Lunch Ideas for Your Kids (That Aren’t Sandwiches)
Sandwiches may seem like an easy lunch option for busy parents, but their simplicity comes at a price. While sandwiches provide a quick solution for getting kids out the door with enough food for the day, they can fall short of nutritional needs. Plus, they’re boring. Eating nothing but bread with only a smear of variety day after day can leave kids wanting more and parents wondering why their children are eating less.
If you’re stuck in a sandwich rut, it’s time to break out with some easy options that guarantee variety. You don’t need to be an expert in the kitchen to whip up nutritious midday meals for your kiddos. Break outside the sandwich mold with these lunch ideas just in time for back-to-school prep. Best of all, we’ve broken these ideas down by category so you can mix and match.
Proteins are the building blocks to your child’s growing body. Not only are they responsible for building muscles and providing energy, but they’re also a crucial component of every cell in our bodies. Children ages 4 to 13 need an average of 3 to 5 ounces of protein a day. Your child’s lunch should include at least one serving of protein. Whether you choose animal or plant-based proteins or a combination of the two, you’ll find some tasty lunch options below.
Turkey & Cheese Roll-Ups
These delicious and fun roll-ups make a great bite-sized meal that almost every kid will enjoy. The turkey and cheese combine to give kids plenty of protein to make it through the day, and the tortilla adds enough carbohydrates to fuel their playground time, which may come right after lunch.
If you can convince your kids to eat these with some produce in them, adding tomato or cucumber slices will add extra nutrition and increase their veggie or fruit intake. Like it or not, you sometimes have to sneak produce into your kids, especially if they’re picky. This recipe can easily be modified to make it completely vegan or even vegetarian by switching out the turkey or cheese for non-animal-based alternatives.
Pita Bread with Hummus
It’s a fact of life that most kids love to dip, particularly little ones. Instead of encouraging them to get their dipping fix with chips with sky-high sodium levels or dipping sauces with a long list of preservatives, send them to school with a protein-packed lunch of whole wheat pita bread and tasty hummus. At 1.2 grams of protein per tablespoon, hummus is a protein-rich and high-fiber meal that even toddlers will enjoy. If your little one is a more adventurous eater, you can trade out regular hummus for one of the veggie varieties, such as garlic or roasted red pepper.
Kabobs, a.k.a. food on a stick, can make almost any food fun again for kids. Kabobs can be made with anything that will stay on the stick easily, such as meats, cheeses, hard boiled eggs, veggies and fruits. Here’s a chance for you to get creative and incorporate some of the foods you already know your kid loves with some new additions that you think they might like. Here are a few kid-friendly recipes to get you started.
Just keep in mind that if you’re sending deli meats, cooked chicken or other perishable foods to school for lunch, it’s important that you follow proper food safety guidelines to keep your kids from getting sick. It’s recommended to refrigerate perishable foods the night before and use at least 2 ice packs in the lunchbox to make sure everything stays sufficiently cold. You can also freeze a small water bottle to use as an extra cold pack, ensuring they also have a refreshing drink by lunchtime.
This bite-sized meal, easy to make and fun to hold, is often a kid’s favorite. Quesadillas can be eaten hot or cold, so there are no worries about packing them in a lunchbox for a few hours. Best of all, you control how much protein goes into this meal. You can keep it simple with a classic cheese quesadilla with a side of plain Greek yogurt (in lieu of sour cream – tastes the same but packs a powerful protein punch), or you can go all out by adding in corn, beans and even potatoes for a more filling lunch. You can even add some cooked chicken or another protein, as long as you follow the food safety tips mentioned above.
Do you have an adventurous eater or a child with a taste for Asian cuisine? Sushi is your friend. With some leftover rice and cooked fish (or even canned tuna) you can make delicious and nutrient-dense lunches for your little one, often as easily as making a sandwich. You’ll need a rolling mat and some nori, or seaweed sheets, which can be found for cheap at most Asian supermarkets – though these have become so common that regular grocery chains will likely carry them as well.
If you have a little chef in your kitchen, enlist their help with this simple veggie sushi recipe. If you don’t have a rolling mat, you can still join in the fun with a staple of Japanese lunchtime: onigiri, known in the west as rice balls.
Even picky eaters will like the shape and style of sushi-rolled foods. Instead of using rice and traditional fillings, consider using a soft bread in place of the nori and traditional sandwich fillings, like peanut butter and honey. A “sushi” peanut butter and honey roll isn’t a far departure from a sandwich, but it’s at least interesting and more likely to be eaten by conservative toddlers.
Sides & Snacks
Easy to eat and protein dense, yogurt makes a great addition to the lunchbox. You can even save money and help the environment by filling your own reusable snack containers with yogurt instead of buying single yogurt servings.
But if that’s too much of a hassle or not a concern for you, then opt for single-serve tubes with less (or no) added sugar. You can freeze them for safe storage, then take them out and pop them in a lunchbox each morning. By lunchtime, they’ll be thawed enough to eat.
Often overlooked as a lunch option, trail mix makes a great snack that’s high in protein and filled with sweet surprises. Your kid will love it and it will give them enough energy to enjoy the playground and continue learning until the final bell rings. You can even try making your own at home. Homemade trail mix is easy and cost-effective, and you can control what goes in it.
Hummus works as a main entrée and a snack, but there are other dips that serve the same purpose. Black bean dips, fresh salsa and other similar products can keep your kids full while providing added nutrition, particularly if you make these things yourself.
We’re not talking about those classic crisps in the yellow bag. Instead, swap out your kids’ regular potato chips with more varied options. Fruit- and veggie-based chips offer a good alternative to the greasier standard variety. Just make sure to check the labels. “Veggie” doesn’t always mean healthy. Look for bags with minimally processed whole ingredients and few (or no) added elements, like salt and sugar, where possible.
Fruits & Veggies
There are many tasty produce options you can include in a lunchbox. One of the tricks to get kids to eat them is to cut them into bite-sized portions or fun shapes whenever possible. Kids will be much more likely to pop fruits and veggies into their mouths if they don’t have to work for it.
Already in bite-sized portions, berries are high in vitamins, fiber and antioxidants and are one of the healthiest snack kids can eat because they’re also lower in natural sugar than other fruits. Blueberries, raspberries and grapes are perfect for younger kids to enjoy, but remember to cut grapes in half (lengthwise) or quarters for kids under 4.
Your child is more likely to eat smaller pieces of veggies. We recommend baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and snap peas as lunchbox additions, but if you have kids under 4, make sure harder veggies like carrots are cut very small or steamed a bit to prevent choking. Edamame is another great option, as it’s easy to eat and very high in protein and fiber.