Back to school time means we’re all looking for easy and healthy school lunch ideas. However, coming up with lunch ideas can be quite overwhelming! Especially when you have to figure out which foods will still be appealing after sitting in a lunch box for at least 4 hours. Also, slapping the same spread or filling onto bread can leave kids and parents a little bored. For that reason, I’ve come up with some interesting lunch box variations to help inspire you and keep your child’s appetite healthy.
As a parent, I know firsthand the struggle of trying to balance nutritious choices with what your child will actually eat. After all, isn’t it the best feeling to open that lunchbox at the end of the day and see that your kids loved everything that you packed? These cold lunch ideas for kids are fresh, fun, and healthy suggestions that can help make your life easier. Try any of the recipes below and let me know how your kids liked them!
WHY WE LOVE THESE RECIPES
- Easy to make. I use simple ingredients to make these school lunches. No special skills required!
- Nut-free. Many schools are moving to a nut-free or “nut-safer” lunch rooms, which is why these recipes are either nut-free or can easily be adapted to be nut-free.
- Adaptable. These recipes are flexible enough to swap ingredients to accommodate for taste preferences and to use up what you have on hand.
- Real and wholesome. These lunches are flavorful, fun and delicious while also being packed with nutrients! Win-win!
Here’s what you need for these healthy school lunch ideas:
- Wild-caught salmon (or freshly cooked salmon)
- Almond flour OR or any nut-free flour you prefer to make nut-free
- Avocado mayonnaise
- Dijon mustard
- Fresh dill
- Lemon juice
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Sea salt
- Frozen wild salmon
- Radicchio (or butter lettuce)
- Avocado mayonnaise
- Sea salt & pepper
- Broccoli florets and stems
- Fresh cilantro
- Sea salt
- Black pepper or white pepper
- Fresh lime juice
- Salmon: Fish can be a hard sell to kids. However, salmon has a distinctly delicate taste that is not as strong as other fatty fishes like mackerel and sardines.
- Fresh dill: Adds a fresh, tangy flavor to the sauce and salad.
- Radicchio: These crisp, red leaves has a bitter, spicy flavor that balances well with the savory taste of the salmon salad. However, if it’s too much for your kids, you can use butter lettuce instead.
- Broccoli florets and stems: The stems are just as delicious as the florets but are more mild and sweet in flavor. In addition, they’re packed full with fiber, iron and vitamin A, so don’t throw those babies away!
- Avocados: They turn guacamole into a nutrient-dense condiment, thanks to the heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and gut-friendly fiber.
THE HEALTHY SCHOOL LUNCH FORMULA
Making school lunches that are satisfying enough for kids but also well-balanced nutritionally takes a lot of forethought. Take the guesswork out of healthy school lunch ideas with this simple formula:
1 main dish + 1 vegetable + 1 fruit + 1 extra + 1 bottle of water = a healthy lunch
You can pick one thing from each category to fill your child’s lunchbox. Using this formula takes some pressure off you while giving your kids plenty of variety!
Main dish: This is usually the heftiest part of the lunch and so it should have a solid nutritional base to it. It should provide protein and carbohydrates, although, of course, if it includes vegetables and/or fruit, even better.
Vegetable and fruit: It’s a good idea to have both fruits and vegetables in your child’s lunchbox because it helps to get them closer to their recommended servings of fruits and vegetables a day. If your child prefers vegetables over fruit or vice versa, you can always do two from the same category. But having two options in the lunchbox is always helpful.
Extra: This is something you know your child will eat and love. It can be some sort of filler food, such as a small cookie or some crackers or chips. Alternatively, it can also be a granola bar, trail mix, or mini muffins.
Water (or a drink): It is essential for your child to stay well-hydrated all day long because it helps with their focus and energy. Send your kids to school with refillable water bottles. Not only will they be helping the earth, but they can also refill them if they end up drinking it all up.
EASY SCHOOL LUNCH IDEAS
1. SALMON PATTIES WITH DILL SAUCE
There’s a lot of research on the health benefits of fish, especially when it comes to brain development in kids. These salmon patties are healthier than traditional deep-fried ones. They are crisp on the outside and deliciously tender and flaky on the inside. Top with a tangy dill sauce that your child will love.
(Note: The dill sauce is easier and less messy if you pack it in a separate container or in its own compartment).
Pack with: pasta salad, sliced cucumbers, sliced mango
2. SALMON SALAD WITH LETTUCE CUPS
A great way to get a serving of omega-3 rich fish into kids’ diets, plus it packs in some vitamins and minerals from the veggies. Radicchio or large butter lettuce leaves turns the salad into a delicious edible bundle.
