50 Simple and Delicious School Lunch Ideas That Even the Pickiest Eaters Will Love
Does that bland turkey sandwich keep coming back half-eaten? When your go-to lunch has grown tired for even the pickiest eater in your home, it’s time to shake things up. But coming up with creative school lunch ideas is a lot of work. No worries because we’ve got your back—just check out this roundup of easy, kid-friendly meals and you’ll put cafeteria food to shame with no effort at all.
1. BLT Pasta Salad
Give the typical sandwich routine a fun upgrade and change up the carbs in your kid’s lunch with a deconstructed BLT (see ya, soggy bread). This pasta salad boasts a pleasing combination of textures and plenty of savory flavor.
2. Lunch Kebabs with Mortadella, Artichoke and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
The novelty of eating lunch off a stick will likely be enough to win over your little one at lunchtime, 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 has never looked (or tasted) better.
3. Avocado Chicken Salad
A tired, cafeteria classic gets a surprising makeover in this updated chicken salad recipe, which calls for only a sparing amount of mayo and plenty of herbs for a protein-packed meal with a bright, fresh flavor profile.
4. Italian Deli Pinwheel Sandwiches
The salty, peppery trio of Italian deli meats in these pinwheel sammies pair 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
Bacon makes it better: A well-known fact that will absolutely 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
Peanut butter brings plenty of protein and healthy fat to the table and bananas provide healthy 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
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
Mild, creamy chickpeas are arguably the most likable legume, which is why kids won’t whine when they encounter this healthy no-cook salad at lunchtime. The red onion, celery and dill in this decadent and filling chickpea mash up keep things fresh and light, while mayo gives the dish a rich mouthfeel. The end result is downright addictive.
9. Taco Pinwheels
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
Kids are suckers for corkscrew pasta—and really, who isn’t? 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: For a safer version that’s still far from boring, skip the jalapeño).
11. Peanut Butter, Strawberry and Banana Quesadillas
If a PB&J sandwich is the only item on your kid’s lunch menu, it’s time to branch out a little bit. Test out this quick and easy peanut butter and fruit-filled quesadilla from Coterie member Monique Volz for something different, but still familiar enough to become an instant favorite.
12. Turkey Spinach Pinwheels
Do something daring next time you pack your kid’s lunch by giving deli turkey a whole new look. Without the bread around to dull the savory flavors, simple cheddar and turkey really sing—so much so, that kids won’t even mind the spinach.
13. Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad Stuffed Peppers
Chicken salad has never looked so appetizing as it does in this colorful and kid-friendly stuffed pepper recipe. Opt for a store-bought rotisserie bird for a no-cook school lunch that’s a cinch to prepare.
14. Vegetarian Sushi Cups
Don’t have the time or inclination to try your hand at homemade sushi? Same. Skip the seaweed and serve up this vegetarian version instead. Full of veggies and umami flavor, kids will be eager to gobble up these tasty, dainty cups.
15. Meal-Prep Mayo-Less Potato Salad
Potato salad without mayonnaise may sound like sacrilege, but don’t knock it ‘til you try it. This innovative update on the potluck standby uses sour cream to achieve a creamy and indulgent dish that tastes every bit as yummy as its classic counterpart, just with a lighter twist.
16. Grilled Peach, Prosciutto and Mozzarella Sandwich
The sad-looking ham sandwich of your youth just got a fancy upgrade. Sweet, creamy and savory, your kid will be wild about this sammie and so will you. (Tip: Make two).
17. Chicken Pesto Focaccia Sandwich
Fluffy focaccia, breaded chicken, candy-sweet sun-dried tomatoes, salty feta and 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
When butternut squash season arrives, get ye to the farmers market and make your mini a gourmet meal that goes down easy. To be honest, this pasta salad is too cool for school...but it still tastes just as divine in the cafeteria as it does at the dinner table.
19. Avocado Egg Salad Sandwich
Avocado gets a little kick from a dollop of Dijon and a couple tablespoons of capers, while fresh herbs wake up the palate. 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
If you score a rotisserie chicken, this boldly-flavored lunch wrap comes together in mere minutes. You may need to adjust the buffalo sauce seasoning for young ones who are sensitive to spice, but the effort-to-reward ratio makes this one hard to beat (and easy to eat).
21. Salami, Artichoke and Ricotta Pasta Salad
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
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
Meatballs are a classic kid-pleaser but not usually what come to mind when you think of cold lunch. That’s where the eggs come in: Frittatas are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to making the most of leftovers and, no matter the mix-in, they’re reliably delicious without reheating.
24. Roasted Cauliflower and Lentil Tacos with Creamy Chipotle
Swap the chipotle mayo for something milder like garlic mayo or green goddess dressing to please a kid who can’t tolerate spice, but don’t let it deter you from sending your little one to school with these scrumptiously seasoned (cumin, we love you) vegetarian tacos.
25. Creamy Cilantro Lime Southwestern Pasta Salad
Rotisserie chicken, black beans, mild cheese and sweet corn mingle (and get along) in this pasta salad, which is plenty filling at lunchtime and definitely not dull.
26. Chickpea Salad Sandwiches
Three cheers for a (creamy, flavorful and protein-packed) vegetarian sandwich that your kid won’t be bitter about having for lunch.
27. Pasta Salad with Salmon and Creamy Cilantro Dressing
Salmon pairs beautifully with rich and mildly tangy dressing in this crowd-pleasing pasta salad, courtesy of Coterie member Katie Workman. Bonus: Rotini is definitely the most fun of all the pasta shapes. Make a double batch of this guy and treat yourself to a fancy, but effortless lunch. (A glass of white wine is optional, but recommended.)
