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65 Simple, Delicious School Lunch Ideas That Even the Pickiest Eaters Will Love

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Does that bland turkey sandwich keep coming back half-eaten in your kid’s lunchbox? When the pickiest eater in your home has grown tired of their go-to, it’s time to shake things up. Coming up with creative school lunches that they’ll actually like can feel daunting, but we’ve got your back with exciting sandwiches, comforting pasta dishes and more that they're sure to gobble up. Think chicken salad-stuffed peppers, BLT pasta salad, hummus wraps and beyond. Read on for 65 easy, kid-friendly school lunch ideas that will put the cafeteria’s food to shame.

50 Easy Kid-Friendly Dinners the Whole Family Will Love


Tips for Packing School Lunches

Just like when you’re cooking for adults, presentation is everything.(Don't just take our word for it—it's a tried-and-true trick Dictator Lunches author Jenny Mollen has used to get her kids to expand their horizons: "I’ve found that if I can entertain them, surprise them or even simply make them giggle, I instantly up my odds for success," she writes.) Here are a few pointers for packing a lunch your picky eater is bound to love:

  • Start with a fun-yet-functional lunchbox. We love bento-style lunchboxes that keep all their snacks organized. Some metal ones even come with fun magnets that the kids can play with while they eat.
  • Try a few low-effort tricks to turn meals into surprise-and-delight moments. For instance, rolling their sandwich and cutting it into pinwheels, skewering their fruit salad on toothpicks or using rice molds to shape grains into something fun can encourage kids to give something new a try. (Even just a Sharpie face on a package of string cheese can go a surprisingly long way.)
  • Let them help choose and make their lunch. Whether it's spreading cream cheese on a bagel or sprinkling Parmesan on pasta, kids love getting their hands dirty. And if they see dumping croutons into a salad as a fun activity, they just might be more willing to actually eat the salad.

1. Blt Pasta Salad

  • Time Commitment: 40 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, beginner-friendly, crowd-pleaser, make ahead

Skip the soggy bread in favor of pasta with this deconstructed BLT. The pasta salad is loaded with bacon, which will win them over, and the mayo-based dressing might get them to poke at those green and red things, too.

school lunch ideas lunch kebabs
Photo: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

2. Lunch Kebabs With Mortadella, Artichoke And Sun-dried Tomatoes

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: no cook, beginner-friendly, <10 ingredients

The novelty of eating lunch off a stick will likely be enough to win 'em over—at first. But kids will keep coming back for more of this kebab, thanks to the mouthwatering mix of artichoke, salty olives and decadent mortadella. Bologna who?

school lunch ideas avocado chicken salad
Photo: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

3. Avocado Chicken Salad

  • Time Commitment: 45 minutes
  • Why We Love It: no cook, make ahead, beginner-friendly

A tired cafeteria classic gets a surprising makeover in this updated chicken salad recipe, which calls for only a sparing amount of mayo. Plenty of herbs give the protein-packed meal a bright, fresh flavor profile.

4. Italian Deli Pinwheel Sandwiches

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, <10 ingredients, crowd-pleaser, no cook

The salty, peppery trio of Italian deli meats in these pinwheel sammies pairs so well with the mildly sweet taste of provolone that kids won’t even be tempted to pick out the kale. (Maybe.)

5. Roasted Broccoli And Bacon Pasta Salad

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour
  • Why We Love It: crowd-pleaser, make ahead, beginner-friendly

Bacon has the power to get your kid to eat more greens. Case in point? This scrumptious and savory pasta salad, which cleverly disguises a heaping serving of cruciferous vegetables with a dose of crispy, salty deliciousness.

6. Peanut Butter And Banana Roll-up Snack Box

  • Time Commitment: 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: kid-friendly, <10 ingredients, vegan, <30 minutes

Peanut butter brings protein and healthy fat to the table, while bananas provide energy-boosting carbs. What happens when you roll ‘em up together? A satisfying, healthy lunch that tastes like dessert (but definitely isn’t).

7. Mini Deep Dish Pizzas

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, <30 minutes, vegetarian, kid-friendly

Let’s be honest: Everyone enjoys a cold pizza snack. That said, your kid’s lunch will look and taste infinitely better if you cook up some of these cuties instead of throwing in a soggy slice from last night’s delivery.

