help them along, cut food into sizes they can not only chew, but also pick up easily. This works for both snacking and meals, including lunch.
You already know toddlers are experts at getting into everything, so why not encourage it for a fun lunchtime? Try these dippers:
- French toast sticks in syrup or thinned nut butter
- Veggies in ranch dressing
- Meatballs in barbecue sauce
- Baby potatoes (they come in a variety of colors!) in cheese sauce
Use a muffin tin to make savory and filling foods that fit perfectly into little hands. Put a slice of lunchmeat such as ham or turkey at the bottom of each cup. Then top with a variety of fillings, such as leftover macaroni and cheese, hash browns or mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, or cooked acorn squash. Top with a sprinkling of brown sugar. Bake for a few minutes, cool, then stand back and watch as your sweet angel digs in like a little devil.
Recipe: Friendly Puppy Salad
It’s healthy. It looks like a puppy. And it’s all bite-sized. In other words, it’s your new lunchtime best friend.
1 lettuce leaf, washed and patted dry
Half a pear (canned or fresh)
1 canned prune, cut in half with pit removed 1 raisin or blueberry
2 canned mandarin orange segments
1 maraschino cherry, halved
Place lettuce on a plate and the pear cut-side down on top. (This will be the puppy’s head and snout.) Put prune half on the large end of the pear to make the puppy’s nose. Scoop out a small hole in the pear with a teaspoon for the puppy’s eye and place the raisin or blueberry inside. Do the same with the tapered end of the pear and insert the cherry half for the puppy’s nose. Use the mandarin oranges to create the puppy’s collar at the bottom of the large end of the pear.
Adapted from Betty Crocker’s Friendly Dog Salad Recipe.
Tips for Packing and Preparing Kids’ Lunches
It’s important to understand lunchtime from a kid’s perspective: The goal is to get it down as fast as possible, then get outside to play. There’s no time for lingering over small talk, daintily sipping a drink box, and nibbling pita chips with hummus.
With that in mind, here are some basic tips to make sure your child’s lunch is a success without too much work on your part:
A well-stocked pantry and fridge will keep lunch prepping as stress-free as possible. Keep a list of lunch items handy when time — and inspiration — are in short supply.
Keep it Simple
Kids like some assembly, but if food looks like too much work, it will go untouched.
Cut It Up
Cut everything into bite-sized pieces, from sandwiches and quesadillas to fruit, cheese, veggies, and meats. It makes lunchtime easy and fast.
Gather the Fam
Make prepping lunches for the week ahead a family affair. Kids are more likely to eat food they prepare themselves, and you’ll make some sweet memories in the process.