Pack with: homemade corn chips, pineapple chunks, a homemade cookie
3. BROCCOLI & CARROTS WITH HOMEMADE GUACAMOLE
Avocados are a nutrient powerhouse and are rich in beneficial fats that will keep your little one full. Broccoli and carrots increase the amount of vegetables in your child’s diet. The fresh lime juice adds some tanginess while preserving the guacamole’s characteristic light-green color.
Pack with: Cubed chicken or cheese, sliced red bell peppers, blueberries, a white chocolate square.
- Prep ahead of time. When it comes to making a school lunch, try to do it the night before, or at least prep the ingredients and store them in the refrigerator. This saves so much time on busy mornings when you are trying to wrangle the kids together and get them ready for school.
- Keep food safety in mind. Many items will keep at room temperature but be aware of which lunches need to stay cool, like the salmon salad with lettuce cups. With an insulated lunch bag and a chilled ice pack, perishable food can stay cold and safe to eat until lunchtime.
- Separate food using a lunch box with compartments. Having a lunch box with separate compartments and/or liners can help you remember to include all the components of a balanced meal. A bento box like this one is perfect for packing manageable portions of each food.
- Involve the kids. To help you come up with a variety of healthy school lunch ideas, talk to your little ones to find out what they'd love to bite into and maybe get them to help in the kitchen, too.
- Always consider the school’s food restrictions. When packing lunch for your kids, make sure that you’re aware of any food restrictions that the school might have in place.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is a healthy lunch to eat at school?
Healthy school lunch ideas should be like a balanced meal. To begin with, it should contain good carbs. For example, vegetables like baked winter squash, onions and mushrooms and even some white rice. Next, it should also contain proteins, like pressure-cooked black eyed peas or a nice digestible fish or chicken soup, or other healthy proteins of choice.
It should also contain veggies which can be prepared in a variety of ways: either steamed, boiled, sautéed, as a salad, and even pickled. Adding some fresh or cooked fruit is also beneficial; ideally, the varieties that are locally available in your area. Finally, to finish off the lunch, a snack or treat is always welcome. While I prefer homemade snacks to packaged alternatives, there are some good options out there: organic applesauce from Vermont Village, organic roasted seaweed snacks from gimMe.
What is the healthiest thing you can eat for lunch?
A good, healthy lunch should help keep your energy levels high enough to get you through the afternoon and prevent mindless mid-afternoon snacking later. Instead of eating salads or heating up instant ramen noodles, go for meals with healthy proteins which can help you feel satisfied all the way up to dinner. Think lean protein foods, like raw cheese or non-dairy protein sources, legumes, and nutrient-packed add-ons like pumpkin seeds. Also, try out high-fiber meals which contain ingredients like avocados and chickpeas. They are low in calories and also aid in helping you feel wholly satisfied.
What are 5 healthy lunches?
Here are some of my favorite lunch suggestions:
1. Mixed vegetable stir fry with grass fed beef or pasture-raised chicken added to it or other protein of your choice served with white rice, a side of toasted pumpkin seeds, and apple slices. This type of hot lunch is best to keep in a sealed thermos.
2. Lentil vegetable soup with sourdough bread and baby butter lettuce salad, packed with some grapes and homemade cookies.
3. Veggie burgers or salmon patties with radicchio or butter lettuce, a dipping sauce and lightly cooked vegetables like green beans or broccoli, with an orange on the side.
4. Sushi nori maki rolls made with fillings of your choice (cucumber, smoked salmon, cooked cabbage strips, sauerkraut, avocado, mango) with a serving of homemade gelatin dessert or pudding.
5. Mexican salad with rice, black beans or kidney beans, guacamole, chopped romaine, optional salsa, and broken tortilla chips (like the ones from Siete made with avocado oil) with a homemade dressing of olive oil, sea salt, and lime juice.
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TRY THESE HEALTHY LUNCH RECIPES NEXT:
- First, try my frozen ravioli recipe that is unbelievably simple to prepare yet tastes delicious. It tastes like you spent all day preparing this quick pasta recipe, but it’s ready in less than 30 minutes.
- Next, you should check out my delicious deviled eggs recipe. Always a classic for lunches!
- Finally, don’t miss my fool-proof vegan fried rice recipe that’s loaded with vegetables and tons of flavor. It’s similar to the Hibachi-style rice or takeout fried rice you love but with healthier ingredients. Feel free to swap white rice for the brown and add eggs!
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