Get Inspired: A Month of School Lunch Ideas
With an average of 180 school days a year and three kids who are now in middle school, that means I’ve packed well over 3,000 lunches in their lifetime. Can it be? It’s hard to believe, with the freshness of a shiny new school year beaming down on us. But by May, when I’m slinging string cheese and granola bars into their lunch bags, I feel every one of those thousands of lunches.
All my children are perfectly capable of packing their own lunches, and some of them do it each day without a reminder. Others need some help. And all of them need a little guidance. One child in particular would consider Gatorade and a package of Oreos a healthy lunch if not for his mother’s reminder to add some protein and an apple.
But no matter how many lunches I’ve shopped for and packed over the years, I still look for new lunch ideas at the beginning of the school year. It’s a natural thing to seek inspiration at the turn of the calendar. Even if those good intentions for organization, time management and healthy eating are more aspirational, some of them will stick.
So, with those 180 lunches waiting for us, here’s some inspiration for the days ahead. Think of it as a brainstorm. Even if you just take one or two of these ideas, it may spark inspiration for something new that your kids will be happy to find in a lunchbox.
Of course, you’ll want to add on to these ideas to round out the lunch, but here are some suggestions to get you going!
20 Lunches for 20 Days (or 1 Month of School Lunch Ideas)
1. Pepperoni Pasta Salad
Mix cooked ditalini pasta with chopped pepperoni, cubed mozzarella and a bottled Italian-style vinaigrette.
2. Oui Oui Sandwich
Slice a piece of a French baguette, spread with goat cheese (or layer with any of your kid’s favorite cheese) and add a slice of ham.
3. Black Beans and Cheese
In a thermos, place warmed black beans with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese. Eat as-is or with a tortilla packed in the lunch bag.
4. Mini Meatballs
Use leftover meatballs from dinner or make a sheet pan of mini meatballs, then freeze to pop out for a quick lunch. Keep the mini meatballs warm in a thermos. Toss with marinara if that’s how your kid prefers it.
5. Turkey Rollup
Spread a tortilla with a thin layer of cream cheese. Add a couple pieces of thin-sliced turkey and cheese (and veggies if your kid will eat them). Roll tightly, then cut in half.
6. Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Place in a sandwich container and serve with a small container of maple syrup or vanilla yogurt for dipping.
7. Cheese Quesadilla
Most kids don’t mind that it’s not warm at lunchtime. Send to lunch with chips and salsa.
8. Smoothie Bowl
Pour the rest of the breakfast smoothie in the bottom of a plastic bowl. Top with granola, fruit and chia seeds.
9. Eggs and Bacon
Pack hardboiled eggs with leftover breakfast bacon.
10. Bagel and Cream Cheese
It’s not just for breakfast. Make it savory with plain cream cheese and deli meat or make it sweet with honey cream cheese and fruit.
11. Veggie Wrap with Hummus
Spread hummus on your kid’s favorite wrap. Add shredded carrots, cucumbers and bell peppers.
12. Peanut Butter Bites
Pack in the protein with peanut butter, flaxseed, old-fashioned oats and honey. Oh, and chocolate chips for good measure.
13. Chicken Nuggets
Keep them warm by wrapping in foil while piping hot then placing in a thermos. Add a side of your kid’s favorite dipping sauce.
14. Cheese Ravioli
Save some ravioli from dinner the night before. Place them in the lunchbox warm or cold.
15. Mason Jar Salad
Middle schoolers and teens like this one. Layer lettuce, veggies, cheese cubes and chopped bacon. Pour their favorite salad dressing on top.
16. DIY Pizza
Toast an English muffin and keep the pizza toppings on the side. Let them make their own pizza with a little sauce, mozzarella cheese, black olives, pineapple or sausage.
17. Crazy Fruit Kabobs
Skewer grapes, strawberries, blueberries and kiwi along with cheddar cheese chunks on the kabob stick. What makes it crazy? Make it fun by adding a few mini marshmallows or gummies onto the stick.
18. Pigs in a Blanket
It’s a kids’ favorite for a reason. Wrap bread dough around a hot dog or sausage, bake it and send it wrapped in foil for a lunch they’ll love.
19. Cheddar Cheese and Apple Biscuits
The sweet and savory mix is delicious in this lunch of sliced biscuits stuffed with cheddar cheese and apple slices.
20. Chicken Orzo Soup
Substitute orzo for noodles and use more pasta than your recipe calls for. This makes it easier to eat during kids’ short lunch periods.
Natalie Mikles is a mom of three – 12-year-old twin girls and an 11-year-old boy. She writes about food, sharing recipes for busy families and picky eaters. She has been recognized for her food columns as well as features on families and issues affecting local children. She loves pizza and movie nights with her family.