22 Easy, Tasty Kids' Lunch Ideas
Lunch time is a highlight in any kid’s day: It’s a chance to hang out with friends or family and dig into some tasty food. But if there’s one universal truth about kids’ lunch, it’s this: While the sandwich is a tried-and-true staple, it can get real old, real quick. Looking to spice up your kid’s lunch, either at school or at home? The Bump food guru Karen Biton-Cohen whipped up 22 easy, fun—and healthy!—recipes that are perfect for little ones. From unique takes on cold lunch ideas to crowd-pleasing options for picky eaters, these fresh lunch ideas for kids will soon be mealtime favorites.
When it comes to school lunch ideas for kids, there’s a reason the sandwich is king: It’s easy to make and guaranteed to last until the lunch hour. But when the endless cycle of ham and cheese or tuna fish sandwiches grows stale, it’s good know there are plenty of other easy, tasty cold lunch ideas for kids. Check out these deliciously fresh lunch box ideas:
Turkey Hummus Pinwheels
The great thing about these pinwheels? Since all the good stuff is tightly rolled up inside the tortilla, there’s no dreaded bread smushing.
Recipe: Spread hummus onto a flour tortilla. Top with a handful of arugula leaves. Place turkey slices over the top. Roll up with tortilla and cut into 1-inch-thick pieces.
Chicken Salad Stuffed Pita Pocket
When you’re rushing to get the kids ready for school and out the door, you want a sandwich that’s straightforward to make. This three-ingredient cold lunch option is super-easy to put together, especially if you make the chicken salad the night before or pick up your favorite store-bought brand.
Recipe: Stuff a whole wheat pita pocket with your favorite chicken salad. Add fresh arugula leaves (romaine and spinach are good options too) and apple slices.
Cheese and Crackers
It’s a classic for a reason! Cheese and crackers are fun, tasty finger food, and a good source of protein to boot. Offer a few different kinds of cheeses and crackers so kids can mix and match as they please.
Recipe: Prepare a finger-food platter with an assortment of cheese, crackers and fruit.
If you’re reading this thinking, “You try making my kids eat healthy!”, these four kids’ lunch ideas are up for the challenge. Each option is as nutritious as it is tasty, so don’t be surprised if your kid comes back for seconds.
Sweet Potato Chickpea Patties
If your kid loves hummus, she’ll love these chickpea patties. They have the feel of a burger but are packed with chickpea goodness, including fiber, protein, iron and zinc.
Recipe: In the food processor, blend 1 cup sweet potato puree, 1 can of chickpeas (drained), 1/4 cup parsley leaves, 1/4 cup diced onion, 1/4 cup rolled oats, 1/4 cup whole wheat (or regular) flour, 1/2 tsp. dried thyme, 1/2 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Form into equal-sized patties and fry on a lightly oiled nonstick skillet until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side.
Super Green Roll Ups
The spinach in these roll ups boast a whole alphabet worth of vitamins—namely, A, B, C and K, not to mention magnesium and potassium. The avocado adds a dose of healthy fat, and the miniature size makes these perfect for popping into little mouths.
Recipe: Spread pesto over tortilla. Layer baby spinach leaves and avocado slices over the pesto. Roll up with tortilla and cut into 1-inch-thick pieces.
Grilled Chicken Grain Bowl
Quinoa is a gluten-free choice that comes with loads of benefits, including B vitamins, magnesium and fiber, while chicken offers a healthy amount of protein—diced for extra-easy chewing—and broccoli adds vitamin K and C.
Recipe: Build a bowl by layering hearty cooked quinoa, diced roasted chicken pieces and steamed broccoli (or another favorite veggie, like wilted spinach, sautéed zucchini or roasted sweet potato). Lightly drizzle with olive oil and serve warm.
Loaded Turkey Taco Bowl
Add an extra dash of healthiness to your #TacoTuesday by swapping out beef for leaner turkey. Just as delicious but even better for you. If your child is sensitive to spice, or just hasn’t yet acquired the taste, feel free to omit any herbs and spices for a more simple flavor.
Recipe: Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over a medium-high flame. Add half a yellow onion (diced) and 2 garlic cloves (minced) and sauté until soft and fragrant. Add 1 lb. ground turkey meat and cook while breaking apart. Once the meat is cooked through, season with 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp. cumin and 1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper. Add 1/2 cup salsa and 1/4 cup cilantro leaves (chopped), and toss until well incorporated. Reduce the flame to low heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve the turkey taco meat over cooked brown rice, and your favorite taco fixings, like corn, beans, diced avocado and lime wedges.
