Don’t let those healthy lunch ideas for kids go stale. We keep this guide to kids’ school lunch ideas fresh with fun twists on everyday favorite foods. You’ll also find plenty of tips for prepping and staying organized.
This guide shows you how to pack a stellar lunch that is both healthy and fun.
Table of contents
Why a Healthy School Lunch Matters
We don’t pack an Instagram-worthy lunch every day. What parent needs that pressure?
But we do make it a priority to pack a healthy lunch.
It is important that kids eat well during their school day. They exert so much energy, both physically and mentally and good food gives them the fuel they need to play and learn throughout the day. So even though it’s more work to pack a nutritious lunch, it’s worth it!
That doesn’t mean there aren’t mornings when you’ll find us rushing around the kitchen making the world’s fastest quesadilla and shoving carrot sticks and an apple in the lunch box while calling over our shoulder, “I don’t know. Where was the last place you saw your shoes?”
Just like keeping the school papers organized so your house isn’t covered in artwork or math tests, having a plan for lunches can really help keep you sane. And it will ensure that what you pack is healthy for your child.
How to Organize Your Lunchbox Prep
The key to consistent healthy lunch ideas for kids is to have a plan. Here are some tips that help us keep the morning routine smooth enough to pack nutritious lunches.
Keep Containers Clean and Accessible
Store all of your clean containers organized in one easily accessible spot. Make sure the kids can reach it, too. Whether it’s a cabinet, section of your pantry, or storage basket or bin, or the dish rack (because you know you use them every day)…. a little organization goes a long way to save time.
Sit down with your kids and come up with a simple lunch menu for the week. While you’re at it, plan your dinner menu for the week at the same time. It will make life easier and leftovers are fantastic for lunches!
Give Yourself Prep Time
Do what you can the night before. Cut fruits and veggies, prep salads, make muffins or dips. If leftovers will go in tomorrow’s lunches, go ahead and separate them into lunch containers right after dinner to save the extra step in the morning.
We often make a soup for dinner and that will be the main course of lunches the following day. The trick is to make extra so you have plenty left over for lunches. Some things are fine the next day, like soups, chili, Thai noodles or homemade mac-n-cheese.
Buy in Bulk
Instead of buying individually wrapped servings of fruit, vegetables, or snacks – buy in bulk and wrap them in small portions. Buying in larger quantities with save you money and reduce excess packaging waste.
Involve the Kids
Let your kids come with you to the farmer’s market or grocery store and pick out their own foods. Give them a guideline such as one protein, one fruit, two veggies, and a snack… and see what they put together.
Our Favorite Healthy School Lunch Ideas for Kids
In the morning rush, it may be tempting to quickly throw a lunch together with pre-packaged foods, but those foods are often loaded with artificial colors, sodium, sugar, and ingredients we can’t even pronounce.
Here’s our list of three weeks worth of healthy and easy school lunch box ideas for kids. In this guide, you’ll find nutritious recipes, the lunch boxes and gear we use personally, tips on how to make packing school lunches easier, plus some allergy friendly options for gluten, dairy and nut-free lunches.
This list works for daycare, preschool, elementary school, and even big kids.
DIY Chicken Nachos Lunch
Grilled or pulled chicken, organic corn tortilla chips, lettuce, organic red peppers, organic grape tomatoes, Mexican cheese. Shown in the PlanetBox Rover Stainless Steel Bento.
Make Your Own Pizza Lunch
Breakfast for Lunch
Last Minute Lunch Idea
This is one you can quickly throw together on those mornings when no one can get it together. Sunflower seed butter and organic jam sandwich with sweet potato chips, Berry Blast RX Bar, organic grapes, mandarin orange. Nuts and peanut butter aren’t allowed in many schools due to allergies, so make sure you know which alternative nut butters are on the approved list.
Pictured in the Blue Water Bento Splash Box and Pods Set from ECOlunchboxes with Sea Turtle lunch bag.
Healthy Sandwich Lunch
Nitrate-free turkey sandwich, organic carrots, apple, blueberries and raspberries medley, and Pomegranate Grape Slammers Protein pouch. Pictured in Emily & Meritt Dotty Bow Lunch Bag and reusable silicone storage bags from Stasher.
Monster Appetite Wrap
Grilled chicken lettuce wrap (chicken, tomatoes, cheese in romaine lettuce), quinoa chips, curly sweet potatoes, Kombucha jello with pomegranate seeds, roasted chickpeas, and Acai Oatmeal Fruit Squeeze. Shown in PlanetBox Rover Stainless Steel Bento with Kleen Kanteen water bottle.
Last night’s grilled chicken, organic baby spinach with cherry tomatoes and nutritional yeast, sliced cucumbers, grapes, Elemental Superfood Seed Bar, and pistachios. This lunch is also gluten-free. Shown in PlanetBox Rover Stainless Steel Bento.
Field Trip or Disposable Lunch Idea
Save plastic containers from strawberries or other produce so you’ll have options for field trip days. Volunteer to help with the field trip and maybe you can gather up some of the water bottles, juice boxes, and paper or plastic bags for recycling. Here, we’ve included an easy sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich, grapes, broccoli florets, Alphabet Cookies from Happy Tot, and Yum Earth fruit snacks.