8. Chickpea Salad Bento Box

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why We Love It: no cook, vegan, gluten free, <30 minutes

Mild, creamy chickpeas are arguably the most likable legume, which is why kids won’t whine when they encounter this healthy no-cook salad. The red onion, celery and dill keep the mash fresh and light, while mayo gives the dish a rich mouthfeel.

9. Taco Pinwheels

  • Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, make ahead, high protein, <10 ingredients

Cute, colorful and packed with chicken and veggies, these Mexican-inspired pinwheels are held together by the most kid-friendly ingredient in your kitchen: cream cheese.

10. Avocado And Black Bean Pasta Salad

  • Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, make ahead, crowd-pleaser, vegan

Kids are suckers for corkscrew pasta. Capitalize on that with a pasta salad that scores high on nutritional value by delivering healthy fats, protein, fiber and a whole lot of flavor. (Pro tip: Feel free to skip the jalapeño.)

11. Peanut Butter, Strawberry And Banana Quesadillas

  • Time Commitment: 10 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, <10 ingredients, vegan, kid-friendly

If a PB&J sandwich is the only item on your kid's lunch menu, it's time to branch out. Test out this quick and easy quesadilla from Coterie member Monique Volz for something that's different, yet familiar enough to become an instant favorite.

12. Turkey Spinach Pinwheels

  • Time Commitment: 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, <10 ingredients, high protein

Do something daring next time you pack your kid’s lunch by giving deli turkey a whole new look. Without bread dulling their savory flavors, simple cheddar and turkey really sing, so much so that the kids won’t even mind the spinach.

13. Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad Stuffed Peppers

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: no cook, make ahead, high protein

Chicken salad has never looked as appetizing as it does in this colorful, kid-friendly stuffed pepper recipe. Use a store-bought rotisserie bird for a no-cook school lunch that’s a cinch to prepare.

14. Vegetarian Sushi Cups

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour
  • Why We Love It: make ahead, crowd-pleaser, vegan

Don’t have the time or inclination to try your hand at homemade sushi? Skip the seaweed and serve this vegetarian version instead. Full of produce and umami, kids will be eager to scarf down these tasty, dainty cups.

15. Meal-prep Mayo-less Potato Salad

  • Time Commitment: 40 minutes
  • Why We Love It: crowd-pleaser, <10 ingredients, make ahead

Potato salad without mayonnaise may sound like sacrilege, but don’t knock it ‘til you try it. This innovative update uses sour cream for a dish that tastes every bit as yummy as its classic counterpart, only lighter and tangier.

16. Grilled Peach, Prosciutto And Mozzarella Sandwich

  • Time Commitment: 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, <10 ingredients, beginner-friendly, high protein

The sad-looking ham sandwich of your youth just got a fancy upgrade. Sweet, creamy and savory, your kid go wild for this handheld. (We'd make one for yourself too, if we were you.)

17. Chicken Pesto Focaccia Sandwich

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: make ahead, high protein, special occasion-worthy

Fluffy focaccia, breaded chicken, sweet sun-dried tomatoes, salty feta and homemade pesto. The ingredients kind of speak for themselves, but let it be known that this sandwich is anything but boring and sure to please every palate.

18. Butternut Squash And Goat Cheese Pasta Salad

  • Time Commitment: 50 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, make ahead, crowd-pleaser

When butternut squash season arrives, get to the farmers market and make your mini a gourmet meal that goes down easy. The pasta is almost too cool for school...but it tastes just as divine in the cafeteria as it does at the dinner table.

19. Avocado Egg Salad Sandwich

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why We Love It: beginner-friendly, <30 minutes

Avocado gets a little kick from a dollop of Dijon and a couple tablespoons of capers. Yep, this egg salad sandwich promises to go down like a breath of fresh air at lunchtime.

20. Buffalo Chicken Wraps With Blue Cheese And Celery

  • Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, <10 ingredients, make ahead

If you use a store-bought rotisserie chicken, this bold lunch wrap will come together in mere minutes. You may need to adjust the Buffalo sauce for young ones who are sensitive to spice—and sub in ranch for blue cheese if they're not into its tanginess—but the effort-to-reward ratio makes it hard to beat.

21. Salami, Artichoke And Ricotta Pasta Salad

  • Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, make ahead, <10 ingredients, crowd-pleaser

Ah, salami: The cafeteria staple that rarely stirs excitement. Unless, of course, you toss it into a restaurant-worthy pasta salad with artichoke hearts and creamy ricotta, in which case you have the kind of lunch that won’t come back home with your kid.

