With four kids in school, you can bet I’ve packed my share of lunch boxes! There’s nothing wrong with sandwiches but when you want to change things up (or use up leftovers) here are my kids FAVORITE lunch box ideas that break out of the school lunch rut.
Also, these are their real lunch boxes, packed on busy school mornings over the course of a few weeks. No special photo shoot here. Just tons of ideas real kids love.
1. Chocolate Hummus with Toasted Baguette
It takes a handful of ingredients plus about 3 minutes to whip up one of my kids favorite snacks–and now lunches: chocolate hummus. Just add a toasted baguette (under the broiler for about a minute plus a swipe of butter) and a hard boiled egg (made SO EASILY in the Instant Pot.)
2. Bagels with Cream Cheese
We made bagels! They were so chewy on the outside but pillowy soft on the inside–perfect for a delicious lunch. Plus, I tweaked the size so we’d have just the right portion for a (lucky) kiddo’s lunch. Here’s a great step-by-step recipe from Real Mom Nutrition: Easy Homemade Bagels.
3. Pesto “Pizza” on Toast
A riff on our favorite Naan Bread Pesto Pizza, I sliced a big loaf of whole-wheat bread, slathered it in pesto plus shredded mozzarella cheese and popped a tray of them under the broiler for a couple minutes. This lunch box idea is fast enough to make on the fly in the morning.
4. Biscuits with Butter
One of my favorite ways to use up dinner leftovers (though I could’ve added more protein to this one. You’ll do better!) For a yummy school lunch that isn’t a sandwich, try our homemade Whole-Wheat Cheddar Biscuits with Bacon.
5. Toasted Bagel Bites with PB&J
Slice up a bagel then pop it under the broiler for a couple of minutes. Add any kind of nut butter plus fruit spread OR pesto OR hummus or marinara sauce (like this one packed with veggies or this Bolognese shortcut from Italian icon, Marcella Hazan) for a deliciously dunkable lunch.
6. Homemade Focaccia Bread
There is NOTHING my kids love more than a loaf of this focaccia bread. Plus, it’s so full of gorgeous olive oil that it’s a surprisingly hearty meal. Especially when you pair it with a few slices of salami.
7. Tiny Tomato Pies
This Shortcut Tomato Pie recipe was shared by a friend who’s a professional cook. It’s as delicious as it is easy, and best of all, fits perfectly in a lunchbox. Tip: Make a big Tomato Pie for dinner (served with salad) and throw a muffin pan full of these beauties in the oven at the same time. Dinner AND lunch are done.
8. Turkey & Cheese Rolls
Who said a hearty school lunch had to be a sandwich? Instead start with Annie’s Organic Crescent Rolls. Add a slice of turkey plus cheese. Roll up. Bake as directed on the package.
Use meatballs (homemade or from the store) or sliced sausages with any combination of tomatoes, pickles, cucumbers, fruit and more.
10. Pancake PB&Js
CLOSE to a sandwich but the secret is using pancakes leftover from the weekend. Load them up with any kind of nut butter and fruit spread your kids like.
11. Chocolate Chip Oat Cups
There are so few ingredients in these chewy, sweet, super nutritious muffins you’ll never believe how easy they are to make: Chocolate Chip Oat Cups. My kids make them all the time.
12. Itty Bitty Sammy Bites
Nothing to see here, just a regular sandwich chopped up into a couple dozen squares! I have a special cutter that makes quick work of the task in nice uniform bites BUT you could also just whip out your favorite chef’s knife too.
13. Taco Pop Tarts
Yep, another round of dinner leftovers makes its way into a lunch box idea! This time I scooped up leftover taco mix into pie crust, crimped and baked ahead of time. I used our second favorite lunchboxes today because the pop tarts fit better. Get all the details about making taco filling go far enough to use a second time, plus how-tos for these lunchtime favorites here: Taco Pop Tarts.
14. Quiche Cups
These Quiche Cups are hands down, my kids’ favorite lunches. They come together quickly and easily and I usually make them the morning of. But you can also do this the night before AND serve them for dinner too.
15. Pasta Salad
My kids LOVE an Italian pasta salad so when I make one for dinner, I’m sure to have enough to fill up lunchboxes the next day like this one with lots of artichoke hearts, sugar snap peas, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and plain ol’ store-bought salad dressing.
16. Turkey & Cheese Toast
A whole-wheat baguette gets smeared with a little mayo and mustard before it’s topped with turkey (or ham) with a bit of Havarti cheese. Broil it up for a couple minutes and voila!
17. Apple Quick Bread 18. DIY Lunchables
Our super healthy Apple Cinnamon Bread is always a hit (plus the recipe makes 2 loaves) and who can resist aged cheddar with nitrate-free turkey on whole-grain crackers? Upgrades all around.
19. Fruit & Nut Butter Wrap
Slather a whole-wheat tortilla with any kind of nut butter plus sliced fruit: strawberries, blueberries, bananas… Roll it up and slice in half. (Also pictured: sliced apples dusted in cinnamon, the best way to keep fresh apples from turning brown is to just play along.)
20. Cinnamon Sugar Bread with Cream Cheese
Tea sandwiches feel JUST fancy enough to get away with being in their own category. Pair them with our Strawberry Protein Balls or the Chocolate, Nut and Fruit Balls no kid can resist.
Our lunchboxes are from PlanetBox and we LOVE THEM. It’s an investment but they are stainless steel with perfectly sized compartments that last and last and last. My fifth grader has had hers since kindergarten and there’s no slowing down (or aging) in sight.