As a parent, you’re pretty busy. Who has time to whip up a gourmet meal? If you’re looking for kids’ lunch ideas that don’t require too much prep but still deliver on taste and nutrition, we’ve got you covered.
Avocado Toast with Hard Boiled Egg
It’s the breakfast du jour for a reason: Avocado is delicious, an excellent source of heart-healthy fats and is packed with nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, making it super-nutritious. Top it off with a hard boiled egg to pack an extra punch of protein.
Recipe: Mash avocado onto a piece of whole grain toast and top with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Layer sliced hard-boiled egg over the avocado and season lightly with salt and pepper.
English Muffin with Almond Butter, Banana and Honey
The hardest part of this recipe? Slicing up a banana—not bad. If your child is allergic to nuts, sunflower seed butter is a safe (and tasty) alternative.
Recipe: Slice a whole grain english muffin in half and lightly toast. Spread almond butter over both halves, then top with banana slices and a drizzle of honey.
Egg Salad and Rice Cakes
Rounding out our easy lunch ideas for kids is a classic egg salad, with a twist. To cut down on morning prep, make (or pick up) the egg salad the night before. Just keep in mind that egg salad will make the rice cake soggy over time, so if you’re putting together a lunch box, make sure to pack the egg salad and rice cake separately. Your kid can then play chef at lunch.
Recipe: Spread your favorite egg salad over brown rice cakes. Top with tomato slices.
Wilted Kale Cheese Melt
It’s never too early to get your kid hooked on kale! It’s a true superfood, drenched in vitamins A, C and K, making it an especially nutritious addition to this cheesy treat. And it won’t take you more than 15 minutes to make.
Recipe: Preheat oven to 400 F. Heat 1 Tbl. olive oil in a nonstick skillet, add 1 cup kale leaves (chopped ) and 1/4 tsp. garlic powder. Sauté until wilted and soft, about 5 minutes. Place a slice of lightly buttered, whole grain toast on a baking sheet and spoon the wilted kale over a on top of it. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella and bake in the oven until the cheese is melted, about 7 to 9 minutes.
No meat? No problem. If your child isn’t a carnivore, you may worry he’s missing out on some essential nutrients. But with these power-packed vegetarian kids’ lunch ideas, he can have a more-than-balanced diet.
Mediterranean Pasta Salad
Bring the flavors of Greece home with this Mediterranean pasta salad, featuring a healthy mix of leafy greens, grape tomatoes, olives and feta cheese.
Recipe: Toss 1/2 lb. bow tie pasta (cooked) with 1 cup tightly packed baby spinach leaves (roughly chopped), 1/2 cup grape tomatoes (halved), 1/4 cup kalamata olives (chopped), 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese and 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Tomato White Bean Bruschetta
Tomato bruschetta is always a crowd pleaser, but thanks to the addition of white beans in this veggie lunch option, your child will get an extra serving of heart-healthy magnesium.
Recipe: In a bowl combine 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes (halved), 1/4 cup cooked white beans, 3 large basil leaves (thinly sliced), 3 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 Tbl. balsamic vinegar, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper. Spoon the salad over toasted whole grain bread.
Griddle Corn Cakes
Griddle corn cakes are not only scrumptious and vegetarian-friendly, they’re healthy too, thanks to the antioxidants found in corn and the protein in Greek yogurt and eggs.
Recipe: In a bowl combine 1/2 cup cornmeal, 3/4 cup all-purpose (or whole wheat) flour, 1 can of corn (drained), 1/2 cup basil leaves (chopped), 1/2 cup greek yogurt, 1 egg, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. baking soda. Melt butter in a non-stick pan over a medium flame. Scoop 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake and cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Serve warm.
Rice and Beans
Magnesium and potassium and protein, oh my! You get them all (and more) in this dish, a staple for countless cultures around the world. And the best part? It’s easy to make. While you can certainly serve plain beans with your rice of choice, we’ve added a few ingredients to this recipe to punch up the flavor.
Recipe: Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté 1/4 cup onion (finely diced) and 2 garlic cloves (minced), stirring occasionally until soft and fragrant. Add 1/4 cup red bell pepper (finely diced) and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add one can of black beans (drained and rinsed), 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper, 1/4 tsp. cumin and 1/4 tsp. paprika. Stir to coat and add 1/4 cup vegetable broth (but you can use chicken broth for non-veggies). Reduce the flame to a simmer and cook until the liquid has mostly evaporated, about 5 to 7 minutes. Serve the black beans over cooked brown rice and sprinkle with chopped cilantro leaves.
