12+ Lunch Ideas Your Kids Will Actually Eat
It’s no secret that students need a healthy, mid-day meal to fuel their bodies and minds during the long day at school. Tired of feeling stressed about what to pack and how to pack it? Build a better lunchbox this school year with the help of the following tips and tricks.
Mini Lunchbox Meatloaves: Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a muffin pan with olive oil and set aside. In a large bowl, mix together 2 lb. ground beef, 4 cloves minced garlic, 1 c. rolled oats, 2 eggs, ½ c. BBQ sauce, 1 tsp. salt, ½ tsp. oregano and ½ tsp. thyme until well combined. Spoon out between ⅓-½ c. of the meatloaf mixture into each muffin cup. Top with a spoonful of BBQ sauce. Bake until cooked all the way through, about 20-25 minutes.
Buildable sandwiches: Make kids think they are eating a Lunchable, but made with ingredients you hand pick. Put everything needed to make mini sandwiches – one piece of bread cut into quarters, slices of cheese, sliced meat, thin-sliced carrots and lettuce. Serve ranch or mayo on the side. Kids can build the sandwiches or eat ingredients separately.
Make-ahead yogurt pops: Purchase a silicone ice pop maker set online or at a local retailer. To make 8-10 you will also need: 1 32 oz. container of plain or vanilla Greek yogurt, 2 cups fresh or frozen fruit and 2-3 tbsp. honey (optional). Blend ingredients, pour into molds and freeze at least 5 hours before popping in the lunch box.
Lunch box smoothies: You can pack lots of nutrients into a smoothie for easy eating at lunch time. Blend favorite frozen fruits in a blender and add orange juice, milk or yogurt. Pour into freezable containers such as plastic freezer jars. Freeze and pack into the lunch box with a spoon (they double as an ice pack).
Lunch kabobs: Combine any of the following onto bamboo skewers to mix up lunch. Try turkey and cheddar cheese with cucumbers, salami and provolone with bell peppers, chicken and Monterey jack cheese with pickles, roast beef and Swiss cheese with olives. You could also do this with fruit.
BLT Bites: Lay bacon in a large skillet over medium heat and cook until crispy on both sides, flipping once, about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon to a plate and blot any excess grease with paper towels, then cool slightly and chop into 1-inch pieces. Spread a baguette slice with mayonnaise, then layer bacon, torn romaine lettuce leaves, small tomatoes, more bacon, green onions and a sprinkle of salt.
Safe Catch Pizza Bites: Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 12-count mini muffin tin. Sprinkle parmesan cheese into muffin cups. Open tuna and empty into a medium mixing bowl. Use a fork to flake the tuna. Add 3 eggs, 3 tbsp. tomato paste, 1 tsp. parsley, 1 tsp. oregano, 1 tsp. basil, 1 tsp. garlic powder, ¼ c. oats, ½ c. mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated. Spoon the pizza bite mixture into the mini muffin tin. Bake for 12 minutes, then remove and sprinkle ½ c. of mozzarella cheese on top of the pizza bites. Bake for an additional 4-6 minutes or until the mozzarella is melted or slightly browned.
Use mini muffin tins: Bake kid-sized snacks in these tins, which fit easily into a lunch box with other foods. Look up healthy muffin recipes including whole grains and fruits. Other ideas include baking macaroni and cheese cups, pizza bites, mini meatloaf, corn dog muffins and more. Find these ideas on Pinterest by searching kid foods in muffin tins.
Easy as a Sandwich:
Roll ups: These skip the traditional sandwich, but keep in line with a child’s taste. Flatten a favorite piece of bread with a rolling pin and add peanut butter and jelly, lunch meat and cheese or Nutella and fruit. Roll the bread and slice into individual rolls for easy eating.
Apple Cheese Wraps: Slice a Granny Smith apple into ½-inch thick slices. Rub the apple with a lemon slice to prevent from going brown. Slice the cheddar cheese into ½-inch slices and ham into ¼-½-inch slices. Place an apple slice and a cheese slice on top of the deli meat and fold over deli meat to wrap.
Healthy Cheese Quesadilla Bento Box: Make quesadillas by melting 2 oz. shredded cheddar cheese between 2 flour tortillas in microwave or on a hot pan. Cut into wedges and serve with grape tomatoes, mini guacamole cups, a clementine and trail mix. Mix it up with different types of tortillas, cheeses, meats and vegetables.
Breakfast food: Waffles and pancakes, eggs, bacon or sausage, and you can even use leftovers from a previous breakfast.
Reusable separators: Use reusable cupcake liners in round or square shapes to separate foods in larger plastic containers. Fill with cheese cubes, cut fruit, vegetables or crackers (bonus for picky eaters – the foods don’t touch). Available at Amazon.com for around $7 for a 12-pack.
Homemade Lunchables: Make a lunchbox meal with low-sodium turkey, cheese, whole-wheat crackers, cooked green beans, apple slices and nut or seed butter.
Deconstructed Tacos: Put these ingredients in your child’s lunchbox for him to create his own tacos: ground turkey or beef with taco seasoning, shredded cheese, tomatoes or salsa, lettuce, mini guacamole to-go cup and watermelon.
Leftovers: Warm up any food from the night before and put into a Thermos to keep it warm until lunch time. This can be spaghetti, soup, casserole, etc. and make sure to pack a kid-friendly plastic utensil.
- Hummus and pita or vegetables
- Sliced avocado
- Cherry tomatoes
- Sliced and peeled tangerines
- Cut strawberries
- Popped popcorn
- Sliced vegetables like celery, carrots and cucumbers
- Nut butters and crackers to dip
- Cheese sticks or cubes
Start a System
Bento-style lunch systems have gained popularity in recent years, since they are visually appealing to kids and make the lunch packing process easier for parents. Even if you opt to use a traditional lunch box, packing can be simplified by making sure your kitchen is well-stocked with lunchbox essentials like bags, plastic spoons and reusable containers
Think Outside the Sandwich
Sure, some kids love sandwiches, but there are many other options to consider. Wrap meat and veggies in tortillas and then slice them to create pinwheels. Keep dinner leftovers like soup and pasta warm in a thermos. Send small tapas-style portions of many different foods to appeal to picky eaters.
A protein-packed lunch will help your child to think clearly and concentrate in the classroom – and provide the energy he or she needs to make it through the rest of the day. Hard-boiled eggs, tuna, nuts and nut butters, meats and low-fat cheese or yogurt are all good, high-quality sources of lunchbox protein.
Dip Those Fruits and Veggies
Have kids who aren’t eating their carrot sticks and strawberries at lunchtime? You’re not alone. Make fruits and vegetables more enticing by including a dip for kids to enjoy. Send hummus, ranch dressing or even ketchup to accompany veggies.
Get Kids in the Kitchen
Kids inevitably have opinions about what they do and don’t like in their lunches, so why not pass along the responsibility of packing their own lunchboxes? Set a few ground rules about what they need to include, stock your fridge and pantry with plenty of parent-approved options and then, if you’re lucky, cross the entire task off your own never ending to-do list.
–Alyssa Chirco, Teresa Farkas and Amanda Miller Allen