22. The Ultimate Grilled Chicken Sandwich

  • Time Commitment: 45 minutes
  • Why We Love It: beginner friendly, special occasion-worthy, high protein

Ready to not talk turkey? Make this grilled chicken sandwich—complete with creamy yogurt sauce and crispy onions—for your little one and you’ll both be singing the praises of poultry once again.

23. Mozzarella Meatball Frittata

  • Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Why We Love It: make ahead, high protein, <30 minutes, one pan

Frittatas are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to making the most of leftovers (in this case, meatballs). No matter the mix-in, they’re reliably delicious without reheating.

24. Roasted Cauliflower And Lentil Tacos With Creamy Chipotle Sauce

  • Time Commitment: 50 minutes
  • Why We Love It: beginner-friendly, vegetarian

Swap the chipotle mayo for something milder like garlic mayo or green goddess dressing for kids who can't take the heat, but don’t let it deter you from sending them to school with these scrumptiously seasoned (cumin, we love you) vegetarian tacos.

25. Baked Quinoa Chicken Nuggets

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: kid-friendly, <10 ingredients, crowd-pleaser

They beat the frozen kind out by a mile. Pack them with sides of ketchup and honey mustard, and your kid won't even notice the quinoa in the mix.

26. Chickpea Salad Sandwiches

  • Time Commitment: 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, no cook, beginner-friendly

Three cheers for a creamy, flavorful and protein-packed vegetarian sandwich that your kid won’t be bitter about having for lunch.

27. One-pot Mac And Cheese

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: one pot, <10 ingredients, kid-friendly, vegetarian

Sure, your kid is an Annie's loyalist. But that's only because they haven't tasted this gem yet, which is made with cream cheese and cheddar for an extra decadent consistency.

28. Greek Lemon Chicken Skewers With Tzatziki

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: crowd-pleaser, high protein, kid-friendly

Add some zucchini and tomato to these tasty chicken skewers for a healthy lunch that, whether it's served hot or cold, basically tastes like a Mediterranean vacation.

29. Citrus Shrimp And Quinoa Salad With Feta

  • Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, <10 ingredients, special occasion-worthy

Is your kid a shrimp cocktail fanatic? Tangy citrus, sharp feta cheese and briny olives can take it from here in this wholesome, savory quinoa salad.

30. Carrot Pigs In A Blanket

  • Time Commitment: 50 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, crowd-pleaser, kid-friendly, vegetarian

Forget hot dogs. This cute substitute is more nutritious and requires no reheating. Top them with sesame seeds for extra crunch and serve with green goddess dressing (or classic ketchup).

31. Slow Cooker Meal-prep Burrito Bowls

  • Time Commitment: 7 hours and 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: slow cooker recipe, make ahead, high protein

Succulent pork shoulder and creamy avocado are a mouthwatering match, only made better by a tangy crema topping. Kids will go bonkers for these burrito bowls—and we promise no one will miss the tortillas.

32. Lemon-roasted Potatoes, Chicken And Spinach With Tzatziki

  • Time Commitment: 35 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, high protein, make ahead

Greens, starch, protein—what more can you ask for in a lunch? This gorgeous meal packs big Mediterranean flavor into a bento box for a delicious, nutritious lunch experience that can be savored without reheating.

33. Grilled Caprese Skewers With Halloumi And Sourdough

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, crowd-pleaser, vegetarian

This clever sandwich hack involves skewered ingredients. The end result? Sweet, ripe tomatoes, salty cheese and satisfying, crusty sourdough that doesn’t lose its luster like most sandwich bread.

34. Chicken Parmesan Bites

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: high protein, kid-friendly, crowd-pleaser

Their favorite dinner, simplified and fork-free. The Parm is worked right into the breadcrumb coating, so they won't be grossed out by a layer of plasticky cheese when they open their lunchbox.

35. Mediterranean Hummus Bowl

  • Time Commitment: 40 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, vegan, make ahead

Hummus: The dip your kid will be shocked they love once they try it. Stir some (homemade or store bought) into this plant-based bowl of deliciousness for a healthy lunch they'll have no trouble putting away.

36. Mini Potato And Carrot Quiche Cups

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, make ahead, vegetarian

A rich and savory egg custard that really struts its stuff at room temperature, quiche is always yummy but not always good for you. The exception? Coterie member Ali Maffucci’s healthy update, which boasts carrot-potato filling.