What makes for fun lunch ideas for kids? Finger foods! But you don’t have to sacrifice healthiness to make lunch something to look forward to—just check out these playful, nutrient-rich options.
Mini Spinach-Mozzarella Frittata Cups
Say bye-bye to your standard omelette. Pour this delicious mix of spinach, cheese and eggs into a muffin tray and suddenly you have portable eggs, read to pop into hungry mouths.
Recipe: Preheat oven to 375 F. Steam 2 cups baby spinach leaves in the microwave for about 45 seconds or until wilted. Whisk together 3 eggs, 3 tbsp. milk, 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella and a pinch of salt and pepper. Roughly chop the wilted spinach and add to the egg mixture. Pour mixture into a greased muffin tray and bake for 20 minutes or until lightly golden and cooked through.
Whole Wheat (Pita Bread) Pizza
Nearly everyone loves a slice of pizza. This recipe raises the nutrition bar by swapping out your standard pizza dough with whole wheat pita, adding essential nutrients like vitamin B and fiber.
Recipe: Preheat oven to 375 F. Spread all-natural marinara sauce over a whole-wheat pita. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella over the top and bake on a foil-lined baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Allow to cool slightly before cutting into wedges.
Tortellini Caprese Skewers with Pesto
For a fun twist on everyday pasta, slide pieces of tortellini onto skewer sticks and serve with basil pesto for dipping. Tip: Snip off the skewer end to avoid any accidental pokes.
Recipe: Thread cooked tortellini, halved grape tomatoes and mini mozzarella balls onto wooden skewers. Serve with basil pesto for dipping.
There are many delicious kids’ lunch ideas out there, but not necessarily for the kid who’s a little fussy when it comes to food. But these four kids’ lunch ideas for picky eaters are universally appealing: They’re slightly gooey, carb-filled finger foods that sneak in some veggies too.
Crispy Baked Chicken Fingers
It’s an undeniable truth: Kids love chicken fingers. And by making a homemade version, they become infinitely more healthy: baked instead of fried, and with the amount of breading of your choice. Serve them with a variety of sauces for a fresh, flavorful bite with every dip.
Recipe: Preheat oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Season 1 lb. chicken tenders with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Dredge each piece of chicken in flour, then dip each tender in buttermilk and coat with seasoned panko bread crumbs. Place breaded chicken tenders onto the lined baking sheet and spray generously with olive oil spray. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the tray and flip each piece over (using kitchen tongs) and spray the other sides with olive oil spray. Place the tray back in the oven and bake for another 15 minutes or until golden and crispy.
The best thing about this quesadilla is how easy it is to tailor the ingredients. One of the most versatile kids’ lunch ideas, you can add onions, peppers, mushrooms or whatever else your picky vegetarian eater will actually tolerate, or if you have a little meat eater, toss in some pieces of sliced chicken or steak. You can mix it up every time!
Recipe: Lightly coat the bottom of your skillet with about 1/2 tsp. butter. Heat the skillet over a medium flame. Lay the tortilla in the hot pan and sprinkle 1/2 cup shredded cheddar (or any other melting cheese) over the tortilla. Once the cheese melts, use a spatula to fold the tortilla in half. Transfer to a cutting board, cut into wedges and serve right away. You can spice up your quesadillas by adding a variety of fillings (like sautéed vegetables, salsa, corn or beans) before folding the tortilla over.
Mac and Cheese Cups
Mac and cheese can please the pickiest of eaters, so this finger-friendly version is sure to knock it out of the park. Of the kids lunch ideas on this list, this one takes a little more time—but the payoff? One extremely happy kid.
Recipe: Preheat oven to 375 F, spoon leftover mac and cheese (warm slightly in the microwave if coming directly out of the fridge) into well-greased muffin cups and sprinkle extra shredded cheese and panko crumbs over the top. Spray the top of each muffin cup with olive oil spray. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the tops are golden. Let the mac and cheese cups sit for 10 to 15 minutes before removing from the muffin tin and serving.
You can’t go wrong with comfort food. Instead of standard spaghetti as your go-to pasta, try gnocchi for a little variation, finished off with tomato sauce, parmesan and—surprise!—a secret handful of peas. Buonissima!
Recipe: Cook the gnocchi according to package instructions. Drain the water and return the cooked gnocchi to the pot, along with 2 tbsp. olive oil, all-natural marinara sauce and 1/2 cup cooked peas. Stir to coat. Once the sauce is hot, serve with thinly sliced basil leaves and parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top.
Published August 2017