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I’ve been packing school lunches for almost 10 years now. Probably like you, I’m constantly trying to find packed lunch ideas for kids that are made with real foods and items that they will actually eat and enjoy. In this post you’ll find motivation along with 20 easy, healthy lunchbox ideas for kids.
Why Pack Lunches for Kids?
Needing a little extra motivation to pack your kiddos lunch for school? Consider these benefits:
- You’ll know what’s in their food. Starting with the obvious here. While not having to prep your child’s lunch sounds tempting, knowing exactly what’s in their food is important. This is especially true if your child has any allergies or health concerns.
- They will have more time to enjoy their lunch. School lunches go FAST. If your kiddo has to use a good chunk of their time to stand in line, even more of that time is used up resulting in having to scarf down their food and not enjoy the academic break.
- You can see what they are actually eating.. This feels especially important when they are little. On the days they eat school lunch, I have no idea if they actually ate a protein or any produce.
- More variety. The options are endless when you’re doing the shopping and packing. Not so much when they are eating in the cafeteria.
What Kind of Lunch Box or Bento Box Should I Buy?
We’ve curated some of the best lunch boxes and Bento boxes on Amazon to make lunch prep easy. From your smallest or your biggest eaters, we found boxes that work for all ages and genders.
The Bento boxes, especially, have been a big game changer for our family, when it comes to making lunch packing simple and healthy. Even my kids can pack their own healthy lunches now.
20 Packed Lunch Ideas for Kids
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1. Make-Your-Own Lunchable
Making your own lunchable is so easy that your kids can do it. Plus, it’s much healthier when you control the components that go in. Here’s all your need to include in your pack or one of our recommended Bento Boxes.
Summer Sausage – Look for organic or all natural.
Uncured Turkey Pepperoni – Delicious and free from preservatives. See our favorite brand here.
Uncured Deli Ham or Turkey
Cheese Slices – Save money by getting a block to slice up. My kids like cheddar, Havarti, and Colby Jack.
Crackers – My favorite kind is Triscuits. They are affordable, whole grain, and only contain 3 ingredients. They make for a solid cracker sandwich foundation, too.
2. Homemade Yogurt Parfaits
I send Homemade Yogurt Parfaits often with my kids. You can easily divide the ingredients in a stainless steel Bento Box or layer them in a medium-sized glass container with lid. Here’s how we make ours at night ahead of time.
Layer 1 – yogurt
Layer 2 – berries
Layer 3 – granola (try our delicious Homemade Granola)
3. Turkey or Ham and Cheese on Wheat Bread
Simple idea but also simple to pull off! Let your kids assemble the sandwich themselves. They will be more likely to eat it! Pair it with a Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookie as a treat!
My kids love when I make a big batch of Tomato Bisque, top it with a little grated Parmesan, and send it in their stainless steel BPA-free thermos. And I love knowing that they are getting at least a few servings of vegetables just from the soup alone. I freeze the soup in 2-cup glass containers and then warm them up in the morning to put in the thermos.
I like to make a large portion of Instant Pot Mac and Cheese for dinner one night and send all the kids with leftovers the next day in their thermoses. It’s always a hit! You could also try our Homemade Mac and Cheese with Sneaky Sweet Potato to add some more nutrition or Easy Stovetop Mac and Cheese for a one-pot wonder.
My daughter often requests this in her lunch. I do recommend to make this the morning of or to leave off the bananas if making ahead.
I love this lunchbox option, because you can make a bunch ahead of time and freeze them. They are so easy to throw together and wrap individually in foil. To send in the lunch, thaw overnight in the fridge. Then, in the morning, heat them in foil in a 350 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes (until very hot) and wrap in a kitchen towel to keep it insulated in the lunch box. Feel free to leave out any ingredients your kids don’t like.