37. Sesame Noodle Bowls

  • Time Commitment: 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: make ahead, <30 minutes, high protein

Toss your kid’s favorite protein into this Asian-inspired, make-ahead lunch. Customize to your heart's content—the best part is the silky sesame sauce that clings to cold noodles like a charm.

38. Broccoli And Cheddar Brown Rice Muffins

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, make ahead, <10 ingredients, vegetarian

Didn't think you could turn their favorite soup into a muffin, huh? Broccoli and cheddar cheese make for filling whole grain muffins that are nutritious, savory and totally scrumptious.

39. Homemade Pepperoni Pizza Rolls

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, make ahead, kid-friendly

Finger foods are a big win when it comes to school lunches, and boy do we have good news: Your kid’s favorite of them all just got way less messy. And the pepperoni and mozzarella combo? Just as delicious as ever.

40. Spinach Pistachio Pesto Pasta

  • Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, beginner-friendly, vegetarian

Sauce is by far the best way to conceal a serving of folate-filled greens, which explains why pesto is a parent’s best friend. (Oh, and grated Parm.)

41. Mini Quesadillas

  • Time Commitment: 40 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, beginner-friendly, crowd-pleaser

These bites are stuffed with cheese and refried black beans, so they're extra satiating. The secret to their tiny size is using wonton wrappers in place of tortillas.

42. Hummus Veggie Wrap

  • Time Commitment: 5 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, vegan, <30 minutes

Introducing a decidedly delicious veggie wrap from Coterie member Heidi Larsen that can be pulled together with whatever produce you have on hand. To make it extra tasty, add a generous amount of homemade hummus.

43. Lemon Orzo Salad

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, vegetarian, make ahead

Pasta is an easy, pleasing school lunch option, but orzo is the unsung hero of the bunch. The delicate, rice-shaped pasta allows the other ingredients to take centerstage. In this case, we’re talking about zucchini, tomato, feta and basil.

44. Cottage Cheese Chicken Salad Sandwich

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, high protein, <10 ingredients

Lighten up your kid’s lunch with this variation of classic chicken salad. Mayo, grapes and celery are still in the mix, but the cottage cheese provides bonus creaminess and protein.

45. Vegan Taco Salad Wrap

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: vegan, make ahead, beginner-friendly

Easy to make and stuffed full of walnut or pepita "meat," these plant-based wraps will taste like a fiesta in your kid's mouth. Zhuzh them up with corn, tomatoes, avocado or black beans.

46. Turkey, Cheddar And Apple Pinwheels

  • Time Commitment: 5 minutes
  • Why We Love It: high protein, beginner-friendly, <10 ingredients, <30 minutes

Apples offer crunch, sweetness and acidity to these pint-sized wraps, a major improvement on the white-bread-and-turkey sandwich that has been haunting cafeterias for decades.

47. Mini Spaghetti Pies

  • Time Commitment: 50 minutes
  • Why We Love It: kid-friendly, make ahead, gluten free, <10 ingredients

Every kid has, at one time or another, thrown spaghetti on the floor. Fortunately, these compact pasta pies are mess-proof (and taste even better cold than the O.G.).

48. Pepperoni Pizza Frittata

  • Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, make ahead, <10 ingredients, one pan

This incredibly easy lunch combines sweet tomato sauce with pepperoni slices for an eggy meal your kids will rave about. Don't forget to garnish with a flourish of fresh basil.

49. Avocado Tuna Salad

  • Time Commitment: 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, high protein, no cook, <30 minutes

Budget-friendly canned tuna gets an elegant upgrade in this kid-friendly lunch, made with brightly-colored vegetables, creamy avocado and lime dressing. Serve it as is or pile it between two slices of bread.

50. Banh Mi Sandwich

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 5 minutes
  • Why We Love It: make ahead, special occasion-worthy, high protein

Vietnamese-inspired lunch fare at its finest. The baguette is stuffed with juicy grilled pork, pickled vegetables and aromatic herbs. Bonus? It's just as tasty served cold as it is hot.

51. Caesar Pasta Salad

  • Time Commitment: 20 minutes
  • Why We Love It: make ahead, <30 minutes, crowd-pleaser

Two of their favorite dishes, united in cheesy harmony. The homemade dressing calls for avocado instead of traditional egg, which eases the load on your end. But feel free to skip the anchovy paste (although we're sure your kids would be none the wiser).

