60 Simple, Delicious School Lunch Ideas That Even the Pickiest Eaters Will Love
Does that bland turkey sandwich keep coming back half-eaten in your kid’s lunchbox? When your go-to meal has grown tired for even the pickiest eater in your home, it’s time to shake things up. But coming up with creative school lunches that they’ll actually like can be daunting. No worries, though: We’ve got your back with exciting sandwiches, comforting pasta dishes and inventive handhelds. Think chicken salad-stuffed peppers, BLT pasta salad, hummus wraps and beyond. Read on for 60 easy, kid-friendly school lunch ideas that will put the cafeteria’s food to shame.
Tips for Packing School Lunches
Just like when you’re cooking for adults, presentation is everything. Here are a few pointers for packing a lunch your picky eater is bound to love:
- Get them a fun 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. Let your kid help choose their lunchbox at the beginning of the school year, then help them decorate it with markers, puffy paint, stickers and beyond.
- Spend a few minutes making their lunch visually appealing. For instance, rolling their sandwich and cutting it into pinwheels, or skewering their fruit salad on toothpicks. Keeping their lunch creative and surprising will likely make it more appealing. Slicing and assembling the least appetizing elements (aka the fruits and vegetables) of their lunch in a fun way may help warm them up to eating things they don't want to eat. Think ants on a log, veggie sushi or fruit sliced with pretty, fun-shaped cookie cutters. (Oh, and a sweet note from Mom never hurts.)
- 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. Also, if your picky eater is involved in the packing process, they're more likely to enjoy their meal with no complaints, whether it be choosing sandwich fillings, picking a juice box flavor or packing their favorite snack.
2. Lunch Kebabs with Mortadella, Artichoke and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
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?
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. Plenty of herbs give the protein-packed meal a bright, fresh flavor profile.
4. Italian Deli Pinwheel Sandwiches
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
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.
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 keep the mash fresh and light, while mayo gives the dish a rich mouthfeel.
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: Feel free to 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. Test out this quick and easy quesadilla from Coterie member Monique Volz for something different, yet familiar enough to become an instant favorite.
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. (We'd make two if we were you.)
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 to the farmers market and make your mini a gourmet meal that goes down easy. To be honest, this pasta salad is almost too cool for school...but it still tastes just as divine in the cafeteria as it does at the dinner table.
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 for young ones who are sensitive to spice, but the effort-to-reward ratio makes it hard to beat.
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.
23. Mozzarella Meatball Frittata
Frittatas are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to making the most of leftovers (in this case, meatballs) 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 for kids who can't take the heat, but don’t let it deter you from sending your little one to school with these scrumptiously seasoned (cumin, we love you) vegetarian tacos.
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. Bonus: Rotini is definitely the most fun of all the pasta shapes. Make a double batch and treat yourself to a fancy, effortless lunch. (A glass of white wine is optional, but recommended.)
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 reheating.
34. Grilled Flatbread Pizza with Artichoke, Ricotta and Lemon
Thanks to ricotta, the creamy cheese that never congeals, your kid will be more than happy to munch on this homemade white pie cold or at room temp.
37. Meal-Prep Sesame Noodles
Toss your kid’s favorite protein into this Asian-inspired, make-ahead lunch for loads of customizable flavor. The best part is the silky sesame sauce that clings to cold noodles like a charm.
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.
41. Roasted Chickpea Avocado Toast
Avocado toast has been trending for years and it’s no wonder why, since avocado is full of healthy fat. Get your kid in on the action by piling this protein-rich chickpea salad atop of a crusty piece of bread. (Add another slice on top to minimize the lunch box mess.)
43. Lemon Orzo Salad
Pasta is 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.
44. Cottage Cheese Chicken Salad Sandwich
Lighten up your kid’s lunch a little with this variation of classic chicken salad. Mayo is still in the mix, but there’s much less of it since the cottage cheese provides plenty of savory, creamy goodness.
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 these compact pasta pies are mess-proof (and taste even better cold than the real thing).
48. Pepperoni Pizza Frittata
This incredibly easy lunch combines sweet tomato sauce with pepperoni slices for an eggy lunch your kids will rave about.
50. Banh Mi Sandwich
Vietnamese lunch fare at its finest: baguette is stuffed with juicy grilled pork, pickled vegetables and aromatic herbs. Bonus? This yumminess is meant to be enjoyed cold.
51. Caesar Pasta Salad
Two of their favorite dinners united in cheesy harmony. The homemade dressing calls for avocado in place of traditional egg, which eases the load on your end. But feel free to skip the anchovy paste (we're sure your kids would be none the wiser).
52. Pizza Bagels
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
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 knife, so your kid can assemble each cracker however they like.
55. Veggie-Loaded Stuffed Bell Peppers
The best thing about this recipe is its flexibility. You could easily swap quinoa for leftover rice or small pasta, if your kid prefers. And you can substitute just about any of the vegetables inside (though we think corn, tomatoes and zucchini are a solid starting place for picky eaters).
58. Tomato and Yellow Zucchini Risotto
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 and cheese). Might we suggest making it for dinner and sending them off with the leftovers?
60. Grilled Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
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.
For even more great recipes, check out our first cookbook, Only the Good Stuff.