I make a batch of this healthy, comforting soup on the weekend and divide it into 2-cup glass containers in the fridge. The kids warm one up in the microwave and put it in their thermos in the morning. We also have a dump-and-go Instant Pot Chicken Noodle Soup that’s super easy to make.
9. Turkey and Cheese Roll-Ups
This lunch is so easy to make. Just spread some cream cheese on a whole wheat tortilla and add turkey slices. Roll up and slice into “sushi rolls”. They fit nicely in a Bento Box.
10. Cereal, Milk, and Fruit
Yep, you read that right. Occasionally when I am in a huge hurry or out of options, I send a well-sealed thermos with milk, a healthier dry cereal in a bowl with lid, and a spoon so the kids can pour the milk over it. Add in some fresh blueberries or strawberry slices to put on top and it’s actually not that bad of a lunch…and my kids think I’m the bomb.
11. Sugar Snap Peas
I don’t know about you, but finding vegetable options to go in the lunch box isn’t easy. But, my kids do down sweet, crunchy sugar snap peas. I like that they come in a convenient, pre-washed pack in the produce section.
12. Petite Baby Carrots with Hummus
Store bought hummus is easy to find but if you want a completely whole food version try making your own hummus.
13. Finger Food Fruit
There are a few no-brainer fresh fruits to include in the lunchbox, and fresh is always a better choice than the little fruit cocktail cups. Great grab-and-go fruits are Clementines (aka Cuties) or Apples (Fuji or Honey Crisp are the only ones that are worth it to us!). Other than rinsing them off, all you have to do is toss them in the lunch box.
Grapes, blueberries, and strawberries are our other lunchbox favorites, because they are easy to eat with your hands.
15. Unsweetened Apple Sauce
Skip the dessert and offer apple sauce as a sweet treat, especially the unsweetened kind to avoid more sugar and additives. You can buy it in bulk or in pre-portioned containers, like the Musselman’s Unsweetened Natural Apple Sauce.
16. String Cheese
What kid doesn’t like playing with their food? That’s what makes string cheese so fun. I love throwing these in lunch boxes for a quick protein-rich addition to the meal.
17. Trail Mix
There are several excellent pre-made trail mixes in stores to choose from or make your own with nuts, chocolate chips, and dried fruit.
18. Granola Bars
Not all store-bought granola bars are created equal. Many are actually loaded with as much sugar and additives as a candy bar…some are even worse. So, I look for granola bars that have all recognizable ingredients and are lower in sugar. Here are a few of our favorites:
- ClifKid ZBars (or try our Peanut Butter Protein Bars)
- Kashi Dark Mocha Almond Chewy Granola Bars
- KIND Healthy Grains Oats and Honey Bars
- Lara Bars
19. Hard Boiled Eggs
Sometimes I’ll boil and peel half a dozen eggs at the beginning of the week and stick one or two in a kids’ lunch. Use Instant Pot Hard Boiled Eggs recipe for the easiest boiled eggs ever! Eggs are a great source of protein and full of so many other important vitamins and minerals–almost the perfect brain food!
Popcorn is full of fiber and a much better side option than chips in a lunchbox. Our family’s favorite store-bought pre-popped corn is Skinny Pop Naturally Sweet Popcorn. But, it’s hard to beat the taste and price of this Homemade Popcorn. Just use your favorite popping kernels, make a big batch, and store in an air-tight container for up to three days.
21. Healthy Muffins
Muffins or other baked goods are so easy to pack up in a lunch and freeze well. Here are a few of my kids’ favorite healthier muffin recipes I make at home and store in the freezer:
- Whole Wheat Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
- Pumpkin Spice Muffins
- Chocolate Banana Muffins
- Blueberry Avocado Muffins
- Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
- Gluten Free Banana Muffins (made in the blender!)
22. Homemade Peanut Butter (or Cream Cheese) Crackers
You can easily skip the packaged cracker packs and make your own. I just have my kids make these at night.
Share your ideas for the lunch box! What are we missing?