17 Healthy School Lunch Ideas (That Your Kids Will Actually Eat)
During the school day, lunchtime is an opportunity for children to refuel their bodies with the energy they need to make it through their afternoon classes. That's a tall order, and for caregivers who send their children with meals prepared at home, coming up with healthy school lunch ideas that contain a balance of produce, dairy, protein, and grains and are tasty enough for their kid to actually eat and comply with any school allergy policies can be tough — especially if you don't want to spend hours and hundreds of dollars meal prepping healthy school lunches.
Sure, you can lean on a classic PB&J sandwich for lunchtime (or a Sunbutter sandwich if your school is peanut-free). But why would you when there are so many amazing healthy school lunch ideas that are packed with flavor and nutrients?
So if your kiddos brown bag it and you find yourself scratching your head trying to find new and creative healthy lunch ideas to make for their midday meal, we rounded up some of our favorite out-of-the-box, registered-dietitian-approved recipes that nourish growing bodies and are totally kid-friendly.
— Additional reporting by Sara Cagle and Mirel Zaman
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Easy Italian Pasta Salad
Swap out the processed meat in this recipe for cubes of mozzarella cheese or fresh turkey or chicken and use a whole-grain pasta, and you'll have an Italian pasta salad that's balanced, kid-friendly, and totally packable.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Carrot Avocado Muffin
For a simple lunch, pair a carrot avocado muffin with yogurt and fresh fruit. This balanced lunch provides kiddos with foods from a variety of food groups, and if you whip up these muffins beforehand, it can be an easy meal to toss in a lunchbox that's nourishing and satisfying.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Sandwich Kebab
If your child is over a classic sandwich, try offering them a sandwich kebab for a fun twist on a classic lunchtime dish. It's best for younger kids, as a pairing to a side or two (because it would take a ton of kebabs to fill up bigger ones). Just be sure that your child can enjoy a kebab safely and their school is OK with them bringing in a sandwich on a spear.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Vegan Sushi Bowl
If you have a bougie kiddo who loves a good-quality sushi roll, they'll enjoy this vegan sushi bowl for lunch. Packed with veggies, grains, and edamame for plant-based protein and fiber, this lunch will impress your little one when they unpack their meal — and none of the ingredients can get soggy in the hours before lunch.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Waldorf Salad
For teens who are bringing lunch to school, finding ways to sneak in walnuts can offer way more than simply being a satisfying food. Researchers from Spain have found links between adolescents (age 11 to 16) who were able to eat about one handful, or a one-ounce serving, of walnuts daily for six months and improved attention scores and fluid intelligence scores.
This waldorf salad is a delicious and beautiful vessel for fueling your kid with nutrient-packed walnuts. Plus, eating this salad provides fresh fruit and veggies, too. Opt for yogurt as a dressing instead of mayo for a boost of live cultures, which can support gut health. And it's totally packable.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Chia-Seed Pudding
Chia seeds are packed with fiber, plant-based protein, and healthy fats, three nutrients that help support satiety. Combining chia seeds with milk and letting it refrigerate overnight results in a creamy, pudding-like dish that kids love to eat. Sweeten it up with some fruit puree to make it extra kid-friendly.
While a chia-seed pudding alone isn't enough for an entire lunch, it's a great side snack. This versatile chia-seed pudding recipe in particular can be a great dessert instead of the old-school Snack Packs.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Easy Bento Lunch
A bento-box lunch — which has its origins in Japan — is both fun to eat and fun to look at. While this easy bento lunch is totally customizable, this recipe is a great starting point for bento newbies.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Egg Salad
Egg salad served with whole-grain crackers or in a sandwich is a classic lunchbox meal — and for good reason. An egg salad can be customized with different flavors and served alongside other nutritious foods. Plus, eggs are a source of high-quality protein and have essential vitamins and minerals for supporting growing brains and bodies, like choline. In fact, egg yolks are one of the best sources of this important nutrient that plays a positive role in memory, thinking, mood, and more. Eggs are also an excellent source of vitamin B12, which may support a child's cognitive health as well.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Picnic in a Jar
For a different kind of grab-and-go lunch, a picnic in a jar is a fun way to feed your younger kids when they aren't eating lunch at home. This salad-and-sandwich combo is as filling as it is nutritious. You can swap out the chips for a baked snack for a lighter meal.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Winter Salad With Kiwi, Persimmon, and Walnut
A winter salad with kiwi, persimmon, and walnut is a sweet and satisfying lunch and can be a perfect option for older school-age children who appreciate a variety of flavors and textures. This salad checks so many good-for-you boxes, like containing plant-based protein, fiber, and antioxidants. And it's pretty to look at, too!
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Turkey-Salad Sandwich
Sure, you can make a ho-hum sliced-turkey sandwich for lunchtime. But if you want to give your kids something a bit more exciting and flavorful, this turkey-salad sandwich will fit the bill. Make this sandwich with whole-grain bread to add more fiber and antioxidants to this meal. Pro tip: if you line each side of the bread with a lettuce leaf before scooping on the salad, you'll avoid soggy bread.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: DIY Pizza Lunchables
This is a surefire crowd-pleaser. Picky eaters, omnivores, little or big — most kids will be thrilled to see DIY pizza Lunchables in their packs. And the almond and grape sides provide an extra dose of healthy and filling fiber.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Pinwheel Sandwiches 5 Ways
For kids who love a little variety, this pinwheel sandwiches five ways recipe can't miss.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: PB&J Fruit Kebabs
A slightly elevated take on the classic peanut butter and jelly, the presentation of these PB&J fruit kebabs helps you fit in more fruit (hello, fiber and phytonutrients) and a healthy side.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Sweet-Potato and Almond-Butter Apple Sandwiches
Kids will love this unusual sweet-potato and almond-butter apple sandwich, which delivers the same sweet-and-salty hit of a PB&J but with the crisp of fresh apple slices and extra fiber, vitamin A, and potassium from the sweet potato.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Turkey Pinwheels
Turkey pinwheels are a classic that always deserve a spot in your kid's lunchbox. We love them because they're full of sustaining protein, and you rarely get complaints that they were too soggy to eat.
Healthy School Lunch Ideas: Sun-Dried-Tomato Pasta Salad
For those days you just don't know what to pack, this sun-dried-tomato pasta salad is the perfect solve. It's so tasty, and you can make it a few days ahead of time, so it's a real time saver.