28. Greek Lemon Chicken Skewers with Tzatziki
Add some zucchini and tomato to these tasty chicken skewers for a healthy, low-carb and kid-friendly lunch that—served hot or cold—basically tastes like a Mediterranean vacation.
29. Citrus Shrimp and Quinoa Salad with Feta
Don’t worry if you can’t tempt your kid with a shrimp cocktail. The tangy citrus, sharp feta and briny olives harmonize beautifully in this wholesome and savory quinoa salad, which has way more kid-appeal and tastes better to boot.
30. Roasted Squash Salad with White Beans, Bread Crumbs and Preserved Lemon
Creamy white beans melt in the mouth, bread crumbs add a pleasant crunch and preserved lemon adds just a bit of zing to nutty-sweet squash in this mild, but well-balanced salad.
31. Slow-Cooker Meal-Prep Burrito Bowls
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 tortilla.
32. Lemon-Roasted Potatoes, Chicken and Spinach with Tzatziki
Greens, starch, protein: This gorgeous and well-rounded meal packs big Mediterranean flavor into a bento box for a delicious, nutritious lunch experience that can be savored without a reheat.
33. Grilled Caprese Skewers with Halloumi and Sourdough
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. Grilled Flatbread Pizza with Artichoke, Ricotta and Lemon
Did we mention that we will sign off on cold pizza any day? Well, this recipe ups the guilty pleasure, thanks to ricotta—the creamy cheese that never congeals. Kids will be pleased as punch to munch on this homemade white pie (and parents will be happy to hear that artichokes are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals).
35. Mediterranean Hummus Bowl
Hummus: The kid-friendly dip that will get your little one on board with a Mediterranean diet. Stir some of the stuff (homemade or store bought) into this plant-based bowl of deliciousness for a healthy lunch your child will have no trouble putting away.
36. Mini Potato and Carrot Quiche Cups
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 a carrot-potato filling that wins points for nutrition and tastes every bit as decadent as the classic brunch staple. Bottom line: Pack one in your kid’s lunch and everyone will be happy.
37. Meal-Prep Sesame Noodles
Toss your kid’s favorite protein into this Asian-inspired, make-ahead lunch for loads of customizable flavor (yep, tofu will work). The best part is the silky sesame sauce that clings to cold noodles so well and tastes so right.
38. Broccoli and Cheddar Brown Rice Muffins
Didn’t think you could turn a muffin into a meal? Think again. The broccoli and cheddar make for filling whole grain muffins that are nutritious, savory and totally scrumptious.
39. Homemade Pepperoni Pizza Rolls
Finger foods are a big win when it comes to school lunches, and boy do we have good news: Your kid’s favorite food just got a less sloppy new look. As for the pepperoni and mozzarella combo? Just as delicious as ever.
40. Spinach Pistachio Pesto Pasta
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. Don’t take our word for it though—just have your kid try Coterie member Maria Lichty’s spinach-based pesto pasta on for size and you’ll both be happy to go green.
41. Roasted Chickpea Avocado Toast
Avocado toast has been trending for years and it’s no wonder—avocado is the healthy fruit that makes basically everything taste delicious and the fat found in this produce aisle gem is actually good for you. Get your kid in on the avocado action by piling this protein-rich chickpea salad on top of a crusty piece of bread for a vegetarian lunch that’s sure to satisfy. (And maybe add another slice of bread on top to minimize the lunch box mess.)
42. Hummus Veggie Wrap
We always want our children to eat healthy and sometimes we also need to clean out our fridge. Behold: An absolutely 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, just add a generous amount of the homemade hummus—it’s so good your kid could eat it straight from the spoon.
43. Lemon Orzo Salad
Pasta salads are an easy and pleasing school lunch option, but orzo is the unsung hero of the bunch. This delicate, rice-shaped pasta allows the other ingredients to take centerstage. In this case, we’re talking about zucchini, tomato, feta and basil—mix-ins that deliver tantalizing flavor with every bite.
44. Cottage Cheese Chicken Salad Sandwich
Lighten up your kid’s lunch a little with this variation of a classic chicken salad that features less fat without skimping on flavor. Mayo is still in the mix, but there’s much less of it and the cottage cheese provides plenty of savory, creamy pleasure without triggering any textural aversions.
45. Vegan Taco Salad Wrap
Easy to make and stuffed full of walnut ‘meat,’ these vegan and kid-friendly ingredients combine for a chilled wrap with Mexican flare that tastes like a fiesta in your mouth.
46. Turkey Cheddar Apple Pinwheels
Apples give a pleasant crunch and add a delightful combination of sweetness and acidity to these pint-sized turkey wraps—a major improvement on the white bread and turkey sandwich that has been haunting cafeterias for decades.
47. Mini Spaghetti Pies
Every kid has, at one time or another, thrown spaghetti on the floor. Fortunately there’s a far less messy fix—and it comes in the compact shape of pasta pie that tastes even better than the real thing when served cold.
48. Pepperoni Pizza Frittata
This incredibly easy lunch combines sweet tomato sauce with pepperoni slices for an eggy lunch your kids will want to write home about.
49. Avocado Tuna Salad
Budget-friendly canned tuna gets an elegant upgrade in this kid-friendly lunch, which gets a boon from brightly-colored vegetables, creamy avocado and a little lime dressing to lighten things up. Serve it as is, or pile it between two slices of bread—either way this one won’t disappoint.
50. Banh Mi Sandwich
Vietnamese lunch fare at its finest—this baguette is stuffed with juicy grilled pork, pickled vegetables and aromatic herbs. Bonus: This yumminess is meant to be enjoyed cold.