Simple Vegan Lunch
Organic carrots and homemade hummus, mixed greens with cherry tomatoes, Forager Organic Cashewgurt, and homemade pumpkin spice muffin. Shown in Wean Green glass storage containers.
Pita Fun for Little Ones
Butternut squash and basil soup, organic seaweed snack, banana, and chia seed bar. Keep the soup warm in an insulated container from Zoli.
Cauliflower rice with baby portabella mushrooms, garlic, and asparagus, mixed greens with feta, avocado, orange slices, and strawberries. Pictured in ECOlunchbox oval container, Snack Taxi reusable bag, and Lifefactory water bottle.
Greek yogurt with granola, celery with almond butter (or alternative) and raisins, baked kale chips (find easy kale chips recipe here), mixed organic berries, and mint dark chocolate square. Shown in Planetbox Shuttle lunch box with Sigg water bottle.
DIY Avocado Toast
Ezekiel bread with avocado and options like bacon, tomatoes, eggs (hard boiled or scrambled), feta cheese… whatever your child likes. Shown in Wean Green glass storage containers and RePlay Recycled containers.
Mixed greens, asparagus, mushrooms, and feta with DIY trail mix (pretzels, almonds, cranberries), Stonyfield organic yogurt tube, banana, and Annie’s Organic Bunny crackers. Shown in Wean Green glass storage containers and So Young lunchbox.
Easy Veggies and Fruits
Crunchy bean pouch, cauliflower, apple slices, mango slices, and Bitsy’s Brainfood Smart Cookies. Shown in the Goodbyn Bynto Container.
Wraps and More
Club wrap (turkey, ham, cheese, kale, and hummus), carrots, edamame, and mini banana. Shown in Planetbox Shuttle lunch box.
Mix it Up
Brain Food Lunch
Pack Lunches in Safe, Waste-Free Gear
Plastic containers may leach toxins and phthalates into your child’s food. Choose safer materials like stainless steel, glass (if your child’s school allows), and silicone for lunch containers.
Not only is waste-free lunch gear much better for the planet, it’s far more economical. One mom found that by packing a reusable, waste-free lunch, they saved $2.32 per child per day, or $417.60 per child per school year.
Here are the essentials of a waste-free lunch:
Reusable Lunch Box or Bag
Buy a quality lunch box or bag. Some of our favorites are these adorable styles from SoYoung. The Planetbox stainless steel bento style lunchbox might be a bit of an investment up front, but on the Green Child team, one Planetbox has been through three kids since 2012!
Reusable Food Containers
Read the labels of all products you buy and make sure they are non-toxic. Lots of plastic items contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and Bisphenol A (BPA). Our favorite safe containers are the glass storage cubes from Wean Green, reusable silicone bags from Stasher, and the stainless steel Splash Box and Pods Set from ECOlunchbox.
Non-plastic Refillable Water Bottle
Choose a non-toxic (plastic-free) stainless steel water bottle and fill it with water. Juice boxes and pouches are usually filled with artificial ingredients and sugar. Glass water bottles are our favorite for home use, but many schools don’t allow them.
Reusable Silverware and Cloth Napkins
Skip the disposable plastic silverware and go with a bamboo set or some silverware from home. If your child can remember to bring home his lunchbox and container lids every day, he’s responsible enough to remember his fork or spoon. Don’t forget to pack a cloth napkin.
How to Build a Healthy Lunch for Kids
Your kids will have a more successful day at school if their bodies are filled with fresh healthy foods. With some planning and creativity, healthy lunches can be fun, delicious and easy! Here are some suggestions:
Think in Rainbows
Fruits and veggies are the basis of a healthy lunch. Encourage your child to eat a food that is (naturally) a color found in the rainbow. See if you can get all seven colors in one day. If your kids aren’t too fond of fruits and veggies, try including yummy dips such as their favorite salad dressing, hummus or plain yogurt.
By eating a rainbow of produce, your kids will benefit from the wide spectrum of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. It’s the phytonutrients that give fruits and vegetables their color and help to keep our bodies healthy.
Balance Protein and Carbs
Try to incorporate a good variety of proteins, whole grains, and produce for every lunch. Keep things interesting by switching between sandwiches, pita pockets, soups, wraps and rolls. If you feel it’s important to include a sweet treat just be sure to keep it small!
Limit Sugar or Processed Foods
It’s perfectly fine to include a healthy dessert or their favorite snack. Make sure there are plenty of healthy fats and proteins. Eating these foods first protects against a blood sugar spike from something sweet.
The same goes for processed foods. If you’re going to include a packaged snack, make sure it contains some protein or healthy fat and that there are other options like greens to balance it out.
Skip Juices or Sodas
Water is really the best drink for kids who are trying to focus at school all day. If your child really loves fruit juices or lemonade, send a small organic juice box in addition to a larger water bottle. Or save those for a special school day so it’s really a treat.
It’s no small task to pack lunches five days a week that are healthy, well-balanced, and enjoyable. But with some inspiration and a little planning and creativity, your mornings will be smooth sailing.