52. Pizza Bagels

  • Time Commitment: 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: kid-friendly, <10 ingredients, <30 minutes

TBH, the less fancy they are, the better they taste. We're talking store-bought bagels (or English muffins), pre-shredded mozz and your kid's favorite sauce. Feel free to go wild with their go-to toppings.

53. Ritz Crackers With Whipped Honey Ricotta And Bacon

  • Time Commitment: 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, <30 minutes, beginner-friendly, make ahead

They're basically grown-up Lunchables. Pack the crumbled bacon in its own tiny container or bag so it stays crispy and include a tiny plastic knife, so your kid can assemble each cracker however they like.

54. Ants On A Log

  • Time Commitment: 5 minutes
  • Why We Love It: no cook, <30 minutes, <10 ingredients, kid-friendly

These crunchy, creamy celery sticks slathered in peanut butter are timeless for a reason. Feel free to use any nut butter that your kid will actually eat, or swap raisins for nuts, dried cranberries or broken pretzels.

55. Veggie-loaded Stuffed Bell Peppers

  • Time Commitment: 50 minutes
  • Why We Love It: crowd-pleaser, vegetarian

The best thing about this recipe is its flexibility. Swap quinoa for leftover rice or small pasta, if your kid prefers, or substitute just about any of the vegetables inside (we think corn, tomatoes and zucchini are a solid starting place for picky eaters).

56. Buffalo Tuna Melt

  • Time Commitment: 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, <10 ingredients, high protein

Your kids will be too busy relishing in Buffalo-ranch tuna salad and melted mozzarella to notice the chopped celery and carrots in the mix. You could also serve the tuna with crackers or in a wrap if they won't be able to reheat the sandwich at school.

57. Broccoli Pesto Pasta

  • Time Commitment: 25 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, <10 ingredients, crowd-pleaser

Parenting 101: Hide veggies in their meals every chance you get. Here, broccoli florets are blended with pine nuts, basil and other essentials until smooth to create the pesto. Skip the olives if you think their briny flavor will be a dealbreaker.

58. Tomato And Yellow Zucchini Risotto

  • Time Commitment: 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: vegan, special occasion-worthy

If your kids like mac and cheese, they'll be down to try this creamy vegan dish. (And they'll have no clue that the key to its richness is yellow zucchini—not butter or cheese.) Might we suggest making it for dinner and sending them off with the leftovers the next morning?

59. Everything Bagel-crusted Chicken Tenders

  • Time Commitment: 35 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, high protein, kid-friendly

Behold: Your children's new favorite dinner. Luckily, it tastes just as good at lunchtime and only requires a handful of pantry staples to come together.

60. Grilled Peanut Butter And Jelly Sandwich

  • Time Commitment: 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: kid-friendly, <30 minutes, <10 ingredients

You can never go wrong with a classic. We're partial to tart black raspberry jam and creamy PB, but of course, it all comes down to your kid's preferences. Serve it with apple slices, cherries or mandarin oranges.

61. 50-50 Buttered Noodles And Greens

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: kid-friendly, <10 ingredients, vegetarian, one pot

Despite its decadent texture, the sauce is free of heavy cream. Instead, it's made with butter, Parmesan cheese and extra starchy pasta water.

62. Apple Sandwiches

  • Time Commitment: 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <10 ingredients, kid-friendly, beginner-friendly

Rub the apple slices with a fresh lemon wedge to keep them from turning brown before lunchtime. If your kid doesn't like bacon, swap in deli turkey or ham.

63. Ranch Potato Salad

  • Time Commitment: 30 minutes
  • Why We Love It: make ahead, vegetarian, beginner-friendly, crowd-pleaser

They love spuds, they love ranch dressing—por qué no los dos? Make a batch of this picnic favorite on Sunday night to dole out all week long.

64. Smashed Chickpea Salad Sandwich

  • Time Commitment: 15 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, no cook, beginner-friendly

Whether you're cost-conscious or feeling lazy, canned beans are a no-brainer. Here, chickpeas are mashed with a slew of pantry staples to create a satiating sammy for the books.

65. Charcuterie Board Flatbread

  • Time Commitment: 5 minutes
  • Why We Love It: <30 minutes, no cook, special occasion-worthy, <10 ingredients

This portable charcuterie board has endless variations. If your kid likes pears, swap out the apples. If they don't like prosciutto, use salami. Just be sure to keep the drizzle of honey and creamy burrata.


For even more great recipes, check out our first cookbook, Only the Good Stuff.

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